Remembering God's Faithfulness in the Desert Years
The only birthday other than my own that I remember celebrating as a child was my dad’s 40th birthday. It was a flurry of activity as my mom gave orders to me and my siblings to help prepare for the surprise that awaited him once he arrived home after a full day of working at the Post Office. I remember the long black balloons that we tied to the kitchen chandelier and the black 3D cardboard centerpiece on the kitchen table that said three words – Over the Hill. This puzzled me because I had no idea what “Over the Hill” meant. As a child still in the single digits, it was a head-scratcher. After taking the whole scene in, I surmised that the black theme of the party could only mean one thing: turning 40 and going “Over the Hill” wasn’t a good thing. My dad suddenly seemed really old to me.
And yet, all these years later, here I am at the pinnacle of that same hill. I have had breath in my lungs for exactly 40 years today. I have requested no black balloons, no signs, and no surprises to which my sweet husband has complied. There are no visible reminders sitting on our kitchen table that tell me that my youth is now behind me. Nothing black is hanging from the chandelier. Not one thing marks me as “really old” in the minds of my children except for the fine lines around my eyes whenever I smile.
As much as I don’t want to acknowledge that 40 years of my life has past, that the hill has been ascended, I feel the Lord is calling me to take the time today to reminisce and reflect using the verse:
“The LORD your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These 40 years the LORD your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.” Deuteronomy 2:7
This verse was spoken to the Israelites by Moses in his final address to them before he departed from earth. Next up for the Israelites would be the Jordan River and the long awaited Promised Land. But, before they could cross over and take possession of it, Moses had many things to say to them. As they looked forward, Moses looked backward. In these three sentences, Moses is reminding God’s chosen people that in their 40 years of desert wandering:
A few verses prior to this, Moses had said to them, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the wilderness. There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.” Deuteronomy 1:29-33
Moses is speaking to the children of the generation of Israelites who had, despite seeing how the Lord had dramatically rescued them from slavery, parted a sea, drown their enemies, and lovingly provided all their needs still did not trust in Him. The One “who went ahead of you on your journey, in a fire by night and in a cloud by day to search out places for you to camp and to show you the way you should go,” did not have their allegiance. Their eyes had seen yet their hearts refused to trust.
The consequence of having a heart filled with fear instead of faith was great. Because of their unbelief, their sandals never stepped foot in the land of promise. Instead of frolicking in the hills of milk and honey, their bones were buried in the desert sands. They had died in a vast, dreadful, and waterless land. Now Moses is exhorting this next generation to remember God’s faithfulness, His tender mercies, His guidance, and His love towards them, so that, unlike their parents, they would move forward in faith. The only pre-requisite was that they enter into the land just as Joshua and Caleb, the only two from the previous generation who was crossing over with them, with a heart wholly trusting in the Lord. v 36
“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart…He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna…to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Deuteronomy 8:2-4
In the Bible, the number 40 is symbolic for testing, trial, and probation. These forty years of nomadic desert living were a test to prove whether these children, who had either crossed the Red Sea holding the hand of a parent or who had been born under the cloud of the Lord’s presence that had covered the blazing desert sun, trusted the Lord wholeheartedly. As much as we tend to think of their time in the desert as wasted years, they were not. These 40 years spent in the desert had a purpose – a big purpose. The purpose was to cultivate a heart of trust in the Lord for every bite, for every step, and for every breath they took. This generation of Israelites, children of an unfaithful people, was about to take a step that required tremendous faith and Moses knew that in looking back they would find the faith required to go forward.
So, what does this have to do with my 40th birthday? What does this have to do with you?
You and I are not unlike the Israelites. Although we live thousands of years after them and beneath our feet lay soil instead of sand, our hearts are very much like theirs. And, the same God who faithfully fathered them, exposing their hearts through trials and testing, faithfully fathers us still and exposes and brings to light what resides in our hearts through continued trials and testing.
While my life is an open blog at this point, there is so much that the Lord has not released me to write about yet. Just know that there have been plenty of desert dwelling years for me. There have been days when, had my heavenly Father not carried me, I wouldn’t have made it. The elements and conditions of my circumstances have continually exposed a divided heart within me – half faith and half fear – and have tested which side I would ultimately obey. I have clung to Him, pleaded with Him, tried to reason with Him, questioned Him, worshipped Him, grumbled against Him, and loved Him through it all. He has been the light in my darkest moments; moments that, with a famished spirit, He caused me to hunger for His Word with an intensity that I have never known before.
On one particular dark, uncertain day, my mom said something to me that I’ll never forget. She said, “Becky, the Lord has never failed to cover every one of your steps.” No matter how dark my situation seemed or how hopeless I felt, I knew that what she said was true. The Lord has proven Himself to be a never-failing God in my life. Just as He had gone before the Israelites to search out the places ahead of them and then carried them there safely, He has done the same for me.
Like Moses imploring the Israelites to recall and reflect, there comes a time when the Lord calls us to look back on all that He has done. Has He carried you through the desert? Is He still carrying you today? Has He parted waters, fought your battles, prepared your way, directed your path, comforted you in the dark, shielded you in the day, filled you with His presence, humbled you, and tested you? Has He supplied all your needs? I know that He has done all of those things and many more for me.
Today is the day when statistically speaking half of my life lay behind me and half of my life lay before me. It is a moment to stop and reflect on the journey up to this point. From the Israelites all the way up to me, God has done His part. He has rescued me. He has delivered me. He has carried me. He has guided me. He has sheltered me. He has taught me. He has provided for me. He has protected me. He has fought for me. He has forgiven me (again and again). He has loved me deeply.
And, what does He ask of me in return? Just one thing.
He asks that I trust Him going forward.
My faith has been developed over the string of days that has led up to this day. I am going forward either believing that God alone is worthy of every ounce of my trust or He’s not. It’s yes or no; black or white. The journey ahead for the Israelites was not without risk or enemies or mountains to climb or walls to take down. Neither is mine. And, neither is yours.
Do we, knowing all that the Lord has done for us up until this day, have the faith to go forward? Are we trusting in Him with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength? Have the deserts in our lives strengthened our faith or sapped our trust? Have we feasted on God’s Word as it descended from Heaven into our famished hearts? Have these past 40 or however many years it has been for you been enough to prove our faith? Or, will tomorrow find us faith-LESS instead of faith-FULL?
Turning 40 isn’t my favorite day. But, if it allows me the vantage point of looking back to recall and then faithfully looking forward with a heart wholly trusting in the Lord for what’s to come, then I have to say that the position that I find myself in today is a pretty good one. The hill, with the help of the Lord, has been ascended. I know that downhill won’t be a joyride. But, I go with a heavenly Father who goes before me, will carry me when needed, and who will always light the way. And, in Him, and in Him alone, I will place my trust. Will you?
First, I am a child of God. And, like a child, I am always learning and growing. The more I know Him, the more I love Him. Second, I am a wife to a good man. Missions is his thing while teaching women to love God’s Word is mine. Third, I am a mama to three plus a sweet cockapoo who thinks he’s #4. My children are my ongoing sanctification. Fourth, I am a passionate advocate of all things healthy & natural and a dreamer/designer. Old friends call me Becky, newer ones call me Rebecca, and the most intimate ones call me Beck. You can just call me friend.
Follow us on Facebook here.