Most Sunday Schoolers have heard of the Promised Land. God’s people needed this land, for they had been slaves in Egypt, nomads in the desert, and exiles from any sort of home. The Promised Land was rumored to be a land flowing with milk and honey. It would be fertile so they could survive, and it would be a land to call their own where they could thrive. God promised to take care of His people, to deliver them into the fullness of this land and He did. Home.
But what about me? I am not an Israelite, and I do not live in the desert; but I too am craving a home for my heart and a taste of sweetness in this life. My desert is a swirl of activity. I drive concentric circles shuttling overstuffed backpacks and stinky athletic equipment to and from various schools, I have a million message beeping at me from too many devices asking me for this and reminding me of that, and my heart is baffled that life’s calendar can feel so full while I can feel so empty. In the midst of my swirling culture, I feel pangs of homesickness. My heart craves a HOME and a connection with the One who promises sweet love and care for me.
So, I must ask Jesus, how do I get to the Promised Land from here? I imagine Him smiling and responding, Well, I am so glad you asked.
This question led me to think about Heaven. It is the place that is to be my forever Home, and it is the place for which we were made. Our bodies, minds and souls were made to feel at Home there. Scripture tells us that we are citizens of Heaven, and aliens here on earth. Like an animal living out of its habitat, it is normal that I would feel out-of-sorts here, even on a good day. So, this homesickness in my heart… maybe it is actually a healthy longing for a true Home.
Still, I know the old stories apply to us today, so if God offered the Promised Land then, there remains an invitation for me today. But where is it and how do I get there? I have sat with this question and let it wander a bit in my soul. And that led me to wonder, what if Jesus living in our hearts is the sweet and narrow gate into the glories of the Promise Land?
Jesus told His people He was "the way" and then in John 15 He said, “Live in me. Make your home in me, just as I do in you…" I think we only do half of this. We ask Jesus into our hearts, and we visit as we need to. We ask for things (not open ended questions that would require listening), we present things (like our noble church doings), we drive around and talk to Him here and there, (as we think of it). This is all good, but what if it is just the beginning? What if He wants to have us over to His place, too? And what if the door from my heart to His Home is He, Himself? Will I follow Him there?
Maybe our heart homesickness is a sweet nudge from the Jesus in our hearts to follow the longing deeper in. Paul said he counted everything a loss (swirling culture) in order that he would gain Christ and "be found IN HIM". He said he "had his eye on the goal, where Christ is beckoning us onward - to Jesus." I think that is the Promised Land. It is a home within a home, Christ in me AND me in Him.
All this time, I thought I was preparing these precious guest quarters for Christ in my heart. It turns out, He is has been waiting to show me a secret little door that He Himself created in the depths of my very own heart. And through that door, He is beckoning me into Himself, the Promised Land.
And the true glory of it all is that I can go there while I wait in carpool line.
When we take time to look back, we can see all the ways our life journeys have shaped us into who we are today. WOW! When we look forward, we can see all the places we know we need to or want to go in our journey onward. YIKES! And then there is the in-between place. Although nothing enormous may be going on here, in-between places can feel a little like “lost”. It’s that place where we know everything should be “ok”, but we cannot shake a loneliness in our soul. These are places that we often want to just get through, but we can’t quite see the way forward. Although the place seems void of purpose and dark in its lack of connection, there seems a holiness to its gravity that beckons us to linger in the lost and listen for a voice that may ultimately beckon from the deep.
This is not a new place, rather it is rooted in the sacred. It is part of Joshua’s story. In it, he has replaced Moses as the leader of God’s people who have wandered the wilderness for 40 years. Coming up on the edge of the Promised Land, God tells Joshua that He Himself will lead His people into the land flowing with milk and honey, He will deliver the city. As God is giving Joshua this pep talk, He tells him over and over, “Do not be afraid,” “be strong, be courageous,” and this makes me pause. After God’s promising to hand-deliver all the goodness of the promise land, why is there such emphasis on Joshua being strong? If God is going to do the work of taking down a city, then why worry about strength? Interesting…
It goes on. God says to Joshua that it is time to cross the Jordan River. He tells him exactly how this is going to happen. God is going to part the waters like He had done with Moses and the Red Sea. A new generation who had only heard about the parting of the waters would get to see it with their own eyes. So, Joshua and the 40,000 cross the Jordan River on not-even-soggy but totally DRY ground. They build a memorial so that these people will remember and be able to tell their children how God delivered them through the years and across this river.
Picture Joshua sitting on the banks of the Jordan. To the left a stone memorial reminding Joshua of all he had seen God do. He was the one who sat outside the tent while Moses and God talked like friends. He had watched the Manna fall from heaven, followed the cloud by day and the fire by night. Then, just 1.25 miles away, Jericho looms with its seemingly impenetrable walls. YIKES! And in this in-between place, on the edge of the river – the MANNA ceases. They are so close to the Promise Land that they don’t need it anymore. Imagine 40,000 people remembering how to cook with not so many grandparents alive who remember doing it themselves. On the one hand, it really is so cool the way God does His thing. On the other hand, it isn’t like it used to be.
This is the place where we all land in our lives, and not only once. It is the in-between place where we know God has been with us and will continue to be with us, but it feels different. The walls of need or worry loom big just ahead. We know we should pray and trust, but the old way of eating the MANNA of daily devotion is not feeding us. It can feel dark and lonely, like a sudden disconnect from our senses and though our eyes still work, they are having a hard time adjusting to know the way forward. Our minds tell us we need “to figure this out.” We label it depression. We try to “get through” this in-between place, and fast.
That is how I imagine Joshua sitting there beside the Jordan River. And it is in this very place that a stranger appears. Joshua looks up and asks, ‘Are you friend or enemy?’ And the stranger says, “Neither. I am commander of the Lord’s army.” Joshua immediately bows low. And the commander of the Lord’s army says, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place you are standing is holy.’
And so, while every ounce of our body, mind and soul wants to get out of the in-between place, worry about the changes, fret over what is ahead, think about 1,000 other things than the loneliness that we feel, the God who knows you and has led you to this very place is whispering to you… Dear One, I am here. I am at work in you. And this is holy ground.
Maybe the reason God reminded Joshua to be strong and to have courage was because the temptation for all of us is to FLEE the dark and in-between places, to fix, to go, to do. It takes enormous courage NOT to fear the darkness of learning a new way to grow spiritually. Maybe going to church on Sundays has been your way, well starting to read a daily devotion will take enormous strength. Maybe attending a bible study for years has been your way, well staying home to simply sit with Jesus will require enormous courage. It will look different to all of us, but this in-between/barefoot place is an opportunity to sit a spell. It is a time to let the eyes of the heart adjust to a new way of seeing. It is a place to let your mind rest, because He has a plan for the walls of your Jericho and just beyond that is the Promised Land.
It turns out the in-between place is a sacred space. So, maybe we should linger here. Barefoot and unafraid.