The Wilderness of 2020
Updated: Jan 1
I am going to go out on a limb here and say that 2020 didn’t look how you thought it was going to look. We have all experienced unprecedented change. Never-ending zoom calls, remote learning for children, masks, social distancing, hunting for toilet paper…these weren’t even things in 2019.
We have experienced varying degrees of heartbreak…the empty seat at the table or losing the job that provides for your family. Almost everyone lost the opportunity to celebrate milestones like graduations, birthdays, family reunions…plans abandoned because it was no longer safe to gather. Collectively, we experienced a loss of security.
COVID-19 was labeled a pandemic in March. Nine months ago. But some days it feels like we’ve been in this wilderness for 40 years. So, what can we learn from Israel’s wilderness journey?
The wilderness forced Israel to depend on God.
After a series of plagues caused Pharaoh to let God’s people go, Moses led the Israelites to the shore of the Red Sea to camp. But, in the distance they saw Pharaoh’s army approaching. He changed his mind and was coming after them. With no way to defend themselves, they saw their freedom and possibly their lives ending abruptly. Moses assured the Israelites (Exodus 14:13-14 ESV) that God had not brought them out of Egypt to die. That’s when God miraculously parted the Red Sea so that they could cross. Once on the other side, they turned to see the Sea that they had just walked through swallow their enemies.
God did for them what they could not do for themselves.
How have you depended on God over the last nine months?
The wilderness exposed idolatry
One of Israel’s idols---and mine---is comfort. Only two months into their journey, the Israelites started grumbling that they had been better off in captivity where they sat by meat pots and ate bread to the full. (Exodus 16:3 ESV) They were comfortable, even while enslaved. Painting incomplete pictures of life in Egypt because their focus was on their idol.
Like our ancestors, we are enslaved by our own idols. Good things---like security, comfort, relationships, jobs---that become idols when we get more satisfaction from them than from our relationship with God. This quote from Scott Hubbard makes the point well, “Few things threaten our faith more than when a good gift of God, beautiful and innocent in itself, slowly becomes necessary for our happiness.”
God has shown me how easily my heart creates idols out of His good gifts.
Has the pandemic exposed any idols for you?
The wilderness demonstrated God’s faithfulness
God not only parted the Red Sea, but he also led the Israelites by cloud during the day and fire at night, fed them manna and quail, and provided water from a rock. These were visible signs of God’s faithfulness and provision. Less obvious, but equally miraculous, is the fact that throughout their 40-year journey neither their tunics nor the sandals on their feet wore out. (Deuteronomy 29:5 ESV) I don’t know about you, but I have never owned a pair of shoes that lasted more than a few seasons!
During past and present trials, God has met my every need.
Have you seen God’s faithfulness and provision during COVID-19?
RECOGNIZING GOD’S PRESENCE
The Israelites were able to experience the presence of God through His daily provision, but even when we don’t, He is still with us. C.S. Lewis says, “God’s presence is not the same as the feeling of God’s presence and He may be doing most for us when we think He is doing least.” It is often hard to see God at work in present circumstances, but sometimes He allows us to see His footprints in the rearview mirror.
2020 has been that “rearview mirror” for me. Some space in my schedule, allowing me to look back, to ponder, to see what I couldn’t see from the middle of the mess. And you know what? Good things have come from those hard things in my past. So today “I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13-14 ESV) Wait on the Lord. Good will come from this current hard thing.
Israel looked back to the Red Sea and remembered God’s miraculous deliverance. We look back to the Cross. If we keep our focus there, we will recognize that He who gave His own Son (Romans 8:32 ESV) will provide all that we need even in our wilderness journey.
SHAPED BY THE JOURNEY
Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, but not because they were lost. God was leading them by day and by night. Their journey was meant to shape them and make them humble, obedient, and reliant on God.
"And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." (Deuteronomy 8:2-3)
As I ponder the year we have been through, I cannot help but wonder if God is using this journey to again shape His people. To make the church humble, obedient, and reliant on Him. I am also compelled to ask: “Am I letting it shape me?”
When we get to the other side of this pandemic, I want to look back and see that I have changed. That I have grown more humble, more obedient, and more dependent on God. In the words of Sara Groves, I want to be able to say, “The places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I’ve learned.” Things I learned about depending on God, fighting the idolatry of my heart and the absolute faithfulness of a good God. Even in the wilderness of 2020.