During a time of such uncertainty where making plans nearly feels painful, I’ve been yearning for something absolute. Each time disappointment and defeat has washed over me in the last two months, I’ve had to choose to remember the Lord’s promises which prevail beyond what I’m able to plan for. Like most people, I have hopes for what my future might look like. I feel settled about certain desires God has placed in my heart, but frustration sets in when I realize that I’m unable to picture them in a palpable way. While on a prayer bike ride yesterday (highly recommended), I felt the title of this blog come over me with the question: “Why do you keep trying to picture the Promised Land?” I’ll use the Abrahamic covenant of the Promised Land to depict my conviction from this. Two thousand years before Jesus was born, through Abraham, God promised the land we know as Israel to His people. Abram (as he was first called) was living a comfortable life in old age before God called him to leave it all behind:
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others”… So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed. (Genesis 12:1-2, 4)
When reading the Bible, it’s easy to miss the emotions behind the actions we read about. Abraham trusted the Lord without any other picture of this Promised Land besides knowing it as “The Land of Milk and Honey,” and left his life for the unknown, becoming the father of the Hebrew people. Abraham was a human just like you and me. Although his faith in the Lord was obviously enough to make the decision to obey, I doubt it was without hesitation. If God asked us to do something similar in today’s age, I imagine responses of “But can I bring this?” or “Will I still have that?”. Abraham likely had some questions of his own, but God’s promise was enough of a picture to satisfy his soul.
I think we try to picture the Promised Land because we like to feel in control. Many of us trust God to make good on His promises, but we still worry because we can’t know what it will look like when He does. We know God will make sure we find a job that provides for our needs, but deep down we’re afraid it won’t pay enough to allow for the lifestyle we’re comfortable with. To that I say, we were never meant to live comfortably. We know God has someone out there for us to marry, but we worry it’ll take too long. Yet, we’re foolish to think we’re ready now, if God thinks we’re not. We’re scared we’ll never get to a place of contentment and happiness, but God gently asks if we’ve let Him show us what true joy looks like. God promises us a land of milk and honey in our own lives through intimate relationship with the creator of the universe. He allows the desires of our hearts to come alive when our hearts are aligned with His. Still, we struggle to fully trust in these promises because we do not know what they will look like– or more honestly, if they will look like what we want them to.
Did Abraham try to picture what life in the Promised Land would look like before he left his homeland? Probably. But remembering the Lord’s covenant to him and his descendants (including you and I) allowed him to confidently follow God’s calling. For me personally, this all calls for a ceasing of striving. I am quick to try to make things happen on my own, just because I know God has called me to something generally. This becomes a problem when I stop consulting God for each next step, and try to jump ahead to the Promised Land.
After Abraham and his family spent some time in the Promised Land (then known as Canaan), a famine hit and they were forced to flee to Egypt for food. In time, the Hebrew people were perceived as a threat and enslaved there for over four hundred years. This is what the Bible says during part of the journey of returning to Canaan:
When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. (Exodus 13: 17-18)
How beautiful is it that God ensured His people would receive His promise, even though it may not have been the way they imagined? It wasn’t the quickest way, but it was the way God saw was best fit. If trying to picture the Promised Land is keeping you from wholeheartedly trusting in and following God, remember this…
What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you. (Genesis 28:15)