September means a new school year for children and college students, a new year of work for their teachers and administrators, and a new start to church programs, volunteer plans and Bible studies. It’s a time of renewed effort; new enthusiasm.
September is also the beginning of the football season. My husband and I watched the Chicago Bears play their first game against the Green Bay Packers, and the first half ended with the Bears up by 20 points. We were amazed and thrilled! But, the Pack came back, and my husband said, as we watched the second half, “I guess the Bears are who we thought they were.”
Sometimes September begins with excitement, but then falls into the same-old, same-old pattern of work, weekends, cutting the grass, grocery shopping, and other ho-hum tasks. It’s easy for life to become routine; to lose its joy. That which was new and hopeful becomes same-old, same-old. Even a new start eventually gets boring, even frustrating.
Does it have to?
The Bible has plenty stories of great promise descending to deep disappointment. For example, imagine being delivered from 400 years of slavery by powerful miracles and crossing the Red Sea as walls of water cleared a path for you. Finally, the Promised Land was possible! I’m sure Israel had high expectations.
They didn’t last long.
The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Exodus 16:1-3
The joy of freedom had become feelings of frustration in one month from the day of their exodus. And that was only the beginning.
Then, a bit later, when they had a chance to enter the Promised Land, they didn’t believe that God would give them the strength to take it. As a result of their failure of faith they had to wander in the desert for 40 years. It must have seemed pointless, all the moving from one place to another but never really getting to where they were going. I can’t say I blame them for showing signs of frustration.
There was a point to all of this wandering, of course, but the Israelites couldn’t see it at the time. They needed to learn who God was and how to follow him. They had been delivered from hundreds of years of slavery, and they needed to be taught to think and behave as God honoring free people.
I have a theory that people who have lived under extreme political and spiritual oppression for years forget what it means to be free. It might sound a bit strange that God, who had just given them laws from the Ten Commandments to not wearing clothing made of two different materials, wanted them to be free, but he did. Freedom to follow God was the best life possible, but they didn’t know how to be free and they rebelled against God.
Eventually, however, after 40 years of discipline, boredom, and frustration in the desert, they had finally learned what it was like to follow the Lord. They would enter the Promised Land.
Can you relate? I can.
I think we often want to get to our promised land – a job, new house, marriage, raise – without first learning what God wants us to teach us right where he’s got us. He knows when we’re ready for the promise, and he prepares us. We complain. We grumble. We wonder why we’re not moving forward.
The only thing that gets us through these situations is faith in a God who is for us, who is sovereign, who knows what is best for us, and when we can handle it, and who will get us to our promised land.
We might be tempted to think that God is not who we thought he was when he leaves us wandering for too long. We’d be wrong. God is God. He is the “Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” (Rev. 22:13)
At this point in my life, I realize that times of frustration were for training, teaching, and discipline. God never left me. He was, and is, always here.
The trick is to believe that truth. When you are tempted to think, “Maybe God is not who I thought he was,” look to the Bible to find out who he actually is. Before Moses went back to Egypt, God told him:
God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.” Exodus 3:14
God is. God is love. God is present. He is for you. I have to ask myself, Why is that sometimes so hard to believe?