November 11, 2013

It’s November, that time of the year for good stuff to happen. Its hunting season, football season and, more importantly, its holiday season;  a time of relaxation, a time of family feasts and a special time when friends and neighbors drop by for a little cheer. It is our annual time to celebrate God’s bounty – Thanksgiving!

For some, this time of the year represents “harvest” and therefore happiness. It’s a time to celebrate the outcome of hard labors and enjoy the chill in the air after a long hot summer. It’s a breath taking time as we watch the beauty of our native vegetation showcase their panoply of rust, orange and yellow colors. It’s a time to take a breath and catch a little break; a thankful season of the year where there is a payoff for the effort of the harder, hotter months.

Or not.

Some of us may not be enjoying such an exciting Thanksgiving season. Instead the hot, dry, dusty days of summer may still be with you – emotionally, physically, financially or otherwise. You may better relate to the wilderness days of scripture, than the wonderful days of a Thanksgiving holiday.

Wildernesses are hard, they’re hot, their lonely, they’re scary, they suck. But they are a part of life and hopefully a temporary part.

But what if you find yourself in a wilderness these days and not at a “table full of turkey”? What should you do, what should you remember? You know how you feel, you know how lost it seems, you know how dry your life is, so what should a wilderness wanderer do next?

Try this; read this short verse as I did last week, and let its hope sink in; …

You, (God) in Your great compassion, Did not forsake them (The Children of Israel) in the wilderness; The pillar of cloud did not leave them by day, To guide them on their way,
Nor the pillar of fire by night, to light for them the way in which they were to go. – Nehemiah 9:19

What a great reminder. It helps. And here is why. Nehemiah was a man who lived in Old Testament times who was trying to rebuild the ancient city of Jerusalem and was coming under severe harassment from Israel’s violent and jealous neighbors as well as a few irresponsible Israelite traitors. His job was tough enough to die from, and giving him plenty of time to think about quitting. But, as you know, you can’t quit when you in a “wilderness experience of pain, confusion, opposition, hardship and loneliness” if you do, you’re stuck. No, it’s better to move on and try to get out.

But move on to where, what direction is “out”? And who is going to help?

That’s the message of Nehemiah 9:19. The “city builder” was struggling with his own personal wilderness life style and needed some help. So he turned to scripture and it reminded him of how God helps His people when they are lost, alone and in difficult straights – in a wilderness season.

This is what God does. First He reminds us He is compassionate. He loves us and He will not forsake us. As a result, He is with us and tuned in to us during our time of trial. We are NOT alone! Don’t forget that.

Next, he gives us circumstantial, visible, demonstrations of both His presence and His help in getting on with life and getting out of the wilderness. Just as he did the ancient Israelites He shows up in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

I like that, because I can understand that.

In Texas, clouds do a couple of things. First they provide relief from the blazing sun – they moderate the heat, they cool things down. Next they are predictive; they show us the direction of the “what’s coming”. If the clouds are moving from south to north, we know either  rain, hail or tornadoes are coming. If they are moving in from the North, its either going to snow or freeze and that helps too, because I can prepare for what’s coming. A forecast beats a bad surprise any day.

Fire is good too, when it’s used beneficially. And in this passage it is. First it provides light, illuminating ones way. Fires also warm us, cook our food and provide physiological relief during dark, scary nights. Finally, fires can be used to ward off attacks from both beasts and man.

Wow, I feel better. I find from this simple passage a profound, eternal, truth; God loves me and is always with me, good times and bad, dark nights and hot days of dusty, lonely travail. I am also reminded that while I am having a wilderness experience, His presence is also in the process of leading me through it, out of it and beyond it to better day of bounty!

If this Thanksgiving season finds you dragging your carcass across a barren landscape of misfortune and tough times; take courage. Better days are coming, not because I know anything but because God is with you right now and is in process of taking you beyond this present trial to days of triumph – just as He did with Israel, just as He did with Nehemiah and just as He will do with you!

Jim C