As we sit in our homes, without the usual things to distract us, what are we doing with the sudden void? Our usual vices, our usual ways of coping may be gone, or greatly lessened, by the inability to leave our houses. I can no longer fill my void of being needed by anyone and everyone because the only needs I’m fulfilling are unseen, and in my family. We can no longer use retail therapy to find something bigger and better that will make us whatever we think we need to be. We can no longer run from our internal issues because we have nobody else’s issues to focus on. Our idols are gone, so what will we do with the sudden open space?
There are so many instances in the Bible where people were turning away from God, and turning to other things. The result of almost all of these instances is a moment where these people were separated from what was distracting them, and given an opportunity to be restored by God. The Israelites wandering in the desert for some time (Exodus), Ruth and Naomi losing everything they loved and going to a new city (Ruth 1-4), Jonah in the belly of a whale (Jonah 1-3), Paul thrown in jail (Letters of Paul), Job being stripped of everything he ever loved (Job), are just a small sampling of these stories. In these stories, our main characters are separated from God. Maybe they were being disobedient, they were seeking other things first, or maybe they were working so hard for him that He knew a little test wouldn’t throw them.
And then they found themselves in a desert for forty years, in a new town with no one but each other, in jail, in a whale, alone, and what else were they to do? In these examples, they sought hard after God. In these dire circumstances, they put their heads down, looked inward, and asked God, “what now?” And in all of these situations, God had an answer. Maybe the process wasn’t ideal, most of the time it wasn’t their favorite thing, but in every instance there was waiting.
The Israelites starved in the desert for forty days, and then spent a ridiculous amount of time disobeying, repenting, and coming back to God before reaching the promised land. Ruth had to do backbreaking work in a field for awhile to get noticed by Boaz and get her’s and Naomi’s life back on track. Jonah prayed in the belly of a whale before being thrown up on a beach: good times I am sure. Paul writes a bunch of letters with beautiful revelations from the Lord, while he is in jail. Job is left alone to deal with all of these trials and tribulations allowed by God to test a good and faithful man. And all of this over days, months, some were years.
We’ve got time guys, plenty of it. Maybe we have a hundred kids, and work, and new things to tackle, but we do have time. We don’t have social obligations, sports, meetings, shopping, business trips, vacations. We have time. The Israelites spent a lot of that time whining and complaining. Ruth spent that time working hard in a field, and being faithful to her mother in law and her God. Jonah spent his time in prayer, and repentance. Paul spent his time writing challenging letters to his friends, asking more of them in the name of God. Job spent his time crying out to the Lord in his pain.
What are we spending our time doing? Are we whining and complaining and filling our time building idols in the desert? Are we complaining about the daily manna God is giving us just because we can’t quite see the promised land? Is it possible to shift our focus from ourselves to a God who has always taken care of us, always been faithful, and never forsaken us?
“You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed.” Joshua 22:14
If there is one thing I know, one thing I am confident in: it is that the Lord’s promises have been fulfilled. He has shown himself faithful all my life. He is giving, and good, and loving, and knows, more than I do, what I need. I know from my own life experience all of these things, but I also know from countless stories in the Bible and from my family and friends. We know he is faithful, and good. So in this time, can we count on that and really, truly dig in and figure out what he wants from us, from this?
We can be like the Israelites and look ahead and not understand and beg for answers. We can be like the Israelites and in a time when our idols are stripped down and gone, build new ones. We can wander in the desert and not trust in the one who has always come through. Or we can choose to use this time for good.
We can put our heads down like Ruth in the fields, and work hard, and harvest something bigger than we could have ever imagined. For Ruth, it was a new family, wealth, love, and a new life. She was noticed by Boaz simply on account of her good, hard work. What important work are you doing that you just need to honorably, and with integrity get done? And what could come out of it in the end?
We can be Jonah and search our hearts asking for forgiveness in spaces we have disobeyed or wronged him or others. “See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:24) We can cry out for deliverance and trust that God will spit us out on that beach and into mission when this is over. But the only way to be prepared for that beach and that mission is to dig in and talk to the guy who called you to it.
We can spend our time thinking of friends or family who need us to write to them. We can think of people who need a word of encouragement and literally write it down, or speak it out. We can put it in the mail, say it in a phone call. Send the text, check on the friend, challenge the fellow believer. From a prison cell Paul wrote letters, from our homes we can convey our thoughts in many different ways to people who need them.
Or maybe you’re in a painful time like Job, and you just need to cry out to the Lord in your pain. Maybe you need to don the sack cloth and sob in the streets and beg for mercy. But don’t turn away from him. He can handle your anger, your pain, your sorrow. He can handle it. He wants it, he can heal it. But if you don’t cry out to him, if you hide your sorrow, if you whine and complain to yourself, God can’t work there. God can and will work in your doubt and your sorrow, as he did with Job and countless others who have walked in pain before you. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).” If you press into God in your sorrow, when this is over you can lead others to do the same.
We can let this time get the best of us and spend 40 years wandering in the desert with very little to show for it when we arrive in the promised land; or we can arrive in the promised land with our hard work propelling us forward, our repentance readying us for our mission, our family and friends encouraged, and our sorrow comforted by the Lord.
“And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.” 1 Peter 5:10
When this is over who will you be? When this is over what will you have gained? What will you have wrestled through? I’m not asking you to learn a new skill, or do something that takes a million hours, though you can do those things. I am just asking you to talk with the Lord. Ask him to reveal the work he wants to do in you. Don’t waste this precious time he’s given. Press in, and the restoration we all experience will make us stronger, firmer, and more steadfast; that’s who I want to be.