Wednesday 24 June 2020

On Being in the Wilderness

The below is an excerpt from an email written for the congregation where I am one of the pastors.

Like me, you’re probably listening to updates from the government, wondering what we can do this week that we weren’t allowed to do last week. Indeed, there has been some lifting of restrictions in recent days, and we’ll continue to monitor their implications for us as a church, especially in terms of when and how we might be able to gather again. For the most part, though, a return to ‘normal’ (remember that?) still seems a fair way off. In our more honest moments most of us sense that to be the case.

As a result, it’s easy to feel betwixt and between at this time – neither one thing nor another, neither where we were when the year started or where we hope we might be when the year ends.

As unsettled as we might feel during this season, we are not the first to walk this path. And we might be encouraged to know that God has worked through such circumstances in the past.

In the book of Exodus, after their deliverance from Egypt and their escape through the sea, God’s people enter the wilderness. It’ll be another two months before they arrive at Mount Sinai where God will make a covenant with them. Meanwhile, the wilderness is an ‘in-between’ place, a transitional moment where the people stand on the boundary of something new, the next chapter in the story of God’s dealings with them and the world they will be called to serve.

But the wilderness is not a place to mark time or to circle the runway. Nor is it a moment for them to grit their teeth and get by. It’s a place of formation. It’s during this period that they are to trust that the God who rescued them is the God who will provide for their daily needs (literally their ‘daily bread’ in the form of manna). It’s in the wilderness that these former slaves learn the rhythm of work and rest, set in place at creation. Their service to Pharaoh has been replaced by their service to God, and growing into their identity as God’s people will require living a different way. In addition, while they were largely passive in the destruction of the Egyptian army, it’s in the wilderness that they have to fight new enemies, showing that they’ll need to take a more active role in events going forwards.

In short, it’s in the wilderness that the God who delivers his people also trains them, forming them into a ‘holy nation’ (Exodus 19:6) who will obey him and represent him to a watching world.

Perhaps for us, too, this is a time to grow our trust in the Lord’s care and provision, a time to reflect on how he is training us to live differently, a time to grow in loving our neighbour as ourself.

So keep listening to those updates from the government. It’s right for us to want to come through this period, to get to the next chapter! Nevertheless, it’s good to remember that God is still at work meanwhile – in us and through us – conforming us to the image of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

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