“What am I even doing with my life?”
“I feel like I have no sense of direction.”
“I just need to take some time to find myself.”
Can you relate?
It’s probably safe to say that most of us have experienced similar feelings of restlessness at some point in our lives. You may even be currently trudging through such a period of “wandering.”
The ultimate biblical example of wandering has to be the children of Israel. Forty years in the wilderness is indeed long enough to earn them that recognition.
During their time in the wilderness, the Israelites experienced hunger and thirst, a deadly plague, a brood of venomous snakes, a camp-consuming fire, and more. From a human perspective, all of these sufferings seem incredibly unfair. After all, God promised them Canaan, the land “flowing with milk and honey” (Leviticus 20:24). Why didn’t He promptly lead them to the Promised Land after freeing them from Egyptian captivity? Why all the suffering and wandering?
To answer that question, we have to rewind the story to forty years earlier.
God’s Promises to the Israelites
After the Lord worked mightily to free them from Pharaoh’s grip, the Israelites began the journey to Canaan. When they were about halfway there, their faithful leader Moses sent 12 spies ahead of the multitude to scout the area. Upon their return, ten of the spies reported that the land was unconquerable because the people of the residing nation were huge and many (Numbers 13).
But the Lord had made promises to the nation of Israel that should have encouraged them to take their God-given Promised Land boldly.
- Exodus 23:20, 22– “Behold, I send an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place that I have prepared. But if you carefully obey his voice and do all that I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and an adversary to your adversaries.”
- Exodus 34: 10-11–“Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do such marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation… Observe what I command you this day. Behold, I will drive out the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, and the Jebusites.”
God promised to fight for the children of Israel and had already assured them of victory. All they had to do was trust Him and obey.
But instead, they feared. The people whom God chose, delivered from slavery, and performed wondrous miracles for in the process doubted Him.
As a result, their rejection of God’s promises led them to the wilderness.
Now, before we get on the Israelites’ case, we need to take a step back and look at our own doubt-filled hearts. I think we’ll see more Israelite tendencies in ourselves than we’d like.
Doubts and questions can cause us to look to ourselves for direction rather than trust God’s leading. As we saw with the nation of Israel, when we set the course for our lives, we end up lost in a wilderness that we chose for ourselves.
Hopefully, most of us won’t spend 40 years roaming around in the middle of nowhere in search of our homeland. If that’s you, seriously, it’s the 21st century; buy a GPS already. For the rest of us, this “wilderness” is an intangible experience rather than a physical place.
God’s Promises to Us
Like the children of Israel, we regularly question the Lord’s working.
“God, this isn’t the job I wanted. Why do you have me here when I would rather be working a more fulfilling career?”
“I’ve been waiting forever for you to change my situation. What’s taking so long?”
“I have no idea what your will for my life is. Lord, would you please show me already?”
Also like the children of Israel, we have received many promises from God that we cling to when disbelief and confusion threaten to cause our faith to waver.
- Isaiah 60:22–“When the time is right, I, the Lord, will make it happen.”
- Philippians 2:13–“for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
- Isaiah 55:8-9–“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
From these verses, we see that God’s timing is perfect, His works are good, and His understanding far exceeds our own.
Proverbs 3:5-6 gives us another essential promise that assures us of God’s direction in our lives: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”
God requires the same from us as He did the Israelites–trust and obedience. Because we know God is never late, always good, and infinitely wise, trusting and obeying should be the obvious choice when faced with the option to exercise faith or wrestle with uncertainty.
In exchange for your faith, the Lord will “make straight your paths.” He will lead you directly where you need to go, even when all you see are unexpected twists and turns. Though you may not be the one holding the map, you will never be truly lost because God has created the paths you’re walking and knows exactly where they lead.
It’s important to remember that God did not forsake His children in the desert. During their wandering, the Israelites saw God work. He provided for their needs. He satisfied their hunger with manna and quail (Exodus 16:12), quenched their thirst (Exodus 15:22-25), and razed entire cities to the ground (Joshua 6) for His chosen people whom He deeply loved.
He also led them. The Lord embodied His presence in a pillar of cloud that guided them by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21). I don’t know about you, but lately, I haven’t seen any pillars of fire telling me which turn to take. God may no longer lead in this way, but He still makes His direction evident to us.
So how do we know what He wants us to do?
I recently heard a piece of advice from a Christian author that never fails to hearten me when I feel restless and discouraged in my current circumstances. “Keep doing what you know to do until you know to do something else.” In other words, God has purposefully placed you where you are. Obey Him by faithfully performing the task He requires of you. Trust that when the time is right, He will guide you to the next opportunity.
The old favorite hymn “Trust and Obey” holds tremendous truth that, if fully accepted, will keep us from joining the nation of Israel in their wilderness wanderings.
When we walk with the Lord
In the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way;
While we do His good will,
He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
Trust and obey
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus,
But to trust and obey.