Encounter: Slowly read through Isaiah 42, 43, Numbers 13 & 14, Psalm 90 & John 6:60-71. What are the common themes that you find in these passages? Underline in your Bible or record words in your journal that seem to stand out from the others.
STOP! DO NOT ENTER! SEVERE TIRE DAMAGE WILL OCCUR! Most likely you have seen these signs when you rented a car at the airport. These “tire damaging” barriers prevent driving out through the entrance, (going back the way you came), and so move you forward toward the exit so you can keep going in the right direction toward your destination (or keep you from stealing the car)J If it wasn’t for the sign warning us to not go backwards, there may be a few of us looking for a tire repair shop.
Signs are important. Especially those that tell us which way is forward when it’s hard to see. Many times, our tendency is to go backward. It seems comfortable, it seems our intuition draws us to go back to what is familiar.
It was that way for the people of Israel when God miraculously led them out of Egypt. When their wilderness experience took them beyond their capacity, their reaction was to go back the way they came. They tried to take things into their own hands. “If only we had died in Egypt or in the wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword…Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?, we should choose a leader for ourselves and go back. Thankfully God had chosen leaders who in the face of adversity fell on their face in prayer, interceding for their lives and courageously guiding them to follow God’s way or they may have had their wish (unfortunately some of them did).
This would not be the last time God’s people would want to go back. It is a theme throughout the stories in the Bible and our story as well. The journey gets so challenging, the problems seem like giants in the land, there is pain and suffering, new ways seem foreign, change is an everyday occurrence and some of God’s people want to turn back while others like Joshua and Caleb say let’s go forward where God’s promise is, take the land! (Numbers 13).
Something similar happened when those who followed Jesus began to question him about the hard truth he was sharing with them. It says simply, many of his followers turned back and stopped following him, while some looked to him and said where else do we go, you alone have the words to show us the way forward to life with you (John 6).
There are many obstacles we encounter as we pursue God’s purpose for our lives and as Christ’s church. Sometimes we try to exit through the entrance at the rental car kiosk at the airport and we find there’s no going back without damaging our vehicle – there’s no going back without experiencing something that will hinder our ability to go forward.
But God encourages us to go forward, even when it is challenging, even when we cannot fully see the way, telling us through Paul keep your eyes on God’s purpose,
It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me.The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus.
Signs are important. Especially when we are not sure what’s next. God gives us a sign, keep going forward, one day at time, one step at a time, even when God’s way in the wilderness is hard, don’t go back, keep moving forward towards the goal, towards the prize. Because the wilderness is a great place to visit, but it is an awful place to be stranded. The wilderness is there to change us, to transform our hearts to follow after God’s so that going back is no longer an option.
What’s next as we live into these times of uncertainty? What’s after Christmas? Where is God leading us to go forward in 2021? I wonder, is it any different than where God has been leading His people for centuries, or what God whispered in our ears over a year ago. Eden, we are to be, a welcoming community seeking transformation through relationship with Jesus Christ and encouraging others to join us.
So what’s next? Being open to God’s work of making us more like Jesus through this wilderness experience and…
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.
Moving Forward with You,
Reflect: When is it tempting for you to go back to something that is comfortable even if you know God has been leading you to go a new direction? The direction of God’s ways in your life. What is your Egypt? What is your wilderness and are you able to identify where God is changing you as it feels uncomfortable?
Encourage: Begin to invest time with a friend and talk about (and pray about) where God may be leading you to find the lost, heal the broken, feed the hungry, release the prisoner, rebuild the nations, bring peace among others, make music in your heart. Encourage one another to set goals to accomplish your intention.
Gather: Talk with your small group about the experiences you have had where you may have tried to go back instead of forward. What happened and how did it affect your spiritual growth?