“I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention and listen to what he says... I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land. Exodus 23: 20–21, 29–30
Todd’s recent message on the season between “the stake and the shovel” gives voice to an ongoing tension we all experience. And not just for brief seasons. Despite the voices of our current culture that tell us we can have it all right now, the truth is… we can’t. Which doesn’t mean we don’t try. Or at least that I don’t try. I am by nature impatient. Last spring, I wanted summer. I wanted the grass to grow in the barren spots in the backyard and the flowers to bloom. I wanted the hardwood flooring we’d ordered to arrive and the drywallers to finish up. I longed for a restoration of the soul I couldn’t imagine, to be able to sleep at night.
The grass grew, the flowers bloomed. The house was put back in order. But the inner restoration I prayed for remained elusive. My faith trembled, itching for movement in yet another season when my prayers remained unanswered.
After nearly fifty years of walking with a God, whose largeness I don’t often understand, I’m less frightened by these tremors, but even so, they’re no less unwelcome. The dreams I have for myself and those I love, they never diminish. Dreams for good things, desires that matter, those that hinge on the repair of shattered relationships, the healing of chronic physical conditions that erode spirits and steal hope, the filling of holes bored by loss, and any number of long unanswered prayers. This is the terrain I wrestle upon. Seeking, like Jacob of old, a blessing that often feels beyond reach. Not here. Not yet.
Sometimes I wonder where I came up with the idea that it would be any different? That my wishes were His command? My ways, better than His?
And though I’m quite sure I’ve never actually uttered the words out loud, the Lord has seen and heard the stomping of my feet many a time, the wail of my impatient heart. As if I, somehow, held within my grasp the power to fix all that’s not right. Just give me the reins, Lord, just for a few minutes, and watch what I’ll do. Thankfully, my Heavenly Father is far too good to yield to such tantrums. Even when what I desire seems, to me, to be perfectly matched to what He’d want.
Fairly early on in the Israelite’s journey across the desert, an interesting and applicable scenario unfolded. Though the birth of their freedom was costly, these descendants of Abraham had witnessed miraculous deliverance from Pharaoh’s army at the Red Sea. The promise of a land flowing with milk and honey lay before them. And why shouldn’t it happen right now, when their faith was energized and their numbers strong? In the ensuing days, water sprang from rocks. Manna appeared with the morning dew, and quail were sent to satisfy their cravings. The Amalekites were defeated.
And then, if all these evidences of “the plan” weren’t enough, God Himself sent word of an angel who’d go ahead “to guard [them] along the way and bring [them] to the place [He’d] prepared.”
As the names of those they’d conquer filled the air, waves of adrenaline must’ve rippled through the Israelites’ veins. How they must have itched to get back to their tents and prepare for battle. Surely if they hurried, the land would be in their hands by nightfall!
But hurrying was not what God had in mind. Hurrying, it appears, is more often a human trait, rather than a godly one.
As the crowd broke and began to depart, I can almost hear Moses calling them back. Much in the manner I halt my students’ stampede when, eager for recess, they’re unconcerned about unfinished assignments.
Hold on, not so fast, the Lord might have said. “I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land.”
A glimpse into my own rear mirror reveals the “wild animals” that have been unleashed when I’ve taken things into my own hands. Beasts of pride and manipulation. Of pretense and perfectionism. The One who sees beginning from end knows that faith isn’t grown overnight. And without faith, it’s impossible to please Him, or to thrive here within this veil of tears.
Little by little. Knowing neither the times or season of the unfolding of our deepest dreams. Only that it won’t be quick. Waiting is hard. Because here lasts, not until the shovel splits the soil, though that will be a wondrous day, but when the skies are rent in two and Jesus returns. When every wrong will be made right and every tear is wiped away.
Until that time, we cling to the One who hears our cries and understands our longings. And, as the angel given to the Israelites, Immanuel, God with us, will lead the way, even when time seems to stand still and we are itching for movement. Little by little. One day at a time.
“I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered you, O God. I thought about former days, the years long ago; I remembered my songs in the night... then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds... your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. The LORD himself goes before [me] and will be with [me]; he will never leave [me] nor forsake [me]. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”