In our continued journey through The Story, my fellow church members and I have often found ourselves in the midst of a Biblical story, discovering that application truly abounds for our individuals lives. This was true in our recent reading about the Israelites as they wandered in the desert.
There was a great deal of discontent and complaining going on in that desert wilderness, and the Israelites began to consider what they had left behind in Egypt. On several occasions, they expressed their desire to just go back to Egypt; for even though they had come out of slavery and great oppression, there was food aplenty and all of their needs were met.
At first, it was hard for me to understand why the Israelites would want to go back into bondage rather than continue on their quest to the Promised Land. But Pastor Tim’s explanation helped me conceptualize what was taking place in their minds and hearts. You see, the Israelites were thinking of a time when their bellies were full and their families had everything they needed at their fingertips. Yes, they were slaves, but in many ways, life was predictable, and dare I say it— comfortable.
Pastor Tim made the connection to our lives today. Sometimes, we find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation in which we are wandering in the proverbial wilderness. God might be taking us down a road we don’t expect and our surroundings are unfamiliar. Nothing makes sense and we can’t see the promise that awaits us at the end of the journey. This period of waiting and uncertainty can often be dark and lonely as we try to understand how God is working in our lives. Although we might comprehend that God has better things in store for us on the horizon, we almost wish we could just return to the way things were instead of wallowing in the uncomfortable and in-between.
Such a time for me occurred between 2009 and 2011. I was working through my courses in graduate school while battling illness, and I just couldn’t understand how God could possibly be working in my life. I was tired, my voice was weak, and often I couldn’t find the energy to do the very thing I had thought God had called me to do. I knew God had given me a voice to sing, but when breathlessness stole my vocal control and each job interview concluded without an offer for a position, I began to give up on the dream.
It was just too hard! Was it even worth the effort to keep trying when nothing seemed to come to fruition? On a few occasions, I thought about quitting school to just go back to the familiar. Writing books and performing my music didn’t make much money, but it was fun and fulfilling; I longed to just go back to those days where life was simple and I knew where to go and what to do next. This period of illness and uncertainty was difficult to understand, for I couldn’t see the end result of God’s plan for my life.
It wasn’t until late in 2011 that I began to comprehend my next steps in the journey. I truly believe He had been setting aside FRC as my place of service, and everything fell into place faster than I could have ever hoped to dream. For the first time, I found a sense of purpose in the work I completed. Instead of performing my own music, I was leading God’s people in worship, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. The future glittered with promise, and to this day, I am excited for everything that is on the horizon.
It saddens me to think where I would have been today if I would have given up on graduate school and God’s greater plan for my life. I wouldn’t have the honor and privilege of working with the wonderful people at FRC and learning from them each and every week. My time in the proverbial wilderness was different from that of the Israelites, but as Pastor Tim pointed out, perhaps God has a similar purpose for bringing His people through a time of wandering. There are certain things that we have to relinquish before we can truly take hold of the Promised Land. For me, I had to let go of my own goals and dreams; perfectionism and self-motivation had a hold on me, and it wasn’t until I placed these idols in His hands that I could finally move forward.
I still struggle with perfectionism and somehow thinking I can accomplish anything if I put my mind and heart into it. It is a good trait to have if you are on deadline and need that extra push to get something done, but in many ways, it’s a harmful mindset to have in place. Often when I’m planning the music for a worship service, I struggle to “let go.” There are many musicians in our church who would be perfectly capable to provide special music or lead in praise and worship, but when I look at the song selections I find myself just wanting to play or sing them myself. I know I can depend on myself and my ability to come through when needed; I can’t always say the same for others’ dependability, and I don’t want to relinquish control over the situation.
But the truth is, I need to let others in— to let others do the work and find the sweetness of participating in worship through community. It’s been a long journey for me just trying to set aside these idols of self-motivated expectation and give the control back to God where it belongs. Perhaps this is the Egypt that God is seeking to drain out of me, much like He was seeking to accomplish with the Israelites as they wandered in the desert thousands of years ago.
Perhaps there is an “Egypt” or an idol for you that must be relinquished before you can reach the Promised Land. Ask God for the help and strength to let it go and cling to Him in the time of wilderness wandering. I promise you that the journey is well worth it!