(Worship in the wilderness series; part 4)
“They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways”. Judges 2:19
Obedience vs Stubbornness
I have always found maths difficult. It was a struggle at school; I just couldn’t seem to get the formulas into my head.When I was ten years old I had a really kind teacher who took time to sit with me and tried to help me with maths, even giving me extra work to take home and practice. The problem was my teacher’s help fell on deaf ears; by then I had already learned my own “system” that kind of worked – it just took an awful lot longer to arrive at the answers and was a lot more complicated.
As my teacher sat and patiently explained, my mind was stubbornly closed to what he was saying because I’d already decided that it was too difficult and that my way was easier – better. Instead of seeing my teacher’s actions as kindness and for my ultimate good, all I could see was the hours of extra work he was giving me to take home.
At the time, my ten year-old self secretly thought I’d won that battle of wills. But decades later I can clearly see why I should have listened to my teacher. I was unable to help my own children with their maths homework and still struggle with what should be simple maths concepts. How I wish now that I’d listened to Mr Norris!
Children rarely understand what is good for them. They go by what they want in the moment. Perhaps the “Children of Israel” were aptly named; generation after generation stubbornly chased after the gods of the nations around them rather than the one true God who had brought them out of Egypt. They ended up stumbling around in the Wilderness for 40 years,many of them never even reaching the Promised Land.
Every child of God has a wilderness experience at some point in our walk with God – however not everyone has to wander in the wilderness.
“The wilderness” – it sounds like a dry, barren and lonely place doesn’t it? But it isn’t intended to be and it doesn’t have to be! The reason the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years was because of their own stubbornness and disobedience.
God had a purpose for the wilderness:
God’s intention was always to take His people to the Promised land – ultimately. But notice what He tells Moses to say to Pharaoh, before their journey even began: ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to tell you, “Let my people go, so they can worship me in the wilderness.” Exodus 8:16
God didn’t tell Moses to say “let my people go so that they can go to the Promised Land and worship me” It was His intention to take them through the wilderness that they would learn to worship Him in the wilderness. The wilderness is a place where we are honed. The wilderness times we go through are opportunities to draw near to God; for our relationship with Him to be strengthened, our dependence upon Him heightened.
If you find yourself in a wilderness at the moment remember that every child of God goes through these times, but not everyone has to be a “wilderness wanderer!”
Living by God’s Instruction Manual
God’s Word is our instruction manual for every aspect of life. We have a teacher, the Holy Spirit, who promises to “guide you into all truth.”
We might not blatantly, “in God’s face” disobey Him by rebelling against what He clearly teaches us in His Word as the Children of Israel did when the worshiped other gods, but disobedience doesn’t necessarily have to be as blatant as that. There is such as thing called passive disobedience, or passive stubbornness. This is much a much subtler but equally damaging attitude.
It’s an underlying attitude of “I can do it myself” – a bit like my attitude towards my maths teacher. Technically I was still doing maths, but I was relying on my way of doing things to get me through and mathematically speaking, you could say I’m still wandering in the desert forty years later!
So when I find myself in a wilderness time, I can either allow God to use the experience to draw me closer to Himself, to teach me to rely completely on Him and to worship Him through the experience, trusting Him to lead me out again, or; I can lazily let old attitudes of self reliance kick in. I can try to carry my own heavy load, when God has said that He is the One who daily bears our burdens. (Psalm 68:19)
This is not “being strong”, this is being pridefully stubborn.
When we are obedient, we are trusting God to be God. Obedience means stepping out of the way and allowing God to have His way and trusting that He will fulfill His promises. He will always be true to His Word.