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The most important message I picked up from today’s readings overall is the only way out is through.
My primary takeaway from each of the passages was this:
- Leviticus 5-6 – More details on the Hebrew ritual of sacrifice for sin and the making of reparations.
- Luke 4 – Jesus suffered every human humiliation and then some. His testing in the desert shows us that we will experience times of drought, trial, tribulation, and hardship. These are inevitable in our human existence, but how we respond to them is our choice. We will be tempted to take what seem like shortcuts but doing so will only bring more hardships. The only way out of the desert–the quickest way–is to go through the desert.
- Psalms 48 – Always remember and be mindful of the great things God has done in our lives. Recounting them gives us strength in the present, especially when we are going through hard times.
- Proverbs 17 – “Whoever can control the tongue knows what knowledge is, someone of understanding keeps a cool temper.” v.27
Avoiding and/or trying to circumvent the difficult circumstances we may find ourselves in only prolongs them. The Bible gives us two great examples of what trials in the desert can look like, and how different these experiences can be depending on our approach.* The first is that of Moses leading the Hebrew people out of Egypt where they then wander the desert for forty years before being able to enter into the promised land. The second is that of Jesus enduring his forty-day trial in the desert. The numbers are intentionally symbolic, and if you want to learn more about that I suggest you get a book about Biblical numerology. However, for this metaphor, the additional numerology is not important. What’s important is the two different approaches to trial and suffering and their distinctly different outcomes.
Why did the Hebrew people have to wander around the desert for forty years? Their distance from God and dependence on Moses as an intermediary inhibited their faith, enhanced their fear, and fed their doubts. They complained a lot and were consistently ungrateful for what he provided for them. When God performed miracles they still doubted. They couldn’t follow the most basic instructions and, as a result, brought pain and suffering upon themselves through their own bad choices. They avoided intimacy with God, denied their own participation in their suffering, and kept a great distance between them and God. Only Moses seemed to be brave enough to “see God face to face.” Every incident of faithlessness, rebellion, fearful resistance, etc., added years to their journey out of the desert and into the promised land.
So, was God punishing them by keeping them in the desert all that time? No. He was teaching them. Our trials and suffering are the best instruction we’ll ever have. Pain is instructive. Failure is instructive. We learn when we endure the lessons instead of trying to find the quickest, easiest way out.
Jesus, on the other hand, prepared for his trial from his birth, resorted to prayer immediately when experiencing difficulties, prayed constantly, resisted temptation even though it meant he was hungry for forty days, refused the offer of power, and refused to call on the angels to save him–he knew he had to save himself. He knew that the only way to save himself was to hold fast in faith, prayer, and trust God. Forty days and the trial was over, and then he went into his ministry (which was also full of trials and tribulations….they never end until we die).
Think of all the ways we complicate and prolong our own suffering. We all do this in one way or another even if we can’t see it in ourselves. The sooner we learn to see the ways we add to our own suffering the sooner we can make behavioral changes and course adjustments and start heading for the exit and out of the suffering.
Here’s an inconvenient truth: if we do somehow manage to find a shortcut around our difficulties, and if we choose to take it, that path will lead us right back to where we left off in our difficulties. God is faithful to his promises to us, and he will never leave us unfinished. Becoming the best version of ourselves is our life’s work. We may be given opportunities to cry “Uncle!” and skip a lesson in order to go onto another one (God is merciful, gracious, and kind–he will not cruelly let us suffer if we ask for temporary relief). But if we do skip a lesson we’ll have to go back and make it up later. There is no getting around it; not permanently, anyway.
The most important thing we can do when we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place in the metaphorical desert is to stop, breathe, pray, and ask God to help us see the way that we are causing our own suffering, what we need to do to change, and then ask for his help in changing us.
Because the only way out is through.
That’s what I got out of it. What did you get out of the readings today?
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*There are actually many examples of trials in the desert simply because the entire setting of the Bible is the desert. Many of the Old Testament characters experienced trials in the desert. I submit that the two I have cited here are the most significant examples because of the things I cite in this blog entry. Disagree? Great! Let’s have a discussion in the comments below. 🙂