I recently met with a group of women to give them words of hope and encouragement in this strange season of 2020-2021. My original thought was to share scripture from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, since it was one I had been frequently revisiting:
Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Gal 6:9)
And even though I strive to see glimpses of good in every situation, sometimes I still feel the heaviness and frustration of all the change and challenge of new ways of doing life in this season. The unknown and the unmet can certainly be challenging…and exhausting.
But as I prepared to share, and hopefully encourage…the word that came to me wasn’t about weariness or perseverance at all. Instead, it was the words of remembrance that were spoken to the travel-weary Israelites near the end of their wilderness journey:
I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet. -Deut 29:5
And as I thought about the Israelites’ journey in the wilderness, it felt familiar and timely. But let me first say, I’m not really comparing our season of Covid, shutdowns, changes, confusion, and political and social unrest to the harshness of being in slavery in Egypt or to the long, hungry wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.
But when the people fled out of Egypt, they really didn’t know what to expect. How long would they be in transit? What would it look like? How long would their lives and routines be put on hold? What would happen on the other side? What would be the “new normal?” It was really only about an 11 day journey. Shouldn’t be that hard at all, right? I mean…what could go wrong?
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.Proverbs 13:12
Well…you know what did happen in that forty years? Fear, isolation, disappointment, changes to routine, grumbling and complaining, rebellion, lying, challenges to faith and family, disease, death. And if we could brainstorm and compare notes and thoughts, the list would keep growing. But you know what else was forged during that time? Faith, boundaries, relationships, leadership, tribal unity, new ways of worship, hope, greater realization of God’s presence. And more.
And then I thought about us during this time. Any of it sound familiar in 2020? Stay home, isolate, social distance, flatten the curve, wear a mask, quarantine, unclean, take the pressure off hospitals, make a plan, figure it all out. I’m not being cynical. It was a new route in the wilderness of 2020 and I think most leaders were trying their best to forge their way along an uncharted path…with no cloud by day or fire by night.
Then I thought, maybe it’s not such a different picture after all. Maybe we had been slaves unaware prior to the pandemic. Slaves to time, tradition, comfort, the expected usual ways, routine in worship, community, education, and gathering. Are we looking back now, like they did, wishing for the good ol days back in Egypt with meat by the fire? Or have we developed a taste for something new? Will we ever again complain about having to go to bible study on Friday where we would have coffee and laughter with our friends? Or getting up to go to church and worship freely on Sunday mornings? Uninhibited hugs and kisses on the cheek? Do we understand the concept of just enough whatever for the day? It felt a little scary when you couldn’t find toilet paper, right?
When we get to the other side of this…what will be different? What awaits us?
We need a Red Sea to the Jordan River moment in our lives…a “Red Sea parting” to provide a way and a “Jordan River crossing” to help us look back and remember. But also look forward with hope. But first we have to be dressed for the journey.
I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet
Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.Ephesians 6:13-17
Can we say…for 40 days, or 40 weeks, or 40 months…He led (and we followed) through this time, this wilderness, this season of pulling away and becoming different? In 40 weeks or 40 years…the whole armor of God won’t wear out or rust. But we do have to choose to put it on or to walk around in the wilderness naked… exposed and vulnerable.
Can we say, on the other side of the mountain: daily I collected my portion of bread. Daily I put on my clothes and my sandals?
My belt of truth and breastplate of righteousness. Check. Not worn out. Belt fits securely. I have been consistently seeking truth. Got a whole robe of righteousness.
My shoes of peace wrap around my feet like the peace of God that passes understanding and are as strong and supportive as ever. I walk securely. Lots of traction out of these shoes of peace.
This shield of faith has taken some heavy hits and fiery darts but it keeps on deflecting. Not worn out or even splintered.
This helmet of salvation is secure. He hasn’t given me a spirit of fear but of peace and love and a sound mind.
And the wilderness-wanderers may have had the tabernacle, the cloud, and the fire but we have the sword of the Spirit… the Word of God.
I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.
I ask you to think about that verse this week. Very tangibly as it relates, not only to 2020 and beyond, but to how He has led you through…whatever. And remember this encouraging truth found in Lamentations 3:21-23
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. –
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places
Because He has led, and is leading, you a figurative forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.