All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. –Hebrews 11:13
I’ve been thinking about asterisks lately: Those clever little literary symbols (*) that tell us there’s more to the story than meets the eye. And I’ve been thinking about how they often apply to spiritual issues, particularly to how we view particular passages of Scripture.
When it comes to looking at God’s promise to the Israelites to lead them out of slavery from Egypt to a beautiful land of their own, “The Promised Land,” I think an asterisk is necessary. God indeed led His people to the Promised Land, but consider the following:
• It took 40 years from the time they left Egypt to arrive in the Promised Land (a distance of only about 200 miles).
• All of the men over the age of twenty at the time they left Egypt (with the exception of Joshua and Caleb) died before Israel entered the Promised Land.
• Entering the Promised Land included much warfare, and many Israelites were killed in battle before they had the chance to get settled in the new land.
As Christ-followers today, we too have the hope of entering a Promised Land. We are on a journey, seeing Christ’s kingdom expand in our lives and in the world. We also look forward to eternity in heaven. This sounds wonderful, even triumphant. But I think too often we speak of overcoming, of victory, and of bliss as the norm for the Christian life in the here and now, while the reality for many (even most?) of us is far from the ideal. This is where our asterisk comes into play.
For many, the Christian journey is a difficult road. Just recently, I received a note from a person whose job has changed, severely threatening the family’s finances. The person had done nothing wrong and was questioning what spiritual deficiency exists for God to allow this to happen. To me, this individual’s story more readily represents the average Christian’s experience, rather than stories of how life’s circumstances have gotten so much easier since meeting Jesus.
God’s goal is to conform each one of us into the image of His Son. He is working in each believer to accomplish the task. So, yes, He is leading us to the Promised Land. But, nowhere has God promised that the life circumstances of the here and now will always be bright and sunny. In fact, our road to the Promised Land is likely to be a long journey that includes wandering, difficulty, and a fair share of spiritual warfare.
The important question is this: Will we allow God to shape us along the journey or will we close ourselves off to God’s work and allow life’s circumstances to sow the destructive seeds of anger and bitterness? The choice is ours.
How do you respond to difficulties in life? Do you allow God to refine you or do you permit anger and bitterness to gain a stronghold in your life?
Hebrews 11; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15