Monday, February 8, 2010

Follow the Cloud

15Now on the day that the tabernacle was erected the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the testimony, and in the evening it was like the appearance of fire over the tabernacle, until morning.

16So it was continuously; the cloud would cover it by day, and the appearance of fire by night.

17 Whenever the cloud was lifted from over the tent, afterward the sons of Israel would then set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the sons of Israel would camp.

18At the command of the LORD the sons of Israel would set out, and at the command of the LORD they would camp; as long as the cloud settled over the tabernacle, they remained camped.

19Even when the cloud lingered over the tabernacle for many days, the sons of Israel would keep the LORD'S charge and not set out.

20If sometimes the cloud remained a few days over the tabernacle, according to the command of the LORD they remained camped. Then according to the command of the LORD they set out.

21If sometimes the cloud remained from evening until morning, when the cloud was lifted in the morning, they would move out; or if it remained in the daytime and at night, whenever the cloud was lifted, they would set out.

22Whether it was two days or a month or a year that the cloud lingered over the tabernacle, staying above it, the sons of Israel remained camped and did not set out; but when it was lifted, they did set out.

Numbers 9:15-22

When we come to believe that God is real one of the first things we realize is there is a larger perspective in which to put our lives. When everything was simply chaos we had no inkling of a grand design into which our lives fit. But upon the invasion of our randomness with the eternal we face a new possibility - a purposeful, planned reason for our existence.

This was one of the very first questions I asked as a Christian. What do you desire for me to do with my life?

There are many ways of looking at the issue of guidance. Mainstream orthodoxy has had two perspectives that are in some ways mutually exclusive.

One sees all of life as being pre-planned. The word predestination is heard a lot in these circles. There are a host of presuppositions that go with this view that, in the most strict understanding, leave no room for human volition.

The other, as well in the extreme, sees nothing pre-planned but God responding to each human choice somewhat like a chess player.

I found early in my believing life that these positions did not satisfy the reality of life nor the actual teachings of scripture. I came to see that both, in the extreme, missed God's ways. I also saw that a middle point between the two did not meet these either.

As I sought God and studied the Bible to find an answer to what I felt was one of the most important questions of my life I began to see that there is a wonderful interaction between God and humans that is both biblical and realistic. I found myself often seeing in the bible, in creation and in history that we have our part and God has His part. When we do what God asks of us He does what He promises us. If we do not then He cannot.

In that light we see in my devotional text for today a simple way that Israel was able to know that they were following God. From the time they left Goshen until they arrived in Israel they were attended by a visible sign of God's presence. It looked like a vertical cloud in the daytime and a pillar of fire at night. Perhaps I will share more about the importance of this for the Israelites in future posts but for now I want to understand its role in leading them and how it may relate to us in the now.

It was a very simple process. The cloud came down and stayed in one place, Israel camped and stayed in one place. The cloud elevated and began to move, Israel followed it. Simple.

This pattern went on for the whole time Israel was in the desert.

What could this mean to us today? I believe it at least means that God desires to guide us very specifically. There was no doubt that everywhere Israel went they could know for sure that God desired them to be there.

21 The LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.

22 He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people.

Exodus 13:21-22

I believe that we are to have that same assurance. I believe God is as interested in leading us as He was leading Israel.

The second thing it surely means is that we should seek to know what God's plans are for us on a moment by moment basis. I see that we seek God deeply for a time when our lives seem to need direction because we are starting a new chapter in our lives or some event has altered the path we were going down. These are certainly times where we need to seek Him to find the path He desires us to be on. But to follow the cloud Israel had to be looking for the moment it would lift and show a new direction. We know that the cloud sometimes stayed for a long time and sometimes for a short time. We also know that God did not give another way to be led. They could not know if they were going or staying except it be by the cloud. It would have been less anxiety provoking if He had said, "You are going to be here 256 days so enjoy your stay." The very temporariness of their camping situation made them all the more prepared for the next move. They never settled into a thinking that removed new possibilities from them. Each day was a possible new adventure. And even if it wasn't moving day they still had to see it as a big possibility.

This mindset has been a great help to me throughout my life. I have never found myself locked into a thinking that left me believing that what I was experiencing of God today was all that I was going to or could experience. It has helped me to remain flexible in following His plan. It has kept me from settling into a life without expectation of new horizons. It has kept a large element of excitement for the next thing God will lead me to in my life. It has kept me from selling out for less than he has planned. And perhaps most of all it has kept me from being led by circumstances alone. Until He has said to move I have been able to resist the voices of expediency or the lure of "success." Determining to be led by God alone does not leave you driven by the winds of changing situations or human demands. Placing a firm commitment to find His will and do it no matter what the evidence to do something else keeps us on a course of dependency and puts us in the position to see miracles continuously. It opens the door for our faith to be exercised. It build in us a capacity to see the work of God done in impossible situations because we know he has led us and will provide all that we need as we have followed him.

Just a small glance at where the cloud did lead Israel will demonstrate this truth. Think about it..... to a sea that was impossible to cross on foot and no boats. The mightiest military unit in the then known world was hot in pursuit. The result? The most unusual battle that was ever fought. Not one Israelite killed an Egyptian yet not one of them was harmed. That is what we can expect when we follow the cloud. Tested by impossible circumstances and met with an all powerful God's care.

Of course you will say, "But no one today has a cloud that leads them like Israel did." You are right in one way. But the cloud was the manifestation of God for them in that moment. Today our cloud is found primarily in a book - the Bible. As we daily seek His voice in its pages we will find His guidance. That guidance today includes where we are to direct our footsteps but far more what the motivation for those footsteps are to be. God is interested in where we are but having us, just like Israel, in the place we are supposed to be is not important if our hearts are not what He wants them to be. Israel was led in such a sure way that they would have had to have made a choice not to follow to miss it. But right after the cloud led them through a sea with 30 foot walls on either side, after their enemies drown when those walls caved in, after one of the greatest demonstrations of God's love for a nation was shown them they started to grumble and complain.

I learned that following the Cloud primarily means letting God make me into who he wants me to be. Yes it does involve going places but as I have studied these passages and the rest of the biblical passages on guidance I have come to understand it is who we are and not just where we are that matters.

The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD,
And He delights in his way.
Psalm 37:23

There is a lot more here to consider but for today this is my meditation.
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