When We See One Thing, God is Doing a Lot of Preparation for a Lot of Other Things

Friday, June 08, 2012

One of my biggest weaknesses in life is...f...i...x...a...t...i...o...n.

I tend to be detail-oriented at some times, and at other times I'm in big-picture mode.  Take cleaning the house, for example.  I'm pretty decent at organizing a task list and delegating to-do's for the children.  And while I'm managing and supervising the work, I happen to spot a grouping of food on the kitchen floor that went overlooked in the sweeping process.  So I squat down with a broom to sweep it into the dustpan, but I noticed that the baseboards under the cabinets are a mess!

Well you know that what means, don't you?  I've got to get a bucket out, put some warm water in it, mix it with some cleaning solution, find my scrub brush, and commence to cleaning it!  So I'm scrubbing away, washing, rinsing...only to notice that there's a ton of food that's slipped between the counter and oven.  And it's just laying there...tucked just far enough away from me where I can't reach it with a broom...or my hand.  It's taunting me.

Well you know what that means, don't you?  I've got to move the oven out from the wall, disconnect it from the wall so I can squeeze myself back there, and commence to vacuuming.  So I'm vacuuming the wads of Ramen noodles, chips, shredded cheese, drops of soup, cracker crumbs, and all the other stuff my kids rake into that sliver of space so they won't have to actually clean the counter properly...only to notice that there's a whole in the floor that goes straight to the crawl space!  And it occurs to me that this is how the mice are getting into the house!

Well you know what that means, don't you?  I have to stop what I'm doing, go get my cool can of foaming insulation, prep the hole, and fill it.  Then I have to wait on it to dry, so I can pull out my pocket knife and trim off the excess, which I then sweep into the dustpan, which leads me to return the oven to its original position, which brings me back to cleaning the baseboards.  That is, at least until I get to the dishwasher, and notice the same stuff I did earlier with the oven...mouse holes and all.  Meanwhile, the kids are done and finished with their chores and I'm left...fixated...on one little thing after another...never returning to my first task...because I couldn't remember what it was that sent me off on the cleaning-pest-control tirade to begin with!

This is fodder for worship, plain and simple.  How so?  Because my God is NOT like that at ALL!!!  John Piper has famously stated, among many things, that "God is always doing a thousand things when He is doing anything.  And we see but a fraction" ("Fierce Tornadoes and the Finger of God, March 5, 2012).  My recent, fresh journey through Exodus brought this home like never before.

Way back in Genesis, God prophesied to Abraham that the nation which would come from his loins would live in bondage in the land of Egypt for 430 years.  FOUR HUNDRED and THIRTY YEEEAARRRS!  That's a hugely long time!  Sometimes my God is difficult to understand, and no wonder since His ways are not my ways, and His thoughts are not my thoughts.  I do not understand why God would make Abraham all these promises about a nation of people as his descendants and then tell Abraham that they would all live in captivity in a foreign land for FOUR HUNDRED YEARS!

But God knows what's up.  It was all His plan from the beginning.  And in some wonderful personal worship time one day He opened my eyes a little bit more to the "thousand things" He was doing in that 430 years in Egypt.  In short, God wanted His people to inhabit the promised land.  That was the end-goal, the target, the bullseye, the main thing.  BUT!!!  While that may be the fraction that we see, God was doing at least four things behind the scenes during that 430 year time frame.   Sit back for a few more minutes and be amazed by our God and the stuff that He knew needed to happen in order to get them into the promised land.

1.  God Had to Prepare Them to Enter the Promised Land.

There are two ways in which God had to prepare His people to enter the Promised Land: physically and demographically.

a.  Four hundred plus years of slavery in the land of Egypt developed the people of Israel physically.  This was absolutely crucial to their journey to the Promised Land, because that pathway was through the wilderness of the Saudia Arabian desert.  It was also absolutely crucial to their pioneering in the Promised Land, because again only a toughened people could survive and thrive in a land where warfare and building a civilization from scratch would be the way of life for the first generation.

b.  Four hundred years of slavery in the land of Egypt also developed the people of Israel demographically.  When God first made the promise to Abraham regarding the Promised Land, there was obviously no way on earth that he and his small family of descendants would be ready to occupy such a huge place.  Even in Joseph's day, he and his eleven brothers and their huge families were still not large enough to occupy the entire land.  That land was simply too large for one family or tribe.  After all, they were going to be a people of warfare to drive out the Canannites.  And there's just no way that a group of people even just a few hundred or a few thousand strong could accomplish a feat of that magnitude.  So God waited until they numbered over two million.  Then they were big enough and strong enough to take over the land and occupy it. God knew that would take over four hundred years.

2.  God Had to Prepare The Land to be Inhabited by His People.

If the people had to be prepared, so did the land.  In Abraham's day the Amorites ruled the Promised Land, and their mosaic of kingdoms had a deep and lasting impact on the land ecologically, economically, politically, socially, and ethically.  While their religious views directed them toward insane paganism, witchcraft, and immorality, their politics produced significant commerce and land ownership and development.  Several hundred years of this activity produced a land that was ripe for harvest.  In other words, it took four hundred years for a pagan culture to develop a land into a place flowing with milk and honey, and land where it took two guys to carry a vine full of grapes tied to a pole.

3.  God Had to Prepare a Foreign People for Judgment.

The final reason why it took 430 years of slavery to enter the Promised Land is a reason that comes explicitly from God Himself.  In Genesis 15:16 God made it clear to Abraham that His 430 year plan was to allow the Amorites to stack up judgment against themselves for their paganism.  This is something that is difficult to understand for most Christians.  It puts us in a category of theological thought that is usually a place where only the mature can walk comfortably.  The thought of God allowing a sinful people to populate, reproduce and dishonor His name, simply in order to store up judgment against them, is certainly one of God's ways and thoughts that are not our ways and thoughts.  This was God's plan.  I don't understand it.  But God is good, and God is right, so therefore what He was doing then was good and right.

The point here is that God was allowing these pagans to live in such a way that they would store up wrath and judgment for themselves.  And by the time the land was rich for harvest, and by the time the people of Israel were prepared physically and demographically to launch warfare and pioneer a new occupation, the Amorites (aka the Canaanites) where also ripe for God's judgment.  And His people Israel would be His instrument to deliver that judgment through a divine genocide...again something I do not claim to understand.

So there you have it.  There are four reasons why God took 430 years to make good on His promise to Abraham.  This was a preparation period.  It prepared the people of Israel in two ways - physically and demographically - and it prepared the people already in the Promised Land for judgment.  And it prepared the land for harvest and occupation by God's people.  When we see God allowing the children of Israel to suffer under Egypt's oppressing hand, we don't see God preparing them, their Promised Land, and their enemies.  But what we do not see God doing can not dictate our view of God's promises.  As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:18, "So we don't look at the troubles we can see now, rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen.  For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever" (NLT).

This is God's pattern, as I've seen throughout Scripture
  • He promises a flood in Noah's day, but takes 120 years to bring it to pass.  Why?  Because it took that long for Noah to build an ark big enough to hold his family and two of every kind of unclean animal, and seven of every kind of clean animal.
  • God gave dreams to Joseph regarding his future rule over and rescue of his family.  But it was not until 23 years later that the fulfillment came to pass.  It took that long for Joseph to live life in Egypt in various capacities to understand the culture, become a good manager, and prepare him overall for becoming vice president of a nation.
  • Samuel anointed David to be king over Israel - while another king was still in power.  But it was not until another 17 to 20 years later that he actually took the throne and became king.  It took that long for God to train David spiritually (to learn how to worship God in trial), as well as physically (to learn how to survive in the wilderness and learn the land like the back of his hand), as well as politically (to learn the in's and out's of the Philistines in order to better fight them).
  • God gave Daniel a dream about things pertaining to the end of the world.  But it would be another 13 years or so before God sent an angel to tell him what that dream meant.  It took that long for Daniel to receive other prophetic insight and revelation, and to see the transition of kingdoms before he had enough knowledge on which he could build an understanding of the angel's explanation.  
  • God called Paul to be the apostle to the Gentiles.  But it would be somewhere between 9 and 13 years before Paul would ever be called by God to take his first missionary journey to the Gentiles.  It took that long for God to prepare him and teach him and to sort of catch him up on what he needed to know and learn before becoming the brightest apostolic star in the New Testament.
  • God birthed His Son, Jesus Christ, to be the Savior of the world.  But it took 30 years to prepare Him physically, spiritually and relationally too minister a mere 3 years.
I have learned the hard way that when I am waiting God is preparing me for what's next.  To be sure, He doesn't want me doing nothing while waiting, or to gripe, complain, and murmur.  He wants me to do whatever my hand finds to do with all my might, as if I were doing it for Him...because I am.  He wants me to worship Him in the waiting period.  He wants me cooperating with His sovereign preparation plan.  I may not know what's coming next...but He does.  Do I trust Him in the waiting and preparation?

Conclusion

We've heard it said not to despise the day of small beginnings.  And we are also not to despise the days of waiting and preparation.  I have felt for years, since I was 18 years old, that God was going to put me in the mission field overseas one day.  That sense has been one of increasing depth and certitude.  I've been overseas several times, always short-term, yet each time wondering if that was the trip that would lead me to a long-term life in either that place or somewhere else.  But it did not.  

I would always wonder in the months to follow what God was doing?  Why would He take me to those places and not lead me there permanently?  Was He playing with me?  Was He messing with my mind?  I would then find myself getting fixated on the things I was doing then and there...with the little things God was doing...completely missing the bigger picture.  It has always been, and will continue to be a picture of preparation.  I am waiting.  He is preparing.  And that's basically all there is to it.  

We must wait.  We must minister where we are.  And we must wait.  We must worship where we are.  And we must wait.  We must have faith in the small things we do.  And we must wait.  We must have faith in a bigger picture God is accomplishing.  And we must wait.  We must wait on the Lord.  We must wait patiently.


    About the Author: Rob is a entrepreneur in Statesboro, GA, where he envisions and pursues missional-shaped business for the kingdom. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 18 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, make disciples, and plant churches. This is the pursuit of his life, as well as the point of his blog.

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