Lessons on the Wait-Time During Difficult Transitions

Transitions in life can be excruciating. This is especially so for one simple reason: the wait time. Waiting on God during transitions in life is far more trying on our patience than waiting in a doctor’s office, or waiting in line for an amusement park ride on a hot summer day, or waiting in the auto mechanic shop while your car is being repaired, or even waiting through a pregnancy. As difficult as all of these are, they only last a moment compared to the bigger wait during life’s more difficult transitions. These times include the wait time to important milestones in raising children, waiting on a spouse to mature spiritually, finding a new job (or just plain finding a job at all!), moving to a new city, finding a church where you can belong, getting pregnant, overcoming a sin pattern, raising money for an important purchase. Fill in the blank. If you’ve ever lived in a transition or are living through one right now, you know what is causing you the most pain in that wait-time.
Rob Wilkerson

We Will Move… When the Cloud Moves
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Some Personal Background
Right now, at this season in life, my pain is in the wait-time during our transition to a new city. We’ve completed the bigger mission God called us to in the city where we live right now. And God has made it quite clear to us that the next part of His mission includes a move to a new city and a new local church where we’ll serve the body and the community. Perhaps you can somewhat relate to the crunch when I explain what it’s like in the meantime. I own a computer business in town. It’s just me, no employees. While I do “bench work” (working on computers in my shop), my main goal is to sell cloud network and storage contracts, workstation optimization contracts, and IP telephony contracts. In short, I use the “cloud” to build networks, work on computers remotely, and move businesses from “landline” telephones to internet phones. Now, with that comes support. And if I sell contracts locally, where I am now, it’s difficult to see how I can support those customers after I move. That in turn makes it difficult to grow my business, which makes it difficult to make a living. My wife is a baker and substitute school teacher. She started working at a local bakery around November last year. She works twenty to thirty hours per week at just above minimum wage, which is ironically just what she was making when we first got married! She has also started her own business as a birth doula and childbirth instructor. She’s so smart and focused. But then again, I’m pretty biased. He clientele is local also, like mine. And since we would like to make a transition this summer, it is difficult to take on new clients because we probably won’t be living here when it’s time to give birth. Or will we? Together, we bring in significantly less than we actually need to pay all the bills each month. In short, we live well below the poverty level here in Georgia. At least financially, anyway. It has literally been the Lord who has provided food for us each month. We are nearing another time this week when we need to buy more groceries, and the money isn’t there. It’s sort of been like this for a year now. And our faithful God has always provided our “daily bread” when we need it. Learning to pray like Jesus taught His followers (what we call the “Lord’s Prayer” today) has included a whole new understanding of the phrase, “give us today our daily bread,” something we knew little about previous to this last year. So here we are, in this…waiting…time…period. How will we make ends meet when we can’t grow a business or make enough money? How should we attempt to make ends meet? What is the “balance” between waiting on God to provide and me providing for my family? What is a waiting period supposed to look like while we wait on God? How does life transpire while waiting on God to provide manna each day and lead the way to the next encampment? It is this last question, shaped by the children of Israel in the wilderness, led by God and provided for by God each and every day that is shaping my life right now. And it shapes the lives of all those who are waiting on God in difficult transitions.

What NOT to Do While Waiting in Transition
The saints who were led by pastor James, the brother of Jesus, lived in difficult transition times. Having been chased out of Jerusalem and scattered all over the place due to persecution, probably by King Herod and/or the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem (covering the events between Acts 7-12). No doubt during these difficult days the believers were tempted and tried in all manner of ways. One such

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temptation was a self-confidence making of plans, but in a way that didn’t acknowledge or submit to the sovereignty of God. I can definitely put myself in the sandals of those believers on this particular issue. There’s a strangeness to waiting that puts one in a constant feeling of limbo. You just never seem to know for sure what you should do. One day you think you get some clarity on something and you begin to pursue it. Then a day or two later it all turns foggy as the very nature of transition and its various elements begin to cloud your thinking. The strong confidence you had about something one day turns to a wishy-washy feeling of doubt, confusion and discouragement one or two days later. One day you think you’re going to go here or there, and within the week it’s so totally changed and you know everyone’s looking at you thinking you’re so flaky and you can’t make up your mind. James knew this was definitely going on the minds, hearts, and lives of his dear people. So he wrote to them about it, and we find it in the final verses of chapter 4 in his letter. Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there for a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog – it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil. Wow. That hits me like a rock from David’s slingshot, right between the eyes, dropping me hard, face down on the ground…which is where I need to be anyway. When our mission with the church plant here was completed, I distinctly remember telling our core group, “We’ll be moving on up to Atlanta later this summer, even if we haven’t sold our house yet.” Unbelievable. I fell right into that trap. The air was thick that night with my pride and self-confidence. I wanted to lead these people well, and I wanted to be a model of someone who was well-thought-out on the matter, and had already lined up a plan. What an idiot. There was not a hint that night of a submission to and trust in God’s sovereignty. James 4 was nowhere on my “radar.” There was just evil boasting. What a way to lead people, huh? But we’ve repented since then. Thank God for grace, right? He has forgiven us and given us many more opportunities in the last three months to obey that passage in James and to truly mean it when we say, “If the Lord wants us to, we’ll move to Atlanta this summer, hopefully before school starts, if the Lord provides a job for me.” I’ve tacked phrases like “Lord willing” on the end of my plans for years. But I’m not sure I really meant it…or deeply understood the implications. Several verses before, James told his people, “God opposes the proud, but favors the humble” (v. 6). There’s the root of the teaching. Pride stimulates us to make plans without regard to God’s sovereignty. Humility reminds us of our place in God’s bigger picture.

A Reminder of How God Leads
It’s funny to me that James was writing to Jews. By far they are a race of people with the most rich, spiritual heritage in world history. The average Jew heard the Old Testament and its stories and teachings far more times than any Christian today would have ever heard the Bible preached and taught. No doubt there were “nominal” Jews who just lived their lives with no regard for God or His word. But overall, the average Jew would have a pretty good picture of where they came from. So it’s always been funny to me that the Jews James was writing to wouldn’t have remembered their heritage
Rob Wilkerson

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in the wilderness where God led them with the pillar of cloud by day and the cloud of fire at night. In short, they didn’t move and go anywhere until the cloud moved and led them to a new destination. But then again, neither did the Jews of Jesus’ day remember that God led them in the wilderness with miraculous manna from heaven…each and every single day. In the longest recorded teaching from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spent a great deal of time reminding the Jews that they never needed to worry about food or clothing. The Heavenly Father already knew they needed this stuff and He would always care for them and provide (6:9-34). Instead, they were to occupy their lives seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness above everything else. So whether it was how God led them in the wilderness or how God fed them in the wilderness, the Jews needed reminding. Their rich heritage did not mean they couldn’t or didn’t forget about it. That’s obviously why God told the Israelites so often in the wilderness to “remember”. He wanted them to remember the story and to tell it over and over again, to each other, to their children, to their neighbors, to their friends, to their grandchildren, etc. Remembering God’s faithful leadership and provisions was the key to creating fresh faith in His promises to continue loving them in those ways. And that’s why you and I need to be reminded of that rich heritage we have, since we follow the same God as the Jews did way back then. We need to spend time remembering, reflecting, reminding, and thereby renewing and even reinvigorating the power of our grasp on God’s promises to provide for us and lead us today. Peter recognized the same need for his people, who were another group of Jews, dispersed throughout the Roman Empire due to a different wave of persecution in his day. Therefore, I will always remind you about these things – even though you already know them and are standing firm in the truth you have been taught. And it is only right that I should keep on reminding you as long as I live…[S]o I will work hard to make sure you always remember these things after I am gone. (2 Pet. 1:12-15)

Remember the Cloud
Paul was all about reminding his people, too. In his first letter to Corinthians he dealt with many, many issues in that church ranging from a guy sleeping with his step-mother, to church members suing each other in the courts of law, to false doctrine, to prejudice and rivalry, to dishonoring the Lord’s Supper, to abuse of spiritual gifts. It’s quite an amazing letter. And running beneath all of these issues was a strong undercurrent of doubt in his apostolic authority in the first place. So not only did they have all sorts of problems that stemmed from not listening to apostolic authority, they also doubted Paul’s authority and thereby shot themselves in the foot, precluding them from getting the very help they needed! This is pretty much what the Jews in the wilderness were doing, though. God brought them out of slavery in Egypt by the most tangible, objective, verifiable, incredible, amazing miracle in all of the Old Testament. When God stood between them and the Egyptian army at night in a cloud of fire, and when God opened the Red Sea and led them through at night with that cloud of fire, and when God closed up the Red Sea early the next morning, killing all of Pharaoh’s army, there could have been and should have been zero doubt that God loved them and intended to protect them and provide for them. Yet within three days’ time they already doubted. Why? Because they were thirsty. I have looked at that story many times and mocked their lack of faith. Then God has turned around and taught me many a time that I much the same way so many times.
Rob Wilkerson

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God led Israel through the wilderness for forty years with what looked like a pillar of cloud in the day time, which turned something like a pillar of fire at night. Every single day for about three months or so, they had a tangible, objective presence of God’s love and leadership out of slavery. Their lives consisted of waiting, though. As the cloud moved, they moved. When the cloud stopped, they stopped. They stopped and set up camp. They pitched their tents, unpacked their stuff, and settled down. Then, when the cloud moved, they took down their tents, packed up their stuff, and followed the cloud. Each waiting period was difficult, usually filled with complaining about the basics: food and water. God would provide for them, always through miracle. Yet the people continued to doubt and complain during the waiting periods. On one particular occasion, when the wait was a little longer than usual, the children of Israel really sinned big time, in a way that was far worse than complaining about food and water. As Moses was up on the mountain for forty days receiving the law of God, Israel got tired of waiting. They assumed way too much, like most of us do, when we are waiting. Just like Abraham and Sarah were tired of waiting for their promised heir through whom God would fulfill His promise of making Abraham a “father of many nations,” the people of Israel got tired of waiting for Moses to lead them to the promised land. Abraham and Sarah hatched a plan which involved birthing an idol (Gen. 16). It would later prove to haunt them and their descendants even to this very day. Moses’ brother and the children of Israel hatched a plan which involved building an idol, out of their jewelry, and fashioned into the shape of a calf (Exod. 32). That moved also proved to haunt not just them, but most followers of God to this very day. Paul wanted to be ultra-clear about that point with the saints in the Corinthian church. So he wrote to them in chapter 10. I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. All of them ate the same spiritual food, and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, or worship idols as some of them did. As the Scriptures say, “The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry”…causing 23,000 of them to die in one day. Nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did and died from snakebites. And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then they were destroyed by the angel of death. These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age. (10:1-11) Paul begins his rebuke, reproof, warning and teaching to them in chapter 10 with the cloud in the wilderness. I believe he does so for one reason: the presence of the cloud was the very presence of God, and doubting God when His very presence is clearly and tangibly perceived should make us very fearful…even as Christians. Doubting God always brings the building or birthing of idols. When we don’t believe God is near and that He is faithful, we begin hatching our own plans to “help God out,” or to
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help ourselves out, more likely. And in so doing we also hatch what will often become a lifetime of miserable consequences, all allowed, if not orchestrated by God, in order to become a living reminder that we must not doubt Him ever again. The Bible is filled with stories that show this pattern. Most of the stories center on people whom God loved, which in turn provides us with hope that despite our doubt and consequences, God loves us, too. I think of Abraham and Sarah, as mentioned earlier. Twice they colluded on a lie about her being his sister, because they didn’t believe God would keep them safe. They colluded together on a plan involving Abraham and his maidservant having a child together. And to this day their child, Ishmael, and his descendants have been a living reminder that we must not doubt God again. I recall the story of Jacob and Esau. A prophecy was given at birth that the older would serve the younger. And instead of waiting on God Jacob’s own mother hatched a plan to secure the fulfillment of her favorite son’s destiny. So she dressed Jacob up like his big brother, cooked her husband’s favorite dinner, and sent him in as a poser and he got the first-born blessing instead of Esau. The consequences included a painful lesson about lying, which earned him an unattractive first wife who caused relentless strife in his marriage to a second wife. I think of Moses who doubted God’s ability to help him speak clearly and be the leader for Israel’s rescue from slavery. So God gave him his brother Aaron, who later became the very man who led the children of Israel into idolatry while Moses was on the mountain receiving the law. The consequences they had to live with for the rest of their lives must have been unbelievably painful. I also think of Gehazi, the prophet Elisha’s right-hand man. Instead of being content with trusting God to provide for him every day, Gehazi decided to lie to Naaman to get a boat-load of gold and wealth. As a consequence he also ended up receiving the leprosy Naaman was just healed from earlier that day. The consequences Gehazi had to live with for the rest of his life were also unbelievably painful. I am reminded of Peter who was tired of waiting on Jesus to defend Himself. So in a single moment of desperation took a sword and tried to be a one-man army for Jesus. Aiming for a soldier’s head, the soldier obviously ducked sideways and lost his ear instead. Though Jesus healed the soldier’s ear, and though Peter later became a rock for the early church, the consequences of his action that night are still told to this day, no doubt to Peter’s embarrassment were he still among us today. Also waiting on Jesus to make His move and bring the promised kingdom of God by force was Judas Iscariot. Tired of waiting, and probably hoping to push Jesus into making a bold move to establish His kingdom, Judas hatched a plan to betray Jesus, putting Him right in the middle of a decision to act, and making a little money on the side. Judas’ consequences are felt by him to this very day, and will be for all eternity. There are obviously many more similar stories. But two things are clear from just these few examples. Waiting on God to do what He said He would do can, if allowed, create a fog of confusion in our hearts and minds which leads us to either lie (like Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Gehazi, and Judas) or make foolish decisions out desperation (like Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Peter, and Judas). Either way, we should not be surprised by difficult, if not painful, consequences which follow us the rest of our lives, serving as a loving reminder from our Heavenly Father that He never fails and He will always love us, protect us, and provide for us. That’s why Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth to essentially, “Remember the cloud.”

Rob Wilkerson

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The Cloud Provided a Constant, Unmistakable Leadership
In the narrative Moses left us about the whole wilderness experience (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, & Deuteronomy), we get one important glimpse of a very important function of the cloud in Exodus 40 and Numbers 9. Then the cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle…Now whenever lifted from the Tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out on their journey, following it. But if the cloud did not rise, they remained where they were until it lifted. The cloud of the Lord hovered over the Tabernacle during the day, and at night fire glowed inside the cloud so the whole family of Israel could see it. This continued throughout all their journeys. (Exod. 40:34-38) On the day the Tabernacle was setup, the cloud covered it. But from evening until morning the cloud over the Tabernacle looked like a pillar of fire. This was the regular pattern – at night the cloud that covered the Tabernacle had the appearance of fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from over the sacred tent, the people of Israel would break camp and follow it. And wherever the cloud settled, the people of Israel would set up camp. In this way, they traveled and camped at the Lord’s command wherever he told them to go. Then they remained in their camp as long as the cloud stayed over the Tabernacle. If the cloud remained over the Tabernacle for a long time, the Israelites stayed and performed their duty to the Lord. Sometimes the cloud would stay for only a few days, as the Lord commanded. Then at the Lord’s command they would break camp and move on. Sometimes the cloud stayed only overnight and lifted the next morning. But day or night, when the cloud lifted, the people broke camp and moved on. Whether the cloud stayed above the Tabernacle for two days, a month, or a year, the people of Israel stayed in camp and did not move on. But as soon as it lifted, they broke camp and moved on. So they camped or traveled at the Lord’s command… (Num. 9:15-23) I tend to like the Exodus reading over the Numbers passage simply because it’s more…simple. The Numbers passage is definitely redundant, recounting the same basic thing three different times. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my years of Bible study, hermeneutics, and exegesis it’s this: something emphasized or repeated is definitely not something to miss! Moses spent nine verses repeating the obvious important fact that God’s leadership was unmistakable in the wilderness. Why? Why do you think? Obviously the answer is simple. Moses wanted them to live their lives in a daily habit of stepping out of their tents and looking upward, heavenward, for daily directions from God. He wanted to stress the habitual nature of an entire nation of people who kept their eye on the Tabernacle, all throughout the day, to see what God wanted them to do. Man! How I love that picture for my life today! The cloud was something Israel could see, and even touch…but only if they wanted to die! It was God’s literal presence with them on earth. Exodus 33:9 talked about it this way: “As [Moses] went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and hover at its entrance while the Lord spoke with Moses.” God, in the cloud, told Moses, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest – everything will be fine for you.” Then in 34:5 Moses described it this way: “Then the Lord came down in a cloud and stood there with [Moses]; and he called out his own name, Yahweh.”

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The cloud was a literal representation of God Himself. God was in the cloud, speaking to Moses, almost face-to-face, if the cloud would have had a face. God was holy, other, and separate, to be transcendently avoided yet imminently embraced. It was His way of giving Israel a visible, tangible, objective, living-color means of embracing His presence with them. It was a means of removing ALL doubt as to whether God was still with them. All they ever needed to do when in doubt was to exit their tent, look to the center of town, and see the cloud resting above the tabernacle. It was as simple as that. What is more, there was never a “what if” about when they were supposed to pack up and move to the next destination in the wilderness. They moved when the cloud moved. Yet how do often I struggle to this day with “what if’s” about my own transition. What if God wants to do this or that? What if God wants to give me this job? What if God wants me to move in this house? What if God is trying to…? What if God is planning to…? In my more insane moments, these questions are spawned and like an infestation of flies they busy my mind with needless distractions which I feel a strange sense of obligation to answer and deal with. It’s almost like I become obsessed with a fictional sense of responsibility, trying to figure out what God is doing. Have you ever felt like that before? In my sane moments it becomes ridiculously clear that all of these kinds of questions and scenarios are really unnecessary. When the cloud moves, God moves. It’s that simple. When God does something for me, I’ll know it. When God provides a job for me, it will be obvious. When God provides a house for us it’ll be as plain as the nose on my face. When I need money to do something or pay something, God will provide it. When I need work to earn that money, God will give it to me. When I’ve worked all I can and don’t know what else to do, God will provide for me. When I’m looking for jobs and sending out resumes like everybody in the world wants one, and I’m getting only “No Thank You” emails, God will provide. Here’s one thing I’ve learned during this transition period: if it feels like striving, it probably is. When I’m in a mode of contriving and striving, I’m in a state of disorder mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Allowing “what if’s” to occupy my heart throughout the day, and even late at night, is nothing but contriving. I’m trying to concoct, devise, fabricate, or manufacture a strategy God might be using, so that I can feel some sort of confidence about getting up the next morning and doing something that seems remotely helpful in getting me from point A to point B. But in another day or two, I’ll turn to striving as the contriving I did earlier seems to fall apart and my confidence dissolves into a pit of despair again. What an emotional roller coaster ride, right!? I don’t believe God wants any of His children to live like that. And I’m so thankful for this example, this story, this historical evidence found in the cloud in the wilderness. When the cloud moved, God was ready to move His people. There was no doubt as to what the lifting of the cloud meant. And there was no doubt as to what the moving of the cloud meant. And there was no doubt as to what the settling of the cloud meant. It was as simple for them as red light, yellow light, and green light are for us today. Well, maybe not so much the yellow light.

The Cloud Provided a Constant Sense of Direction
I do believe God wants us to live in patience and contentment while we wait. If the lifting, moving and settling of the cloud provided simple instruction and direction for the Israelites, what were they doing in the mean time? They were either living life where they were, or they were travelling to their next
Rob Wilkerson

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destination. When the cloud settled, they unpacked their stuff, setup tents, setup their communities and neighborhoods, constructed the tabernacle and…just settled down and lived life. We often forget that there were about two million Israelites that cross the Red Sea. And we often forget that those two million people were having babies and raising families while they were in the wilderness. Those two million could have turned into 2.5 million or more during the forty year wilderness travels. The nation was split up by tribe or family, each one tracing their lineage back to one of the twelve sons of Jacob. The families or tribes were arranged around the tabernacle in a specific order. It would have resembled something very much like our neighborhoods and suburbs with tents for houses and paths for streets. It would have been quite easy to find your way around the massive population if you had memorized the layout, which never changed when they moved to a new location. When the cloud settled the families settled, tents and homes went up, instant neighborhoods and communities were built. Friendships that were formed within your own tribe might have meant pitching your tent closer to them on the next trip or even moving next door! Friendships formed in other tribes meant frequent travel to and from those neighborhoods in the days, weeks, months and years to follow. With over two million people camping out, communities and neighborhoods would have even been separated by many miles. That meant a lot of walking if you wanted to travel to see your friends in another part of the nation. Birthday parties, feasts, festivals, jobs, raising kids, raising animals, making clothes, mending clothes, changing diapers, taking baths, collecting manna each morning, making bread each day, sweeping out the tents, changing the linens, brushing teeth before bedtime…all in all they lived pretty much a normal life when the cloud settled. This made their direction life quite simple: live life where you are until God moves you somewhere else. But when the cloud lifted, most of that changed. To be sure, life went on, diapers were changed when on the move, bedtime routines were interrupted and feeding and herding animals was a challenge. There’s really no telling how long they all had to take down their tents, pack up their homes and lives, gather their children and animals, and be ready to move with the cloud. Perhaps a day, maybe a week? Who knows? One thing is for sure: when the cloud started moving, you’d better be ready to move your family and stuff. In short, when the cloud settled, you settled. When the cloud lifted, you lifted. When the cloud moved, you moved. Such direction about where you were to live and what you were to do was so simple in those days. And it becomes so easy for me today to think that my life is somehow so much more complicated that I can’t follow God this way any longer. When God wants to move my family, He’ll make it plain and obvious how He is going to do that. It may not look like me getting a job first, and then finding a house. That’s how it plays out in my mind, at least. But God is God, and His ways are not my ways, and His thoughts are not my thoughts. Sure, my job is to find a job where I want to move. I do my part. I work hard where I am to provide for my family, and I work hard to find a job in our next city. Between now and then, however, my responsibility is to wait on the cloud, to wait on the Lord.

Practically speaking, there are two things that just jump right out at me personally when I meditate on the cloud in the wilderness. The first is that life is a mission. In the wilderness, the
mission was to worship God. In the church today the mission is preach the gospel to the nations so that they may worship, too. Words like worship, mission, and nations all inherently connote movement. You can’t be still doing any of those things. They all carry a constant undertone of transition. And that’s just the way God intends it. If the book of Joshua teaches anything, it’s that settling down too long in one place brings an unhealthy ease to the soul. That’s why we have two narratives in the Old Testament to teach us this fact. Abraham and Moses’ stories both show us that the real “promised land” will never be
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on this earth, but awaits us in heaven. It is there that we will finally settle down and rest once and for all. Until then, the life of a believer is about movement and transition.

The second practical thing I learn from this story is to live light. If the believer’s life is about the
movements and transitions involved in worship, mission, and nations then it makes sense to live light, to no store up treasures for myself on earth. That’s because when the cloud moves, I’ve got pack it all up! My wife remarks that I/we are definitely not living light when we have to pack up and move my four-tofive thousand volume library! Perhaps not. But I tell her that they are like the bones of Joseph which we’ll continue to carry until they reach whatever promised land God wants to leave them in! Seriously though, it does make sense to pare down to the essentials of life in order to be ready to move when the cloud does. The cloud is settled here for us right now. This is where we currently live, and this is where we will continue to live until God makes the way. His leadership for us will be as clear as the path He carved through the Red Sea. It will be as plain for us as the cloud of fire leading them across dry land. It will be as obvious to us as the pillar of cloud leading them through the wilderness day by day. And until that cloud lifts, we settle here, making friends, building relationships, discipling others, raising a family, enjoying bedtime routines, praying and looking for work, putting out resumes, cutting my grass, cleaning my house, cooking meals, and herding children. The fact that the cloud has not lifted brings simplicity to my life. I cannot make a move until God makes it. The cloud brings security to my life. I know that God is with me, even though I do not have a literal cloud in front of me every day. The cloud brings safety. I feel safe with such secure and simple direction. And I would be wise to battle on every front to fight against the idols that produce distraction, confusion, lying and foolish acts of desperation. This was the battle of the average Israelite in the wilderness. And according to the apostle Paul, it’s the same battle of the average Christian today.

The Cloud Provided a Constant Sermon on Mercy
However, I do fail…and often it seems. There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t feel like I fail in some way with this whole ordeal. I have “good” days and “bad” days, though with God’s grace there really is no such thing. I complain sometimes, just like the children of Israel. I gripe, too. I have lied, and perhaps have made foolish decisions of desperation. I carry around consequences to this day of failures in the past. And it pains my conscience when I think that my family must bear the brunt of those consequences of my own doing. I look back over the last ten years of my life and wonder how many of my moves for “ministry” were not foolish decisions. There’s one or two I am absolutely certain about. The rest are a mystery to me. I have no doubt that my failure to step out of my tent every morning and look continually to the cloud throughout the day certainly did not create an atmosphere or environment where I was listening to God and watching His hand. I was often too eager to remove myself from some sort of pain, difficulty or conflict. Consequently, I would see mirages in the wilderness, mistaking the cloud for what only looked like clouds. Insane moments of “what if’s” seemed to carve out my reality in those seasons, and when I look back on these times, never once was I really crossing through on dry ground. Meanwhile I dragged my family through swampy lands, desperately wanting to believe that I could see, or at least at some point had seen the cloud. My family followed so faithfully, believing in me, believing I
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was actually hearing God’s voice and following the cloud. I am positive that my wife was probably looking beyond me, believing in the God Who was leading me, even amidst my own foolishness. Perhaps you can relate…whether you’re a husband or a wife…or even if you’re a kid who followed a dad like that! Yet even in these seasons and decisions of my life the cloud offers a daily sermon in mercy. An Israelite could wake up in the morning, see the cloud, know that they were settled for the moment, and then encounter some unfortunate circumstances that might have turned him sour the rest of the day. He then comes home, takes out his frustration on his wife and kids. He kicks the family goat, swears a little, and goes to bed angry about it all, confused, frustrated, and irritated that things turned out that way. But then, he gets up the next morning, and because all the tents in the nation were setup so that the front door opened to the Tabernacle, he would see the cloud. And then he would feel an overwhelming, fresh wave of mercy. Despite his sinful behavior and lack of trust in God, the cloud was still there.

The cloud did not rise and settle based on the sins of the people. Nehemiah remembers the
cloud even in his day. His people had been given to slavery and bondage again, for the umpteenth time in their nation’s history, and for the same thing over and over again: idolatry. In Nehemiah’s day the Jews were just beginning to be released from their bondage in Persia after seventy years of captivity. Nehemiah was given permission by the king to go and rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. After the wall was completed, they gathered together to celebrate the next festival on the Jewish party calendar: the feast of booths, known later on the book of Acts as Pentecost. Ezra the priest read the law of God…from beginning to end…though not all at one time. The people would gather daily to listen to the reading of the Word, and then Ezra would explain what he was reading and preach to the people. After days of listening to the longest consecutive exposition of Scriptures in history, the people fasted and confessed their sins. This was followed by a group of leaders praying aloud. Their prayers were recorded for us in Nehemiah 9. There they recount the foolishness of their nation’s history. God’s incredible creation, calling of Abraham, deliverance from Egypt, giving of the law, and miraculous daily provisions were responded to with pride, stubbornness, disobedience, and flat-out rebellion. And then they prayed this, in verses 1721: But you are a God of forgiveness, gracious and merciful, slow to become angry, and rich in unfailing love. You did not abandon them, even when they made an idol shaped like a calf and said, ‘This is your god who brought you out of Egypt!’ They committed terrible blasphemies. But in your great mercy you did not abandon them to die in the wilderness. The pillar of cloud still let them forward by day, and the pillar of fire showed them the way through the night. You sent your good Spirit to instruct them, and you did not stop giving them manna from heaven or water for their thirst. For forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out, and their feet did not swell! The constant presence of the cloud was a daily reminder of the constant presence of God…despite their behavior. God’s presence doesn’t ebb and flow with His people’s obedience and disobedience. Why? Because a sacrifice had already been made on behalf of their sins every year on the Day of Atonement, in addition to the individual sin offerings the people would make throughout the days, weeks, months,
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and years. God’s presence in the cloud was there by sheer grace, because a satisfying offering had been made for their sins obtaining forgiveness. That’s why the cloud never, ever left them all those years. Today that grace still remains with us. Jesus Christ was the once-and-for-all offering given to God, satisfying the demands of the law of God, obtaining our forgiveness. That is why God’s presence in His Holy Spirit never, ever leaves us throughout all our years. Despite our sin, our failures, our mistakes, our rebellion, our disobedience, the fact is that God will keep His promise to never leave us nor forsake us (Deut. 31:6; Josh. 1:5; Heb. 13:5). He will be with us always, to very end of the world (Matt. 28:20). That’s why even amid God’s discipline through the bloodshed and chaos of the fall of Jerusalem, the prophet Jeremiah could pray as he wept through what was only the beginning of an incredibly terrifying transition for him at that time. The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!” The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord. (3:19-26).

The Cloud Provided a Constant Sense of Security
I really struggle with insecurity. It is super-easy for me to take things personally, to see obstacles as specific threats against me personally, and to find myself wading through a slough of despondency after a series of failures or dumb mistakes. Too much of my life is represented by that game of pegs I play at the local Cracker Barrel restaurant. According to the wooden triangle, I’m supposed use the pegs to jump each other, removing the “jumped” peg, and in the end only leave one peg. If I eave one peg the wood triangle says I’m a genius. If I leave two pegs I’m pretty smart. If I leave three, I’m “just plain dumb.” And when I leave four or more, it calls me an “ignoramus.” I think that’s Latin for, you’re an idiot. Now to be sure, there’ve been a couple of times when I played the game that I’ve left just one. But you can pretty well guess what the problem was, right? I didn’t remember how I did it! And so, while I gloat in my genius moments, much of my efforts leave me feeling like an insecure idiot. Hopefully you’re not like me, but if you are you might be able to relate to that inner sense of irritation and massive sense of insecurity and even attack on your identity in Christ when you play like an ignoramus! Maybe it’s just me, though. My life feels very much like that stinking peg game! So many of the same mistakes made over and over again eventually leaves one feeling like an idiotic ignoramus over and over again. These failures have a way of slowly but incessantly chipping away at a feeling of security and identity in Christ. One would think that I would have learned by now and would get it right more often than not. It does seem to be getting better. I’ve often thought that perhaps I’m just a “late bloomer” or something. My mom did tell me quite frequently growing up that she wondered if I had peanut butter for brains!

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There’s nothing like a firm, solid, concrete, immovable, mountainous sense of security, though. I want to feel like Mount Everest, and I want the temptations and trials to feel like BB’s against my exploding height of strength and spiritual mass. Somehow though, I get the picture from passages like Hebrews 4 that they didn’t feel like that for even Jesus. Nevertheless, it is HIS success over sin that counts for me before the Father…and thankfully, not my own. My security lies in what HE has done for me, in who HE is for me, and in what HE is doing in me and through me. That’s my Paul says in Ephesians 1 that my salvation and redemption is the praise of HIS glorious grace…and not to my performance or failures. During times of discipline from God, seasons of difficult consequences, and especially in all periods of waiting in transition, we are fair game for the Satan’s attacks. It is during these times that he knows we are especially easy targets for temptations to idolatry, lying, and foolish decisions of desperation. This is precisely what the forty years in the wilderness in the Old Testament are intended to show us as New Testament people today. What the Israelites failed to do in their wilderness experience, Jesus Christ succeeded in doing for His people today. In his substitutionary forty days in the wilderness, He was tempted by Satan in the very same areas as Israel (Matt. 4:1 ff.). Israel was tempted with concerns about food, and so was Jesus. Israel was tempted with concerns about protection in the wilderness, and so was Jesus. Israel was tempted with concerns about the promised land, and so was Jesus.

In the Old Testament wilderness experience, the cloud provided a constant sense of security for Israel, which made their fears appropriately look foolish and unnecessary. The very first
appearance of the cloud in Israel is seen at the Red Sea incident. Exodus 13:18 tells us that, “God led them in a round-about way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle.” I love that! Just earlier we see the truth about their situation. The easiest route to get to the Promised Land was the road running through Philistine territory. But God wouldn’t lead them that route because He said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt” (v. 17). So here we have a people, who are not an army ready for battle, being positioned by God as an army ready for battle. Yet the whole story is about God as the One who is about to do battle and not His tired and weak people. The rest of the narrative is too good to simply summarize here. The Israelites left Succoth and camped at Etham on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light at night with a pillar of fire. This allowed them to travel by day or night. And the Lord did not remove the pillar of cloud or pillar of fire from its place in front of the people. Then the Lord gave these instructions to Moses: “Order the Israelites to turn back and camp by Pi-hahiroth between Midgol and the sea. Camp there along the shore, across from Baal-zephon. Then Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are confused. They are trapped in the wilderness!’ Once again I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will chase after you. I have planned this in order to display my glory through Pharaoh and his whole army. After this the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord!” So the Israelites camped there as they were told. When word reached the king of Egypt that the Israelites had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds. "What have we done, letting all those Israelite slaves get
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away?" they asked. So Pharaoh harnessed his chariot and called up his troops. He took with him 600 of Egypt's best chariots, along with the rest of the chariots of Egypt, each with its commander. The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, so he chased after the people of Israel, who had left with fists raised in defiance. The Egyptians chased after them with all the forces in Pharaoh's army—all his horses and chariots, his charioteers, and his troops. The Egyptians caught up with the people of Israel as they were camped beside the shore near Pi-hahiroth, across from Baal-zephon. As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the LORD, and they said to Moses, "Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren't there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? Didn't we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, 'Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It's better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!'" But Moses told the people, "Don't be afraid. Just stand still and watch the LORD rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The LORD himself will fight for you. Just stay calm." Then the LORD said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving! Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground. And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they will charge in after the Israelites. My great glory will be displayed through Pharaoh and his troops, his chariots, and his charioteers. When my glory is displayed through them, all Egypt will see my glory and know that I am the LORD!" Then the angel of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to the rear of the camp. The pillar of cloud also moved from the front and stood behind them. The cloud settled between the Egyptian and Israelite camps. As darkness fell, the cloud turned to fire, lighting up the night. But the Egyptians and Israelites did not approach each other all night. You know the rest of the story. Things did not turn out very well for Pharaoh and his army. Things turned out incredible for Israel. I simply want to emphasize the one of the first appearances of the cloud, the presence and glory of God, in this story. And in this part of the story the cloud is leading them and protecting them. Understanding how this leading and protecting work together is crucial, especially for me at this vulnerable season in my family’s life. The cloud led the children of Israel away from one battle they could not win. Going north would have meant a battle with the Philistines. And after hundreds of years conditioned by slavery, they were in no shape to fight. So God led them away from a battle that would discourage them and send them running for their lives back to Egypt. Yet God also wanted them permanently removed from Egypt, with hardly a chance of going back. So while He was leading them away from one battle they could not win, He was leading them toward another battle they could not win. Things get sort of confusing at this point, if you’re somebody who pays even the slightest bit of attention to the story here. What’s the difference between one battle they could not win and another battle they could not win? Upon further meditation on the text, there are two obvious features of the story that jump out at me.
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First, simply put, God wanted to waste the Egyptian army. He could not have done that if He led
them north, because then, in a fearful flight away from the Philistines, they would have run right back into the arms of the enslaving Egyptians. This was all a part of God’s plan from the very beginning. “I have planned this in order to display my glory through Pharaoh and his whole army. After this the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord!” (14:4, emphasis mine). I love Moses’ communication to a fearful people upon seeing Pharaoh’s army on the horizon. “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. The Lord HIMSELF will fight for you. Just stay calm” (14:13, emphasis mine). God’s whole point behind this strange path to the Promised Land was to utterly destroy the Egyptian army. Period.

Second, God set them up to display HIS glory, HIS strength, HIS might, HIS power. This whole
ordeal was all about HIM. God led His people to place where there would be no mistake, either among them or other nations from that day forward, that God was the One fighting for His people…that ALL His enemies would end up just like Pharaoh’s army…that NO army or weapon formed against Israel would succeed. God was out to make a name for HIMSELF! This was HIS reputation at stake here. The cloud was an important player in the story, because it was God Himself. As the story goes, the cloud normally traveled out in front of Israel, leading them. But in this story we see something that was never repeated again in their history. For the first and only time in their history the cloud moved to the rear of the nation. It moved there to separate them from the Egyptian army, and to keep the night lit up so both groups could see what the other was doing. The cloud had such an ominous presence that, in light of the previous happenings to Pharaoh and his people, they knew this was something having to do with their God. So he played it smart and didn’t make a move to rush through the cloud and attack Israel. For all he knew they would have been disintegrated or electrocuted! The cloud stayed behind all two-plus million of these people as they walked across the dry seabed of the Red Sea. It followed the last person across the Sea and stayed there continuing to separate the two nations. The presence of God acted as a constant sense of security to each Israelite, for as each one no doubt looked behind them at some point in the walk across the sea, they would have seen the cloud of fire behind them protecting them from Pharaoh. And it was on the other side of the sea, as the cloud settled between Israel in the wilderness and Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea, that, “Just before dawn the Lord looked down on the Egyptian army from the pillar of fire and cloud, and he threw their forces into total confusion He twisted their chariot wheels, making their chariots difficult to drive. ‘Let’s get out of here – away from these Israelites!’ the Egyptians shouted. ‘The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt!’” (14:2425). I can’t let my heart or family miss this important feature of the story. In the settling and waiting period of my transition, God is interested in absolutely securing my protection…for my good and for His glory. God has set His cloud in front of me, providing constant and unmistakable leadership, a constant sense of direction, a constant sermon of His mercy, and a constant sense of security. Yet He is not only in front of me. He is also behind me. He stands permanently settled between me and the forces of darkness, between myself and Satan’s armies. Like David said in Psalm 139:5, “You go before me and you follow me,” and like Isaiah said in 58:8, “the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind…” God is dedicated to my security and protection, especially in transition.

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God is designing and orchestrating the events of my life so that however they happen and turn out no one will have doubt as to how it all could have worked out. He wants it all to play out so that He is the only one who is obviously leading. God doesn’t want anyone mistaking His leadership and protection for mere coincidence in my life. There’s no such thing as happenstance or luck. When God is leading and protecting His people, He will make sure that He gets the glory and that me and my family are secured.

It’s crucial to see the link between these two features. My good and His glory go hand-inhand. God will never act in such a way that puts His glory ahead of my good, simply because my good is
how God shows His glory to the world. Such a statement may seem shocking at first. But the sheer truth of the matter is that my good and my outcome, my being led and provided for and protected in and through my transition is inextricably linked to God glorifying Himself and building His reputation. No doubt this is where our God separates Himself from the gods of other religions. Those gods make a horrid name for themselves as brutish deities who need to be constantly pacified with absurd offerings in order to even remotely act on behalf of the people whom they supposedly represent. But not our God. When I doubt God’s good ness to me, I also doubt His desire to glorify Himself. When I believe and am freshly and deeply convinced that God’s primary aim is to glorify Himself in the universe, I am instantly brought to believe and embrace that He is good, and that He is good to me personally. This leads me to believe that He will always keep me secure. He will protect me. He will always be a place of safety where I can go. The Psalms are filled with sort of talk as David, Moses, Asaph and others sing to the infinite God of absolute safety and security. When the cloud was present, God was present. When God was present, provision and protection were present. When provision and protection are present, doubt is dispelled, fear is dissolved, despair is destroyed, and discouragement is devastated. My task in this transition…really my only task…is to focus and refocus myself each day, throughout each day, on the truth that the cloud is always there. God will never leave me or forsake me. He will be with me always, even to the end of the world, whatever that may look like.

The Cloud for Us Today
The cloud in the wilderness was a literal cloud, but it was part of a story within a greater story. The Old Testament is full of promises God made to His people, as well as shadows of how He would fulfill them. The lamb sacrificed and the scapegoat released on the Day of Atonement were shadows of the ultimate Day of Atonement when Christ Himself was crucified for all our sins once-and-for-all. The Tabernacle and Temple were a shadow of the ultimate buildings which are people constructed together by God into a community called the church. The priests in the sacrificial system of the Old Testament were shadows of each and every believer who is called to minister before God sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise. And on and on it goes. So where does the cloud fit into the greater story? If the cloud was the shadow, what is the fulfillment? The Holy Spirit! And there is one key text I’ve already alluded to that helps make that connection. In Matthew, Mark and Luke we find that connection. Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and nights… (Matt. 4:1-2)
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The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. (Mark 1:12) Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. (Luke 4:1-2) In the unfolding drama of the redemption Christ was bringing to the Father’s world, the various incidents of Jesus’ ministry are unfolded to us as fulfillments of things God promised or did in the Old Testament. The crossing of the Red Sea pictures Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. They were “baptized” as a whole group of people into the leadership of Moses, who is a shadow of Jesus. Jesus was the ultimate deliverer, and His baptism in the Jordan River represents a baptism for His people into His leadership and redemption. Recalling that the cloud led the nation through the Red Sea and out into the wilderness for forty years, Jesus also, according to these texts, was led into the wilderness…except by the Holy Spirit. The cloud for the children of Israel in the Old Testament then, is a shadow of the Holy Spirit for the children of God, or the church, in the New Testament. It is He who leads us today. Recalling and reusing the whole slavery/redemption motif, Paul teaches in Romans 8: For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. (vv. 14-17) Just as the cloud provided leadership for a rescued, redeemed, delivered and empowered people of Israel, the Spirit of God provides the same today for His children. And it is precisely this truth that equips each child of God to resist the temptations of the wilderness we all fact today. While Jesus’ substitutionary conquering of the temptations in the wilderness over a forty day period was a fulfillment of what His people were unable to do in forty years – namely, trusting and obeying God – the same power He had to do so – the Holy Spirit’s leadership – is the very same power we have inside of us! What this means is that my failures in temptation are covered by the Savior’s once-and-for-all redemption through His blood…AND the Father counts His success in the wilderness as if it were my own success. So I’m both forgiven and I’m treated as if I’m a super-conqueror in all temptations. But here is something else that makes it even more awesome, as if that were really possible at all. Not only am I forgiven in my failures in temptation. Not only am I treated as if I have a 100% success rate in conquering temptation. I am also given the same power Jesus had to actually have real success in my every day fight with temptation. And that power is the Holy Spirit! I have forgiveness. I have representation and substitution. AND I have the supernatural power! I’ve got it all! This is crucial truth I am resolved to hang on to here. It is life-giving and life-sustaining truth. And it is in those times when I do not hang on to it that I fall to temptation and sin. Knowing that the Spirit today is the key to every believer’s every problem with every temptation in every wilderness experience, Paul explains our responsibility this way. Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your
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sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Holy Spirit if you have the Spirit of Christ living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) And Christ lives within you, so that even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. (Rom. 8:5-11) Again, set in the slavery/redemption motif, Paul is out to make one crucial thing utterly clear for the people of God: the Spirit of God leads the child of God and empowers the child of God to conquer sin. This is where the cloud in the Old Testament differs from the Spirit in the New Testament. The cloud did not indwell each person. It indwelt only the Tabernacle and the Temple. But in the New Testament the Spirit indwells every believer. In the Old Testament the cloud surrounded the top of Mount Sinai while God was giving the law, a law which convicted and condemned every person as a sinner against God. But in the New Testament the Spirit indwells each believer and writes the law of God on our hearts so that we will no longer have an inclination to rebel against God (Ezek. 36:26-27; Jer. 31:31-34). I have had my share of failures and sin and rebellion in my wilderness. I would have acted right along with any number of unfaithful Israelites in the wilderness, complaining and whining against God’s faithful and loving leadership. I probably would have been one of those thousands that were killed for the rebellious activities. I can distinctly recall specific times when I have acted as an unbelieving fool in times of temptation and trial, just because I was scared God might not do anything good for me any more. I chose to believe that when I sinned enough times in a particular way then the cloud was no longer standing in the center of town, and I no longer had the Spirit’s leadership in my life. I made conscious choices to deny the truths of His promises that He would never leave me or forsake me. Maybe you can relate to that. Most of these failures and occurrences of rebellion center on anxiety and worry. I used to be a “worrywart” as my mom was once fond of calling me. To be honest, I am probably more of a repenting “worrywart” because I still fail from time to time. Thankfully I have had my rear-end kicked enough in the wilderness that those moments are growing fewer and farther between. But I can recall times when I felt myself sinking into the deepest pit of despair and depression because I would stress out and worry about stuff that I could do nothing about. (And that’s a tool Satan uses quite regularly with all God’s children it seems…falsely convincing them that they have some sort of responsibility to fix themselves and set everything straight so that God will be pleased with them.) The lie I believed and still find myself believing from time to time is that God is really not near to me anymore. I choose to believe, in those seasons, that the cloud has left and there is no more mercy, no more leadership, no more security, and no more direction. If there were any one human being, other than Jesus, who understood this it was the apostle Paul. For it was while he was in jail – falsely imprisoned and deeply persecuted – that he chose to believe the truth about his situation: God was still near. And this drove his behavior so that he did not fall (at least that we read of) to the activities and behavior of the sinful nature he talked about in Romans 8.

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When he was ministering, evangelizing, and attempting to plant a church in Philippi he was arrested, beaten, and imprisoned. Surely that would have been a time where I personally might have fallen to despair and depression. But not Paul. You’ll recall that he and Silas sat in jail, probably on bleeding, sore bums, with their feet and hands chained to a wall, their bleeding and bruised backs pressed against cold, moldy stone walls, rats in and out chewing at any food offered to them, which they probably couldn’t reach anyway. And instead of giving in to the anxiety and worry that are rooted in the lie that God has forsaken them, they chose instead to sing praises to God. No doubt remembering his experience in their town, Paul writes to the Philippian church years later to follow his example by believing in the promise of God’s omnipresence. The Lord is at hand; [so] do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus…What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:5-7, 9, ESV) Once again, the words of the writer of Hebrews echo in my head once more, especially in those wilderness times when money is either tight or non-existent. It is so easy to give in to doubt, discouragement, and despair when finances are stretched for us in difficult transition times. This is the other area where I have sinned the most and have not led my family well. Thankfully, like the seasons of anxiety and worry, which are undoubtedly linked to financial stress, the episodes of failure are growing fewer and farther between. Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?...Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever… (Heb. 13:5, 6, 8) I resolve to be done with worry, anxiety, financial stress, and discontentment about my situation, whether I’m in transition or not…but especially when I’m in transition. I resolve today to believe that God is always with me, near me, and inside of me through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion
If I had to reduce the entirety of my waiting in this transition period to one simple task it would be this: wait on the Lord…and wait patiently. Waiting is not necessarily easy, but it can be done. And when it is done it can be done with anxiety, stress, and strife. That’s not productive waiting, of course. Therefore, I want to learn to wait patiently. Wait patiently for the LORD. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the LORD. (Psalm 27:14). There is such beauty in the kind of rest that waits on God to do what only He can and will do for us. I have felt it often before. It brings a mysterious yet tangible peace with it…a peace that passes all understanding (Phil. 4:6-7). It’s a peace that Paul says “guards” my heart and mind in Christ Jesus. It protects me. It covers me. It keeps me safe and secure from the devil’s harm, provided I run to it and look to it. It makes me feel strong and indomitable. I gain a building momentum of immense courage.
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…[B]ut they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31, ESV) I wait quietly before God, for my victory comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken…Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. (Psalm 62:1, 2, 5) I want more of it. To wake up each morning without the slightest hint of an anxious knot in my stomach about what comes next! That’s what I want and a lot of it. To get out of bed with an increasingly strong confidence that I am His, and He is mine, and that His banner of protection and ownership over me reads, “LOVE!!!” How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can't even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me! (Psalm 139:17, 18) Listen to my voice in the morning, LORD. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly. (Psalm 5:3) I want to wake up with a calm heart that takes a peek, first thing in the morning, at what the cloud is doing, and to arrange the details of my life around its current position. I want to derive a deep and abiding sense of security and safety from Him, His presence, and not necessarily from His plan or strategy…because it tends to stress me way out when I know even just a little bit of it. I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the LORD was watching over me. (Psalm 3:5) Listen to my voice in the morning, LORD. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly. (Psalm 5:3) When the cloud lifts I want to know it has lifted and that I am not just making it all up. I want to know that I know that I’m not seeing a mirage in this wilderness of life. And I want to wait as patiently as I can until there is no doubt to me and my family that the cloud has indeed lifted and that it’s time to pack it up and head north. I want to feel the abiding presence of the Comforter and Counselor, the Holy Spirit. Wow! What a lifestyle all of this is! Totally contrary to the “common sense” so described by the world…and even by well-meaning Christians! What’s with this waiting on God to provide daily provisions and protection? Don’t you know that “good, responsible Christian” should be out “carving new paths to a bright future”? Isn’t life all about pulling myself up by my own bootstraps? All I know is that those paths I’ve carved lead me to places of inner anxiety and stress and I want no part of them of any longer. My boots are made of flesh and they are worn out. My feet are scorched from the sand in the wilderness. I want to wait it out until the cloud leads me across an impossible sea on dry ground, destroying demonic forces behind me, and burning bridges of potential return toward a noescape adventure through the wilderness of life, following… …a cloud.

Rob Wilkerson

20

May 2012

* Copyright 2012 by Rob Wilkerson. Permission is granted to quote in part from this essay. Republication or reproduction in part or whole requires expression written permission of the author at rfwilkerson@gmail.com. * All Scripture references are quoted from The New Living Translation, 2nd Edition (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2004), unless otherwise specifically stated or referenced.

Rob Wilkerson

21

May 2012

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