[CF Devotionals] 2011-08-16 - The Land Between©

"I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus 3:8).

Questions To Consider: What can we learn from the Israelites about how to handle times of transition in our lives? What purpose can these times of change and vulnerability serve, in terms of our spiritual growth?

In the early books of the Old Testament, God spends a lot of time describing the story of the Israelites as they are delivered from Egypt, wander around in the desert, and finally enter the Promised Land of Canaan. We have an awful lot of information about what happens during the "in between" part – the part between fleeing from the Pharaoh who enslaved them, and when they finally enter the land the Lord has promised them. This was the part they didn't know they were going to have to face. They knew what they were leaving behind, and knew something of what they were headed towards. It sounded so wonderful. Freedom and abundance!

A lot would happen to them, as they made their way between places, though. This part of their journey would get tough enough to make them want to turn back and return to slavery, at times. They didn't know how to handle "the new normal" they had entered into, and wanted to go back to what was at least familiar. The Israelites got fed up with their situation. They were uncertain and afraid. There are times when we feel the exact same way, and long for something different, something better.

In his book, "The Land Between: Finding God During Difficult Transitions," (Zondervan, 2010) Jeff Manion says the time the Israelites spent in this place can teach us a lot about the times in our lives when we feel lost and lonely, and uncertain of how to cope. "The Land Between can be profoundly disorienting," he says. "It also provides the space for God to do some of his deepest work in our lives." .. God intends for us to emerge from this land radically reshaped," Manion says. He explains that this is what God was doing in the lives of the Israelites, as individuals and as a community, between their exit from Egypt and their entrance into Canaan.

Time in the wilderness was necessary for the Israelites to grow, and to become who they needed to be spiritually. God, in His wisdom, knew better than to take them straight from the world of slavery to the world "flowing with milk and honey." "For the Israelites, their experience in the wasteland was not meant to be a waste," Manion points out. "The desert experience is intended to shape, mold, and refine them into a community of trust. The Israelites desperately need the spiritual formation of the desert, to become the people of God."

In other words, they weren't ready to enter Canaan yet. There was change and learning that needed to happen first. They had to learn to trust that God would care for them, to understand the importance of obedience and moving forward, and to stay focused on what God was doing, rather than the temptations of doing things their way or turning to other gods.

Like the wandering Israelites, we all go through times of transition and unexpected change. Jeff Manion says that these are times of disorientation, when we are very vulnerable. Our "wilderness experiences" or "lands between" can be either times of great spiritual growth or times that make us bitter and hardened. "While offering us a greenhouse for growth, the Land Between can also be a desert where our faith goes to die if we let it," he says.

There is a saying that the shortest way is not always the best way. We can choose whether to be open to what God is teaching us, to trust that He truly has our best interests at heart, or become angry and focused on the fact that things aren't turning out the way we'd hoped they would. It is natural to be hurt and confused, and God can even use those feelings for our growth. As long as we are communicating with Him, He will honor our struggles. He knows we are limited in our understanding and the bigger picture. "The habits of the heart that we foster in this space—our responses and reactions—will determine whether the Land Between results in spiritual life or spiritual death," Manion says. "We choose."

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