Last month, graduates walked across their virtual Zoom stages to end a significant chapter in their lives and step into the unknown. It clearly wasn’t how they dreamed this day would happen, but the emotions that came with this year’s graduation were no less significant. The closing of chapters and...
I recently made a plan to leave my job.
In April of 2015, the Lord deeply stirred in our family’s heart that there was something next for us. Over time, we began to feel and see that this stirring was creating a sense of longing for a senior leadership role in a church. I had been at my home church, a great church, for the last 10 years but for a number of reasons, God had brought us to a place of pursuing whatever was next. Meetings were had, affirmations were made, and my senior pastor gave me a long runway to discover what was next.
Eight months after the initial stirrings, I preached my final sermon and in many ways said goodbye to the church family I had loved for the last decade. At first there was great freedom to spend time with family and pursue finding a job.
That quickly turned into God using the gospel to shape my identity.
I went from being very busy with many ministry opportunities every week, to waking up and setting up shop on my 9-year-old’s desk next the washer and dryer. My inbox was frequently empty. I found myself in a place of great worry and prolonged waiting. It was a place of loneliness, nervousness, anxiety, and desperation.
It was also a place where I learned what it means to worship. In the Scriptures, I found that I wasn’t the first guy to go through this.
Waiting in the Land Between
Early in the Pentateuch (the first five books of your Bible), the people of God went through their own place of great worry and prolonged waiting; I like to call it “the land between.” For nearly 400 years in Exodus, we see the Israelites as slaves of a dominating people group, the Egyptians. God’s people were faithful in their extremely low position, and, over those 400 arduous years, they had grown to quite a massive multitude.
The problem was, this work force wasn’t supposed to be there. In God’s providence, yes, they were very much divinely guided to Egypt, but the promise Abraham had received in Genesis 12 was for his people to live in a different land, the one that was promised to them.
God provided an exodus in one of the most remarkable ways ever, guiding them out of Egypt. In an extremely one-sided battle, God took it to Pharaoh and his mediocre little “g” gods. Things went so badly for Pharaoh that he was pushed to the edge of letting God’s people go.
Across a muddy path lined with sea walls, they were freed from Egypt—but they weren’t in the land of promise. They ended up in “the land between.” As my senior pastor Brad Bell says, “For forty years, they were doing U-turns in the desert.” Oppression, slavery, and violence drove most of their daily experiences in Egypt; in the desert, it was probably more of a fight for survival and getting Egypt out of their system.
How God Works in the Waiting
What a period of waiting for them! What a time of worry, wondering how food and water would come from dust and rocks. I could imagine them thinking, You showed up big time in Egypt, God, but where are you now?
What was God trying to show the people during this time? How was he penetrating the hearts of his people while they were literally wandering? I think he was doing a few things.
God was preserving them in the frustrations of the desert.
The people of God were delivered in a powerful way. If those things happened today and the world experienced them, Twitter would crash and Facebook would be overwhelmed with videos, quotes, and pictures of what God did. For the people of God, there was no denying who was in control. They were delivered people. Chaos reigned in Egypt, but God protected the Israelites from it.
If God could save his people from slavery in Egypt, he could certainly sustain them in the frustrations of the desert. But the Israelites quickly forgot who God was and questioned whether he was still with them. He gave them exactly what they needed and began shaping them for his purposes. Sustenance looked different, but he remained faithful all along the way.
I remember coming to Christ and experiencing the love of God in a powerful way. It was undeniable that God had transformed my heart, given me new hope in Christ, and dealt powerfully with my sin. I couldn’t share fast enough with people about what God had done, and I was absolutely consumed with who he is. That joy was some of the sweetest moments of my life.
Over time that emotion faded, but the truth of the gospel has very much remained. Since then, emotions have come and gone. Experiences have changed, people have come into my life, and others have gone. I have had other powerful experiences and I have had desert moments, but God has remained the same consistent, loving, pursuing, and caring Father. He has sustained me in the waiting.
God was preparing them for what was to come.
God set up the Law so the people could have a relationship with him. He gave them commands and the sacrificial process for how their relationship would work for that time period. It wasn’t easy or natural, so the people quickly turned their backs and pursued their own desires.
But God didn’t change.
He wanted their devotion, their love, their true worship. Life in the Promised Land wouldn’t get easier. The great struggle they faced was keeping God first and foremost in their life. Influences from pagan people, foreign kings, and a world that rejected God would be present in almost every season, in every place.
God was slowly and steadily getting them ready for the battles ahead. He wouldn’t change, even though their circumstances would. He would take care of what they needed. He was making them understand that all they needed, and would need, is him.
For us as Christians, Christ and his sacrificial death and rising are the fulfillment of God’s promise to care for his people. Because of the initiative he took for us in Christ, all of life and eternity is different. He is all we need. He promises to take care of us, if we submit ourselves to his provision in Christ.
There is no better environment in which to work out this promise than in the “waiting.”
God was providing them what they needed, not necessarily what they wanted.
Human beings are sinfully fickle, and we can be whine-y about our circumstances. Coming out of Egypt victorious, the people of God were probably excited—but it didn’t take long for that to fade and for the complaining to begin. Their waiting became their focus, and the reflection in the mirror was soon all they could see.
But God was still faithful to give them food, water, blessings, leadership, and opportunities. He is the great provider, even when they least deserved him.
When I came to Christ, I surrendered my rights. All of them. And so did you. This is tested as we move through life and experience the ups and downs. When you live in the waiting and ponder the Lordship of Christ, your needs-list and your wants-list grow more and more distinct.
Worship in the Waiting
My land between has lasted 12 months, as God has taken me on a roller coaster ride of waiting. No more ministry to define me. No more teaching opportunities to give me a false sense of confidence. No more pastoral care calls, planning meetings, small group environments, or leaders to develop.
Through reading God’s Word, seeking wise counsel from men and women who love Jesus, and the work of the Holy Spirit, I was convinced that the same God who brought me and sustained me through a great church experience in California was preserving me in the waiting. He was using not only my past but my present circumstances to prepare me for what is next. God provided in many ways during this season to take care of our family.
My wife and I labeled the season “worship in the waiting.”
You may not be in a job transition, but you may be dealing with another sort of gap experience. Don’t miss what the gospel is doing in the waiting. In Christ, we know that our ultimate future is secure. We know that God gives us what we need, even when it battles what we want. His ways are not our ways, nor are his plans our plans.
Relish the land between and flourish in it, for the sake of Christ, who entered his own “land between” for you.