Manual Faith in the Wilderness

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Their thinking—and thus their attitudes and conduct—constantly reverted to the way it had been molded in Egypt. Despite witnessing awesome miracles, enduring terrible plagues that demonstrated God's mercy upon them and His punishment of the Egyptians, living "under the cloud" and having their daily needs supplied directly by God, the Israelites found the wilderness to be nothing more than a huge cemetery in which they wandered for forty years.

The warning is clear to those of us "on whom the ends of the ages have come" I Corinthians But those older Israelites never made it there! They fell short of the goal because a carnal mind, shaped and hardened by this world into inordinate self-concern, so dominated their choices that they dropped like so many flies. In graphic language the apostle Paul writes, "Now with whom was He angry forty years?

Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? According to a number of commentaries, the last phrase indicates a scattering of dismembered bodies, as if they had been left unburied. These "corpses" were the same people who came out of Egypt with great joy , exulting in their new-found liberty. They yearned for a settled and free life in a land that was their own.

But, instead of knowing the joy and plenty of the Promised Land, they chose to sentence themselves to live a life of homeless wandering in a barren land and to die and perhaps be buried in an unmarked grave. Chosen to be the beneficiaries of God's great blessings in a rich land, they instead lived poor and hungry in the wilderness, discontented and often at war because of their sins.

Their example ought to be a sobering warning. Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. Not only did Israel have the witness of numerous demonstrations of God's presence and power among them to provide a foundation for faith, but they were also given the Word of God by His servants Moses and Aaron.

In addition, they had living examples of faith in Moses, Aaron most of the time , Joshua, Caleb and others. God supplied these men with gifts by His Spirit as a testimony that should have provided more incentive for the Israelites to believe Him. If ever a people almost drove God to the point of exasperation, it was Israel in the wilderness.

We must not allow such a powerful lesson to pass by unheeded. Paul agrees, "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope " Romans The lesson is clear.

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Faith in the Wilderness

Those who believe God reveal their faith by obeying Him. Those who do not believe, disobey. How important is faith? Now the just shall live by faith ; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him" Hebrews It is so important that it appears once in the Old Testament and three times in the New Habakkuk 2: In each case, the context is somewhat different, but its importance to a Christian's salvation is not lost.

The concept is not difficult to understand. Paul further clarifies it in II Corinthians 5: Belief means "faith, esp. However, in the Bible and in practical application a very wide difference separates merely believing and living by faith.

Coming Out of the Drought

The practical application of faith is more than simply acknowledging the reality of God. Living by faith involves qualities that are better expressed by the word "trust. Do you think for a moment that the Israelites in the wilderness disbelieved that God existed? Some few may have argued that the miracles they had experienced from the arrival of Moses in Egypt until they died in the wilderness were nothing more than natural phenomena. There are always some doubters and scoffers of that sort II Peter 3: But the vast majority of Israelites could not deny to themselves God's mighty acts on their behalf.

They had heard the voice of God at Mount Sinai, had seen a wind from God part the Red Sea and had escaped death on Passover while the Egyptian firstborn had died. But when God required a higher level of obedience to follow His cloud across the wilderness and depend on Him to supply their every need, the record shows they did not trust Him. Their loyalty dissolved, and they rebelled! They did not have it within them to live, or walk, by faith. When used figuratively, the context shows the manner or condition of the "walk.

The Israelites of the Exodus definitely lived according to the flesh, fulfilling the desires of their bodies and minds. They conducted their lives as if God did not exist, as though they would never have to answer to Him or anybody else. They lived seemingly without regard for what He said and with little or no concern about consequences to themselves or their posterity. They simply moved in the direction their carnal impulses drove them. Somewhere along the way, they lost the vision of entering the promised homeland. They forgot about settling on their own property and living free under the government and laws of God.

Yes, that older generation literally walked in following the cloud as it moved toward the Promised Land, but their manner of life under the cloud corresponded to living in darkness. So, they never made it to Canaan.

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We can tell whether we have the right kind of faith. New Testament , p. The English "substance" is built from a prefix and a root which together mean "that which stands under. Paul is saying that, for Christians, faith underlies what is seen externally in the conduct of their lives. Underlying a building is its foundation, and in most buildings, the foundation is rarely seen.

If it is seen at all, usually only a small portion is visible, but it is there. If no foundation exists, the building soon becomes crooked and warped. In most cases, it will collapse and be completely unusable. Since Paul says, "We walk by faith, not by sight," we understand that underlying the conduct of a Christian's life is not merely believing that God is, but a constant and abiding trust in Him. Since it is impossible for God to lie, we trust that what God has recorded for us to live by is absolute and must be obeyed, and that it will work in our lives regardless of what may be apparent to the senses.

How much of what you do is really motivated by an implicit trust in God's Word?

Faith in the Wilderness

This is how we can tell whether we are living by faith. We must be honest in our evaluation though. We find it very easy to shade the truth through self-deception. We justify disobedience by rationalizing around God's clear commands or examples, saying that our circumstance is special because. If we are honest, we also have to admit that Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abed-Nego, Paul, Christ and a whole host of others could also have rationalized that surely their circumstances were special. But in their cases, faith undergirded how they lived even when the going really got rough.


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We like to think of ourselves as rising to the occasion when a time of great crisis arises. We all hope to emulate what the heroes of faith did. But as great as they were, Jesus says in John You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. Though that may occasionally occur, the context shows this sacrifice within the framework of friendship. Friendship occurs over months and years, not just in one moment in time. In true friendships, because we are eager to help, we willingly spend ourselves ungrudgingly, without tallying the cost. Friends open their hearts and minds to each other without secrecy, which one would not do for a mere acquaintance.

True friends allow the other to see right in and know them as they really are. Friends share what they have learned. In the third setting is the beginning of the rest of the story—Jesus emerging among the people to begin his ministry of proclaiming the good news of God and living out, through words and actions, the saving grace of God for all humankind.

But between these two settings, Mark describes a second setting.

It seems to have been a godly necessity for him to face these tests that would allow him to come out on the other side proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of God was right here. Mark does not go into the dramatic conversations that Jesus has with Satan in the wilderness. We will have to wait for readings from Matthew and Luke for that. Or the wild beasts that come at us from all angles—both good and bad wild beasts—that catch us unaware and remind us of what we cannot control.

And to remember those angels who care for us and companion us as we walk on the mountaintops and through the valleys of our lives. Therefore Jesus goes into the desert, therefore he fasts; therefore he leaves behind everything else that a man needs even for bare existence, so that for this once not just in the depths of his heart but in the whole range of his being he can do and say what is the first and last duty of humankind — to find God, to see God, to belong to God to the exclusion of everything else that makes up human life.

Each of us have faced a time in the wilderness— a time when we have been tested, a time when we have faced challenges that have left us unsteady, a time when life has surprised us and left us unsure. Wilderness can be a time when we feel alone and untethered. And wilderness can remind us daily that while we fear the unknown, we are confident that we can entrust our lives to God who even in harsh realities can bring forth new life. I do not mean to imply—nor do I in any way believe that our time in the wilderness is intended to teach us something or to punish us or to remind us of our dependency.

I do not believe that God causes us or ever wants us to suffer. But I do offer that God working in and through us can redeem this time. Because we can remember that the spirit that descended on Jesus as his baptism and drove him into the wilderness, did not leave him there. Instead that spirit brought him out where he was able to proclaim that the good news can be believed. God will not abandon us during our time in the wilderness.

God is, after all, the One who takes that which seems only to cause death and somehow draws out from it resurrection life. In this time of Lent, we are invited to create a space where we open ourselves to God recognizing our need and restoring us in Jesus who came to show us our true identity and guide us to claim our true peace.

How we create this space is up to each of us. It may be spending a few minutes every day reading something that opens our mind to a present hope. It may be calling a dear friend and reconnecting with an angel in our life. It may be giving thanks throughout the day.

3 Ways to Pursue God While You Wander in the Wilderness

It may be writing one sentence or one paragraph in a journal—just thoughts and hopes, or fears, or responses to our day. It may be making time to take care of ourselves in some way. God wants us to experience renewal and be confident in the good things that God wishes for us. The practices we choose are for own learning and healing.

August 2018

In a passage from The Zohar , a mystical commentary on the Torah, the rabbis note that God does not tell Abram where he is going.