Our unique journey through the wilderness of uncertainty during Covid-19 has moved many of us into deep places of reflection, trying to find God in this time of drastic change. We may even be asking “What is God doing in our lives through this time of transition?” As we step out onto the soil of this ‘land between’ we recognise that this time has the potential to grow things in our lives or to sadly destroy us. We are left with the work of discerning which ‘crop’ we want to grow from the soil of this season.
Every now and then you come across a remarkable book that is relevant for the season of your life and you imagine that the author was writing specifically with you in mind. I initially came across Jeff Manion’s book The Land Between many years ago, but picked it up again during lockdown. As I poured over his delightful words I was worried that he had installed a video camera in my house and was watching my every move – it was as if he knew exactly what I was experiencing.
Reflecting on the Israelites’ dramatic 40 year journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, Manion identifies five major insights that God unveils during this period of transition, which he calls The land between. For the sake of brevity, I will just outline the five challenges we face during these difficult transitions.
The Israelites did not hold back their complaints from Moses or the Lord (Exodus 17). They loudly vented their anger and despair, demanding water, food and many other things. Moses tried to quieten their tone and reassure them of God’s provision, but many times the people were bordering on utter despair. Their complaining revealed that they had yet to learn a deep trust in Yahweh. Their previous obedience had been directed towards Pharaoh, but now God was teaching them to rely on his Lordship.
Eventually the weight of discouragement became too much for Moses to bear alone. He cried out: “I can’t carry all these people by myself! The load is far too heavy!”(Numbers 11:14). It was Moses’ meltdown that paved the way for God’s intervention. God gave Moses a practical solution to his great burden and the implementation of this plan allowed the Israelites to move forward.
This reminds us that we also need to learn the art of crying out to the Lord in our own trials. The Psalmists were very good at putting their emotions to songs and prayers and I believe that God encourages us to do the same. Psalm 13 is a beautiful reminder of this:
O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?
(Psalm 13: 1-2)
Even though Moses was unsure of how God was going to get them through their time of desperate need, God revealed that he would always remain faithful. “The Lord answered Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you’” (Numbers 11:23).
I have personally witnessed this during my own times of hardship and trial. God continues to surprise us and provides in miraculous ways. We sometimes get to our wits end, but then God shows up and delivers us from our despair.
The very word ‘discipline’ congers up all kinds of thoughts for us, but we should remember that it comes from the Latin word disciplina, which means “instruction and training”.
Our journey through periods of transition are not meant to break us down, but rather they are meant to gift us moments of instruction and training for the purposes of God.
I have found myself asking this question lately: What is God teaching me during this particular time of uncertainty in our world? And although I don’t have any simple answers yet, I can see the fruit of God’s discipline in this season. As the writer to the Hebrews said: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
Have you ever looked back over a period of trial in your life and seen how you have grown in ways you least expected? I agree with Jeff Manion that The Land Between is fertile ground for growth in our lives. If we allow the soil to produce growth in us, we will slowly learn to surrender our trust to God. I use the word slowly intentionally, because all fruit starts off as a tiny seed. Some plants and trees take years to bear fruit and we should never grow disheartened by the slowness of our personal spiritual development.
In Deuteronomy, the writer reminds the Israelites as to the purpose of the transitions and trials they need to endure. “God gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you” (Deuteronomy 8:16). God’s ultimate desire is for us to receive his blessing and to enjoy the abundant life offered to us. We need to grow the fruit of ‘trust’ as we walk through our Land Between.
And so as we continue through the journey of 2020 perhaps we need to boldly ask: “Can I turn these times of transition into a green-house for God to grow a wonderful crop in my life or do I resign myself to wither in the wilderness of The Land Between?”
It is entirely our choice.