I don’t know about you, but there are some of God’s words that make me laugh out loud. Not necessarily because they are humorous, or comical in any way–but because they seem down- right ridiculous. This passage happens to be one of them.
When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the LORD’s order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the LORD’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out.
Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out.
Here they are, millions of men, women and children journeying on foot to an unknown land. They had just escaped the slavery of Egypt, and were on their way to the “promised land“. There was something fantastic coming up ahead–God had promised it to those who followed Him.
You see, I laugh because the process of getting to this land must have taken a ridiculous amount of patience, and I myself am hardly a fan of the word. I like to be efficient. I want things to be done in time. I don’t like to “sit around and wait”. There is no time for wasting, and there is definitely no time to delay. Frankly, there is really no time for patience at all–the entire concept just takes way too long.
The strange thing is, the part I find most challenging about this passage is not just about patience-it’s about the unknown. You see, had God given them a “set time” to wait around- say, 2 days at a time, at least that would have given them time to plan out their patience, time to figure out what to do with their hours, time to compile a list of things to do, places to see.
But He didn’t. The waiting was completely unknown to them. It could have been days…months…or even years.
I guess I never comprehended the gravity of such a thing. Imagine waiting around for something…something you expected to happen in a couple of hours or at the most, a couple of days. Imagine having to wait for a year, maybe even two. Maybe even longer.
But even more than the wait, imagine being at a place of utter obedience. A place in life that is so completely reliant on God that you don’t even bat an eye at the wait, because you trust Him. Imagine having the amount of patience that sets aside your own agendas and plans–your own time-frame– in exchange for the greatest gift of all: intimacy with God and being at the center of His perfect will.
No matter who you are or where you come from, there’s a good chance you have been waiting on God for something. There’s a good chance that deep down you have a plan, and are hoping for that plan to pan out a certain way. And maybe all this time, the waiting has just been a means to an end.
But what if the waiting was not just the means to the end, but part of the end itself? Imagine the purpose of the delay was simply this- to cure us of our obsession with the destination, in an exchange for an obsession with the Guide. I sometimes wonder if that is part of the big picture of “The Wait”.
The Israelites were forced to exchange their focus from the preoccupation of the destination to the preoccupation with the Guide. Every day it was the Cloud that guided them- and it was the Cloud of God’s Spirit that ultimately won their attention, minute by minute, hour by hour. Their eyes were fixed on Him—because they had to be.
I’m challenged by this in my personal life. I want to see the periods of waiting as more than simply time to kill. I want to learn to see patience as the path that takes my focus on the natural and allows it to rest on the supernatural. I want to allow God to use my time of waiting as a season to connect with Him, trust Him, and rely on Him rather than simply getting “through”. I want God to grant me a ridiculous, laugh out loud patience that is ultimately more concerned with the Guide in the process of waiting.
So dear friend, no matter what it is you are waiting for, may God grant you the patience you need as you rest in His perfect will for your life, and as you fix your attention on Him. The Promised land will come, but until then, hold on tight to the One that Promises.