There are some lessons you can’t learn any other place than the wilderness. I wish I could learn them by sitting at the feet of a great teacher or by reading a good book. But you can’t learn to ride a bike by reading a book about it. You have to be willing to crash and skin your knee if you want to learn the freedom of riding a bike.
…(The people say) “Whoever rebels against your word and does not obey your words, whatever you may command them, will be put to death. Only be strong and courageous!” Joshua 1:10-11, 18 (NIV)
When the people received the message from God, nobody quarreled with Joshua. They heard from God and then without question they followed Him. Why? Because 38 years earlier they blew it.
If you remember the story they were about to invade Canaan. Moses appoints 12 spies to go into the land to do some recon. They came back with a majority report and a minority report. The minority report was given by Caleb and Joshua. They said, “We can take those suckers!” But the other 10 said, “Not a single one of those guys is shorter than Shaquille O’Neil. There is no way that we can take that land!”
“That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, ‘If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt? ‘ And they said to each other, ‘We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.'” Numbers 14:1-4 (NIV)
Do you know what that disobedience cost them? 38 years. That is why in Joshua 1, when they are given another chance to do God’s will they do it. Thirty-eight years in the wilderness can make you very pliable…or very dead. There is a high cost for disobedience.
Did you hear about the young man who went to a CEO and asked him how he got so successful? The CEO said, “Two words.” The young man said, “What are they?” The CEO said, “Good decisions.” The young man asked, “How did year learn to make good decisions?” The CEO explained, “One word.” The young man asked, “What is that word?” The CEO said, “Experience.” The young man asked, “How did you get experience?” The CEO replied, “Two words.” The young man again asked, “What are they?” The CEO said, “Bad decisions.”
You can learn valuable lessons from bad decisions in the wilderness. Several years ago a man came to see me and described deep pain in his soul. He had made a mess of his life and he began to weep with heaving shoulders from the crying. I really felt for him. I started to give him a tissue and some semi-wise counsel but before I could say anything of solace to him I heard God say to me the strangest thing: Joe, don’t make it good because I have made it bad.”
Sometimes people come to see me when they are really hurting. I want to help…to fix their problem. I want to put a Band-Aid on their cancer. I want to make them feel better. This man who came to me was in the wilderness and needed to learn the high cost of disobedience. My comfort might have masked the pain and he might not learn.
Another lesson I have learned in the wilderness is the tragedy of digression; of settling for something less than what God has planned for me. I have been known to negotiate with God for land other than the Promised Land. The Promise Land has been assured to me, yet I settle for something else. Have you ever done that?
“But to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh, Joshua said, ‘Remember the command that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you: ‘The Lord your God is giving you rest and has granted you this land.’ Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, fully armed, must cross over ahead of your brothers. You are to help your brothers…” Joshua 1:12-14 (NIV)
You should spend some time in Numbers 32 and read a seldom noticed story.
1 The families of Reuben and Gad had huge herds of livestock. They saw that the country of Jazer and Gilead was just the place for grazing livestock. 2 And so they came, the families of Gad and of Reuben, and spoke to Moses and Eleazar the priest and the leaders of the congregation, saying, 3 “Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sebam, Nebo, and Beon 4 —the country that GOD laid low before the community of Israel—is a country just right for livestock, and we have livestock.” 5 They continued, “If you think we’ve done a good job so far, give us this country for our inheritance. Don’t make us go across the Jordan.” Num 32:1-5 (MSG)
They took God’s second best. And it cost them in three areas:
- The land on the East side of the Jordan was NOT flowing with milk and honey.
- The location of the land meant that they were vulnerable to an Assyrian attack. For they would not have the natural barrier of the Jordan River to protect them from the east.
- They had to be the shock troops…the men on the front line when the Israelites invaded the land of Canaan. While they were fighting, they saw what they gave up when they settled for God’s second best.
An oft quoted verse of a generation ago came from this story:
“…Be sure your sin will find you out.” Numbers 32: 23
I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrased it in the The Message: you can be sure that your sin will track you down. Num 32:23 (MSG)
The tragedy of Digression.
Sadly you never really hear from the tribes of Reuben and Gad again in the Biblical narrative. They are a forgotten people. Do you want that? Not me.
In what ways are you settling for God’s second best? Have you put down roots on the wrong side of the river? Perhaps you have stopped short your education or you have stayed in a job longer than is nesseccary. Maybe you are in a dating relationship and you know it is not the right person for you and you are just too tired of being alone to do anything about it. Maybe God has called you to a ministry and you have rationalized that you can do Kingdom work from this side of the river as well as the other side. And because of that, you’ve settled for God’s second best.
I took a friend backpacking in the Sangre De Cristo mountains. We passed a beautiful lake called Lower Sand. He wanted to stay there. I talked him in to going on over the 13,200 foot mountain ridge to the lake called Deadman. When we got there he said, “Joe, I’m glad we came. Lower Sand Lake was beautiful…but it was no Deadman.”
It will be easy to settle for God’s second best. It will be easy for me to coast. But God has so much more for me. I haven’t even seen the Promise Land yet. I haven’t tasted the milk and honey. I can’t relax…I am not there yet.
Tonight, get on your knees and say, “Dear God, I don’t want your second best…at all cost…with planned neglect…whatever it takes…I want your best!”
Disobedience and Digression. Tough lessons that can only be learned in the wilderness. I wish I could learn them by reading a book or a blog where it is safe and comfortable. Get your head up and look around. Are you in a spiritual wilderness? Hurry up and learn your lessons and keep moving. One day your feet will get wet in the Jordan.
I know I am leaving tracks in the wilderness…but I hope they are headed towards the banks of a river.