Journal entry 012712: When is timing perfect?

There is a Bible story about God’s perfect timing found in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy, about the Hebrew people’s journey from Egypt to their new home. Deuteronomy 1:2 says, “It is only eleven days journey from Hobeb by the way of Mount Seir to Kadesh-Barnea on Canaan’s border, yet Israel took forty years to get beyond it.”

Don’t let the strange names distract you. Pay attention to the numbers. Instead of 11 days, it took 14,600 days. It took 1327 times longer than it could have. That is a frightening extension.

You might say the 40 years was due to the people’s stubbornness and not God’s timing,  but the people weren’t ready the first time they came to the border. They needed all 40 years of transformation before making the big commitment.

The reason for 40 years was their own fault, because they chose to listen to ten fearful spies rather than listen to God, but that isn’t much comfort. I make way too many decisions of my own based on fear to be immune from the same fate. I’ve always hoped God will compensate for my lack of courage by taking up the slack instead of adding to the journey; but then, here is this story from Deuteronomy.

Granted, I don’t expect God’s journey to be quick and easy. As Jon Acuff wrote, “Journeys where the outcome is already known are not adventures, they’re errands. And we were created to do more than run errands.” But a 1327-fold increase? That is so far over the top it is incomprehensible.

The question I have to ask myself is this: Am I willing for my journey to take twice as long as I expect, or ten times longer, or 1327 times longer, if that is what God requires to transform me and transform my message? Am I willing to write another 40 years before 10,000 people will read one of books? Will I patiently teach 40 more years before knowing how much of it sticks? Am I willing to write weekly journals for another 40 years before I know if anyone reads them?

But the Bible story goes on further. God said, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Break camp and advance …”

They spent 40 years reshaping their national character, waiting for their turn, yet after all that, they were still a bit uncertain about when and where to go next. They had prepared long enough, they had fretted enough, it was time to advance.

One of the hardest things to know is when to advance. There is always something more to learn, a new skill to master, or resources to accumulate. In fact, I doubt I have ever felt “ready” for the next step of my life.

I certainly wasn’t ready for fatherhood. I thought I was ready for marriage but little did I know what it was really about. I wasn’t ready for my first job, or my first management position. I certainly wasn’t ready for my first day in city government. I have never been ready to run a marathon (which means I haven’t been ready nine times). I wasn’t ready the first time I got laid off, wasn’t ready to be self-employed. I wasn’t ready to build a new house, wasn’t ready to raise teenagers, wasn’t ready to be full-time Uncle Berry, wasn’t ready to lead Iron Men … and yet, here we are. Just like those Hebrews, 40 years of training didn’t seem like enough once I got the border of decision. It took a push from God every time.

God said in Deuteronomy 1:8, “See, I have given you this land, Go in and take possession.” Just because the moment of perfect timing has finally arrived doesn’t mean the job will get easier. Just because God tells us to advance and promises the future is ours doesn’t mean we won’t suffer casualties. We have to “take possession,” a short phrase that may represent a lifetime struggle. Maybe 40 more years.

What about you? How long are you willing to do the hard work to “take possession?” Another 40 years? Are you ready today? What is God telling you?


“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32

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