Day 10 – Hope is a Person, Not a Place
As you consider what was going on with the people of Israel, you can almost hear them whispering to one another, “This is not what we signed up for!” The Lord told them they were on the way to the promised land and that had become their hope. In their minds, what they were experiencing was certainly not part of the plan. Notice how Moses describes this:
“And you murmured in your tents and said, ‘Because the LORD hated us he has brought us out of the land of Egypt, to give us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us. Where are we going up? Our brothers have made our hearts melt, saying, “The people are greater and taller than we. The cities are great and fortified up to heaven. And besides, we have seen the sons of the Anakim there.”’ Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The LORD your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place.’ Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the LORD your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go.” (Deuteronomy 1:27–33)
Rather than seeing the love of God, they actually thought that God must hate them. Of course, if you sat them down and had a theological discussion, they might know the right answers but this was how they were experiencing the wilderness. “God hates us. He wants to destroy us.” At times, we may also find ourselves in this kind of place. Our cancer, our failing marriage, our depleted bank account, or some other wilderness encounter may leave us wondering the same things. Did God save me to let me experience such difficult things? This is the abundant life? Really? This is not what I signed up for!
In Deuteronomy 1, Moses contrasts their response with the encouragement: “do not be in dread.” Why? He explains:
- The LORD your God who goes before you
- (He) will himself fight for you
- the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son
What is he saying here?
First, God leads us and He takes the initiative. He doesn’t leave us to fend for ourselves. We may feel alone but we aren’t. He is leading us somewhere. As we consider the wilderness, we remember that He is taking us from something to something, and He always takes us through something … from, through, to. We like the “from” and the “to” … it is the “through” that can trip us up. God does not work by magic, transporting us to a new situation and location. He graciously (even if painfully) leads us “through.” The journey is about deepening our dependence on Him. Why? Because dependence is the promised land. Hear that clearly. A life of dependence is the truest, most real hope in our lives. Our hope is Him, not some location outside of difficulty. It is experiencing Him and trusting Him in the wilderness that forges a dependence and reliance which is what we long for.
Father Pedro Arrupe expresses this beautifully: “More than ever I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth. But now there is a difference, the initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience. To know and feel myself so totally in God’s hands.” Is this your hope? What might it be like to fully embrace Him as your hope? Hope is a person, not a place. Have you set your sights on heaven (or some other earthly paradise) as your promised land or on Him as what you have wanted all your life?
Second, He fights for us. A common refrain throughout the Scriptures is God saying: “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5; Joshua 1:5; Psalm 37:25; 2 Cor. 4:9) He is with us and He fights for us. Because He is the one who has taken the initiative and goes before us, we can trust that He is leading the way in whatever situation we find ourselves. For those who are in Christ, Jesus is described as the forerunner, the one who goes before us. He fought for our redemption, and He keeps on fighting for us. “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (Hebrews 7:25) He is always praying for us and loving us. Sit with that for a moment.
In Hebrews 6:19, hope is described as an anchor for the soul. It is a beautiful metaphor for the way that hope keeps us tethered. Hope keeps us on the path. Hope is described as “entering into the inner place behind the curtain.” This “inner place” is a reference to the Holy of Holies in the Temple of God. It is the place where we experience direct and complete access to God. Our hope is God Himself.
Finally, He tenderly carries us, as a man carries his son, all the way through the wilderness. We return again to the imagery of a tender father. He carries us through. He is faithful in His love for us … to lead us to that place of dependence which ends up transcending space and time.
Part of the pruning in the desert is an awareness that our hope has been situational and circumstantial and then the movement toward our hope being the life that we have with God … right now, in the middle of the wilderness. To engage in this kind of hope, let’s revisit that repentance rhythm of reflect, release, and remember.
Reflect: in what ways has my hope been in other than the abiding presence of God?
Release: gently let go of those hopes.
Remember: your life is hidden with God in Christ. (Col 3:3)
Question for reflection: what would it be like to simply sit quietly and prayerfully with God, releasing other hopes and resting in His presence? (no words, just presence)
Prayer: Lord, You are my hope. It is You and the life we have together. Give me the strength to simply release other hopes that I might rest in your presence. Amen.