Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
Peace be with you!
Some days it feels like the world–and maybe even God–is out to get you. God has called you to be [whatever “it” is], and yet nothing seems to go your way. You applied to finally get your masters in [whatever “it” is], were accepted, and then health issues within the family push back your start date. Or you complete all of your classes but cannot find an internship to fit your family schedule. And when you finally graduate, you struggle to find a job that can work around your family. It is just not fair. For me, the struggle was finding people to help me eat three times a day and shower in the morning. I actually had personal caregivers call me a hour before my morning shift and ask if I still needed them. Or half the time the personal caregivers would not bother to show up at all. Several times during my first semester at Luther Seminary I debated if I should move back home since I could not rely on the caregivers to show up. I had to eat to keep up my strength. It seemed impossible.
For the Israelites, the days never seem to get any better. God has led the Israelites out of Egypt and into the wilderness for forty years. God promised to lead the Israelites to the Promise Land, yet they are still wandering in the wilderness for what seems like an eternity. The Israelites have nothing exciting to eat or drink – just manna and water – in the wilderness. If they knew there would be such monotonous food and drink for forty years before entering the Promised Land, the Israelites might have thought twice about leaving Egypt. Although the Pharaoh made them work as slaves and do hard labor, the Israelites always had plenty of food and drink (or at least that’s how they remember it). They could eat and drink anything they wanted – especially leeks and onions! But–in the wilderness?– all the Israelites have is manna and water. What were they thinking?
During my time in seminary, I often asked myself what I was thinking to follow God’s call there. The first year, the professors break you down–which seems cruel at the time. After all, you come to seminary with a strong faith. Why else would you offer your life to God in fulltime service? But then the second year rolls around and things start making sense … and your professors laugh about it. You start to be built back up, stronger than ever. Forty years in the wilderness must have felt like an eternity to the Israelites, though we must remember it was all part of God’s plan. The Israelites are living between two realities: being promised and having the promise fulfilled. The original generation that left Egypt is not allowed in the Promised Land, because they went against God by breaking their covenants with him. The first generation had to die off before the next one could enter the Promised Land.
For four years (or so…), I saw so many friends stand between being given the okay by their call committee to start seminary and ordination. They had to go through multiple interviews with your call committee; they wrote a dozen essays why they would make a good pastor; they did CPE and the cultural experience. Yet there is no guarantee that they would be called a pastor. The time between being called and ordination is like forty years in the wilderness.
And even if you went to school for something else, such as a nurse or a teacher, your schooling is a lot being in the wilderness. The times it takes to apply school and pass any pre-entry tests, attend the classes and do the work, and take any post-graduation exams to obtain licenses can wear on a person.
As a MA student, I was required to write a 50-80 page thesis with something to do with the New Testament. I had no idea what to write since everything seemed to be written on before me. What could I possibly add to the New Testament field? I was no scholar.
When the Israelites complain about only having manna and water, God becomes angry and sends poisonous snakes to bite them. As a result, many of the Israelites die from the bites. Although this seems cruel, when that first generation dies, it does move the Israelites closer to the Promised Land. However, Moses pleads with God not to kill off the first generation all at one time (Numbers 14:13-19). Moses elegantly says in Numbers 14:19, “In accordance with your great love, forgive the sins if these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.” (NIV). God is responsive to Moses’ intercession and tells Moses to make the image of a poisonous snake on a rod. He tells Moses to have anyone bitten by a snake look at it. By this act of obedient faith, the sick person would be healed from the snakebite. God provides a way for the Israelites to be healed, despite his anger.
Although we do not always follow God’s plan in seminary, we eventually end up where he wants us to be. For me, seminary started off rocky as I figured out who would help me with personal care, especially with eating my three meals a day. Thankfully, Jerry moved up before my second semester to provide my care so that I could focus on my class work. Another issue I struggled with throughout seminary was questioning my calling since I was not becoming a pastor.
Like the obedient faith that focused on the snake on the rod, I had to take many quiet mornings of reflection in chapel to understand what I was doing in seminary. I sought God for guidance and waited to be given direction.
Finally, by the end of my second year, I felt the call to educate people on what it means to be healed and spent the next year writing my thesis on John 9(the healing of the blind man). And, yes, it took another year after graduation to figure out how I am supposed to answer the calling.
Whatever calling you have, it has probably taken a journey to get you to hear it and answer it. Between resistance, denial, and just life happening, answering God’s call can seem a lot like the Israelites’ forty years in the wilderness. We are excited to begin answering God’s call, but we become weary when things do not work out the first few attempts. The word of encouragement to us today is this: Don’t give up. Hang on to Jesus and act in obedient faith, even when you don’t understand, even when you can’t figure out what God is doing. He is faithful. Trust him.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for leading us even when we don’t understand your purposes. Help us to turn to you in obedient faith. Thank you for forgiving us when we come to you in repentance and faith. Amen.
Thanks to the Triune God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Please answer the following reflective questions in the comments below. Please agree to disagree and be respectful to each other. (If you have not already done so, please also take a moment, to sign the comment covenant.) You can answer as many questions as you would like.
1. Where are you in answering God’s call?
2. Where has the journey taken you as you work to answer God’s call?