Wherever one is on their faith journey, it’s not the destination. We may be inclined to settle in, but that’s not God’s intention for us—the status quo is never an acceptable landing place.
God is always calling us to a higher goal; God always requires a greater degree of commitment; God is always beckoning us to a more active and urgent expression of faith; God always wants us narrowing the gap between what we say we believe and how we actually spend our time, energy, talents, and money.
The comfort zone bubbles we form around ourselves may be safe and warm, but they isolate and insulate us—they do not help us in heeding God’s command on our lives. Consider the ancient Israelites.
Exodus 40:37 – NIV
But if the cloud did not lift, they did not set out—until the day it lifted.
Numbers 9:19 – NIV
When the cloud remained over the tabernacle, they remained in camp.
Numbers 9:22 – NIV
Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out.
The cloud was what scholars refer to as a theophany; a visible expression of the presence of God. The cloud guided them—it meant that now the Creator dwelt among them to lead them.
It’s certainly mysterious—it may even have mystical elements to it, but we can learn a fundamental lesson here. In my understanding of Scripture, the manifestation of the cloud was to teach the children of Israel how to get from the prophecy to the promise—from the vision to the reality—from faith to sight.
Their nomadic life had a faith development purpose. It was to teach them that their provision, guidance and protection were all dependent on staying in alignment with the One who’d led them out of bondage. Regardless of circumstance, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had matters entirely within the parameters of his sovereignty. He was the source of the cloud—their physical travels were truly about cultivating their character into fertile soil where faith would blossom. The children of Israel were to never get too comfortable or complacent in their surroundings.
For that reason God would intentionally vary the length of time they’d stay in a place. The lesson that required repeating over and over was that no matter how agreeable or convenient a place might be it was not the promise. God did not tell them when he was going to move. He didn’t send advance notice by way of a dispatch or press release. He wanted them to stay in a condition of readiness for change; he wanted them to remain reliant on him and live in expectation of his provision.
Which, all these centuries later, is specifically what God desires of us, isn’t it?
Is Change Necessary?
One of the greatest battles we fight is that of the familiar. Even though the place we find ourselves may be trying or difficult, we rapidly make allowances and adjustments, and once it becomes normal to us, we resist anything that threatens our usual and customary.
For each of us, there will be barren seasons when faith is merely step by step obedience that has nothing to do with feelings or personal preferences. Periods when we function in lonely isolation devoid of any outward evidence that hope will ever be realized.
Yet whittled to its bone, at our core there’s a fierce unyielding—we cling to an overwhelming belief in the God of the Bible. Somehow, with a basic simplicity that can astound and amaze others, in Christ we have the supernatural wherewithal to project an unrelenting assurance that staying open to God’s hand in our lives is all that really matters. We’ve all known heartaches and sorrows that produced bitterness; at one juncture or another we’ve indulged those feelings and allowed them to fester. It’s entirely human to do so, but to take up residence in that stark wasteland by hammering in tent poles is to invite tragedy.
Too long in those badlands will reduce us to bitter people living dry and desolate spiritual lives. Change becomes a dirty word concept that sets off knee-jerk gyrations which are ugly to behold.
We can deny that’ll ever happen to us, but as soon as we start drawing lines in the sand of our heart and tell God he cannot cross them and we won’t move, the pattern is set. As days turn into weeks, into months, into years, we’ll become the kind of grumpy grumblers Kris Kristofferson must have been referring to when he wrote the things they complain about are things they could be changing.
It’s dangerous to silence the insistent promptings of the Holy Spirit in the quiet places of our hearts. As we do so, our spiritual vitality shrivels, and the older we get the more we’ll refuse any hint of change.
Moving time is most interesting. There is in the moving process a vastly uproarious thing called chaos. Everything is chaotic—everything is moved out of place. The everyday routine is replaced by what can be described as confusion blending into cluttered disorder. Nothing is convenient—whenever we need something it seems to be the hardest thing to get at. Also, when we pack up boxes, we begin to realize all the just plain junk we’ve accumulated over the years.
Relocating is a prime opportunity for shifting and sifting. It’s when we can lighten our load, and separate the useful from the useless, the valuable from the worthless.
There’s plenty of spiritual truth that we can apply when we sort through possessions and decide what to keep and what to jettison. What rubbish have we accumulated that’s detrimental to our faith journey?
God is perpetually drawing us to himself—his grace is a fragrant flower with wondrous petals always unfolding just at the instant we are antsy for a fresh realization of our desperate need. As we move from one level to a higher level of faith there are things that we’ll have to leave behind. Discarding bickering and backbiting is always beneficial. Shedding the weight of being misunderstood and misrepresented is surely therapeutic. Getting rid of self-doubt, frustration, and discouragements can bring only positive results.
Dismissing traditions that have no power grants us new insights to read the map before us. Leaving the sin that so easily besets, entangles, and drags us down is to experience glorious freedom.
Putting all our earthly possessions in the back of a truck can often be difficult. It means we are leaving behind the support system of friends and acquaintances to set out for different challenges and new territory. We are leaving the security of our bubble for what may largely be the great unknown.
Here’s where the spiritual truth ought to hit us over the head like a ton of bricks—the unknown zone is where our bubble gets burst and we are compelled to exchange a complacent and comfortable faith for a living faith that is dynamically dependent on the One who sustains us.
Which is exactly what God desire of us, isn’t it?
Hebrews 11:8 – NIV
By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.
“Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man’s power ends.” ~George Muller~
God’s character is immutable—he is unchanging and unchangeable. What God required of Abraham in antiquity is precisely what he invites from each one of those who call themselves followers of Jesus Christ in the 21st century.
God is looking for folks who will follow him into the unknown zone. God is looking for those who’ll leave their carefully constructed bubble and trust him every inch of the way into the unknown zone. There’s a reality that is inescapable: There are some aspects of spiritual growth that will not happen within us until we make the transition into the unknown zone, which is really about probing the faith dimension.
Faith IS NOT receiving answers to all our questions. On the contrary, faith is tossing all the incomprehensible ambiguities of life onto God’s shoulders with the full assurance that his knowledge of us and compassion for us has no limits. Faith IS NOT the absence of doubt—faith is walking in the darkness applying truth we learned in the light. Faith is an action word; faith obeys and presses on even at the risk of looking foolish. Faith honors God and God honors faith. We are to always be ready to move on to the realm of the impossible—we must always let go and let God when we head out into the unknown zone. We may never grasp the whys and wherefores of crossroads choices and moving on in faith. More often than not God at work in us is perplexing, puzzling and powerful.
HOWEVER, if we sincerely seek his guidance, then when he provides it, integrity demands obedience. While we’re still breathing, there’s always one more height to ascend or one more valley to explore. Faith means to be ready to answer God’s continual call to that next level of commitment.
And so the faith journey goes.