I love the Old Testament, mostly because it provides me with an amazing picture of what it means to walk with God. Israel’s journey out of slavery, through the wilderness, and into the land of promise is filled with lessons and examples for us as we move from the slavery of our shame, failures, addictions, and fears, into the heart space of rest, peace, joy, and hope. One of the things we learn from Israel’s journey is that everyone faces barriers, and that getting from the “here” of bondage to the “there” of liberty isn’t a walk in the park.
There was the barrier of the Red Sea, which gave birth to fear. There was the barrier of hunger and thirst, which gave birth to whining. There was the barrier of impatience, which gave birth to idolatry. And finally, when God said, “It’s time to enter the land,” there was the barrier of disbelief that lead the vast majority to say, “We’re done! This barrier’s too big!” Thus, it happened that while making peace with their barrier, they hit the wall and quit the race.
The problem for Israel wasn’t that they had barriers. Hear this well: We all have barriers. They’re embedded in our fallen nature, and revealed because of glimpses of hell that come from living in a fallen world. Don’t beat yourself up for hitting the wall, for meeting an internal enemy; for failing. Those things are never the problem. The crux of maturity, though, is centered on what we do next–after we discover this barrier, after we hit this wall.
Will we let the wall defeat us, or will we name it, address it, and find the increased joy, liberty, and peace that God intends? How do we break through the wall?
It all starts with believing that we can. There are plenty of voices in this world telling me that I’m wired for failure. They’re inside my hide. They’re in the advertising industry, along with purchasable goods that will enable me to smell better, look better, have whiter teeth, and so finally be adequate. They’re in, to greater or lesser degrees, the family dysfunctions that shaped us. And they’re inherent in situations, when we realize we don’t have enough strength, money, wit, connections, willpower, to get the job done. Lots of voices – all of them shouting inadequacy.
Israel refused to go into the land God was offering them because they checked it out and declared that though it was a great place of abundance, it wasn’t for them because there were enemies they couldn’t overcome. Two of their tribe disagreed because they believed that they had ‘unseen resources’ and these would make all the difference.
Like our heroes, we too have these unseen resources within and around us. But since they’re unseen, it’ll take a little work to live in the light of their reality. What kind of work?
1. Personal Intimacy. In this era, when “stepping into God’s story” is all the rage, we run the risk of ‘depersonalizing’ the gospel. While we are invited to step into God’s story, we must never ever forget that living into the story will lead to profound personal transformation, and will be sustained by one’s personal relationship with Jesus. Some of you smile wryly, even cynically, at this language, as it’s so “late 20th century.” You’ll tell me to that the notion of a personal savior is a modernist construct and that “if we’ll just grasp the meta-narrative, and the post-modern deconstructionist hermeneutic we’ll all…” blah blah blah.
Meanwhile, here’s David, quite pre-twentieth century, strumming on his harp as he looks up at the stars, and ponders the God who’s with him always, though he’s on the run, hunted, isolated, lonely. Here’s Asaph saying that knowing God is fully enough. Job? His relationship was very personal. Forget the meta-narrative – he was just trying to figure out why his life was shot through with hellish losses. Moses? He wanted one thing: to see God’s glory. It seems that the notion of intimacy with God is foundational, personal, and utterly vital, if we’re to step into God’s story, because it’s in this learning who God is that we’re transformed into who God created us to be.
Those who mediate on scripture, and find ways to develop friendship with God, develop the capacity to listen to the invisible voices of hope, and side with them.
2. Believing Trajectory. The people who ultimately break through their barriers ultimately do so because they believe in God’s trajectory, both for their own lives and for history. This is the flip side of the “personal savior” coin, because it’s about believing history is headed toward to destruction of all that destroys, the death of all that kills. Those who believe this live in the light of destiny. They are “living into God’s story” in a big way. It affects their choices, and infuses them with an optimism “not of this world”.
All my heroes present and past, lived this way: Jim Elliot, and before him, Scholl and Bonhoeffer, and before them Wilberforce. They all laid down their lives because they saw that themselves as part of a bigger story
3. Shunning the Turkeys – Whether it’s Elijah shunning the fear of his friend, or Jesus shunning the advice of Peter to avoid the cross, or Paul reminding his accusers that he’s losing little sleep over their accusations, or Nehemiah refusing to come down from the wall because he’s doing “a great work,” the truth is that every step of forward progress in Christ run’s the risk of being undone by detracting and distracting voices.
All right then. There will be detracting voices. Joshua, the guy who went the distance, who hit the wall of resistance and broke through, said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” That kind of singularity, when matched with the humility to receive every word with prayer and teachability, is what we need. Those who have it will still be on the trek, years from now. I pray I’ll be among them.