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now what?

Two simple words. How do they sound?

now what?
said in anger, bitterness … to someone who has caused hurt?

now what?
said to oneself … in search of what to do next?

now what?
said in sadness, loneliness … feeling directionless?

now what?
said in hyperactive anticipation, ready for anything?

You and I might be saying in one, all or another way. In the process of life there are numerous now what? moments of question, pondering. When the storms and struggles, when we are climbing the mountains, walking through the valleys the words now what? might roll off our tongues daily.

But what about after the climb, the struggle, the wandering is done? When we have reached the end of the hard road and we can, once again take a deep, lung-cleansing breath.

If, the best view comes after the hardest climb … if we have entered the promised land after our wandering … if we are finally able to rest …

now what?

In my original post, now-what, I spoke of how my recognition that the climb through a struggle was complete left a lull, a void where the struggle had been. I mentioned that this lull left me feeling fearful, unsure of what might fill it.

To be so very honest, I wondered what struggle was around the next corner.

If we look back at Deuteronomy 8 we read that Moses told the Israelites to “eat and be satisfied” (v. 10). Basically, Moses was telling them to take some time for self care. Look after their basic needs … food and drink, get some rest, make yourself at home.

Then he says,
“Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day (v. 11) … otherwise … your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (v. 14).

Moses makes emphasis of this message not to forget the Lord your God. He reminds them of how God has provided for their very survival for these forty years. It is by his hand that they were kept safe, fed and led to their Promised Land. Moses tells them that once they have a home, earn a living, grow and purchase food … they will begin to think “my power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me” (v. 17).

It is not different today, for you and I as we rest from our previous battle, struggle and prepare to stand on our own two feet …

we need to know what we are standing on

Are we still standing on the promises of God? or are we relying on our own strength? Are we remembering our God? observing his commands? laws? decrees?

You see, whatever is around the next corner is nothing … who we hold on to in the good times is as important as who we clung to in the bad times.

The same one who held our hand, wiped our brow, and boosted us up the steep incline, as we summited the steep mountain, to see the beauty all around us wants to go with us as we begin our descent.

Whatever follows our struggle, whatever is next, we need to stand on God’s promises, because he has proven to us, in our struggles, that he will never leave us.

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Moses wrote Deuteronomy as a speech to the Israelites, including the history of their struggle prior to and during their time in the desert.

The Israelites are at the end of their wandering through the desert … forty years of wandering. Now they are about to receive the promise of their very own home, flowing with milk and honey.

Their hard struggle is almost over and they are about to see the most spectacular view … the Promised Land.

Forty years of wandering …

How old were you, forty years ago? How old will you, your child or grandchild be in forty years?

When Moses is speaking to the ‘wandering Jews’ he is not necessarily speaking to the same audience that viewed and experienced the plagues in Egypt. This audience is the children and grandchildren of those who fled Egypt, walked through the dry bed of the Red Sea. It is a new generation of wanderers.

How about your wandering? Has it been a multi-generational season of struggle and difficulty? Maybe a lifetime? Could it be a generational curse such as substance abuse (and it’s affects)? poverty? illness? fear? Or has the length of your struggle been ‘just’ a few months? a handful of years?

I remember someone talking about waiting for hip surgery. As they waited (years) they began to compensate for the hip that needing replacement, by putting more weight, more pressure on the ‘healthy’ one. Once they had the surgery, they were then put on a wait list to have the other hip replaced, for it had become weak under the stress of the compensation made for the other one.

The thing about struggles is that we compensate for our weaknesses. They have affected you … maybe in ways that you do not even know, leaving invisible (or visible) scars and bruising.

You have been living, like the Israelites, on an adrenalin high. Your body chemicals have kept you going … or they went on hiatus, leaving you to feel like bowl of jello … without the bowl.

Moses reviews the history of their wandering, pointing out where their parents and grandparents went wrong (remember the golden calf) and challenging them to be different … for they would get to receive the promise made between God and their ancestors. He tells them that their wandering has had a refining purpose.

You have been refined through your struggle, your wandering. You have developed muscle and strength that could only have been gained through your experience. The effort was not without gain.

He tells them, in Deuteronomy 8, what to expect in their promised land … for he will not enter those gates with them. He whets their appetites for all the good that awaits … on the other side.

Anticipation for the end of the journey has been created … then they, like we who have come to the end of our struggle, will ask … now what?

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After the storms have passed, after we have summited the mountains? Then … do we dare to ask now what?

I suggested we read Deuteronomy 8. I read it, then I listened to it … a couple of times. It amazed me what I heard that I missed when I was reading the words quietly to myself.

Deuteronomy is a book that instructs us about work and rest, relationships, leadership and justice. An interesting combination of subjects that impact all of our lives.

There are two messages or themes in Deuteronomy:

  1. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4-5).
  2. I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me.” (Deut. 5:6-7)

We need to keep these in mind as we read the book, as we read chapter 8.

When we go through difficult times we often cling to God, to his word. It is when the struggles are the most intense that we cry out to him, recognizing how helpless we are without him. It is easy and natural to love him with our everything, to have no other gods. Though this is not always the case, for when we struggle the most is often when we cry out why God?

then again, maybe asking God why is a sign that we love do love him alone, for he is who we ask, confirming our trust of him.

God has broad shoulders … he can carry such heavy questions … it is not a sign of spiritual weakness to ask God the tough questions. He wants us to ask, to cry out, to wag our finger at him … because he knows our thoughts already and he knows the heart behind them.

So, we haven’t really gotten into Deuteronomy 8 yet (this is how my brain works), but we know two important themes for all of Deuteronomy:

  1. “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4-5).
  2. I am the Lord your God…you shall have no other gods before me.” (Deut. 5:6-7)

This is the beginning of our search for an answer to now what? after the tough mountain has been climbed, now what?

Keep reading Deuteronomy 8. Try listening to it.

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The best view comes after the hardest climb …

I was sitting recently, reflecting on the hills, the mountains of the recent years. Of having stumbled in the valley. Now, having reached the end of those valleys, having reached the summit of the mountain climb I have seen the most beautiful views … the sweat and tears still not yet completely wiped away.

For a moment there was a lull … an awkward silence …

So, I filled the void with whispered thanks … thanks for the companionship, thanks for the peace that passed all of my human understanding, thanks for reaching down a hand to lift me up, for pushing me further when I cried that I couldn’t do it anymore.

God saw me through the steep climb up the mountain, through the wandering in the valley, through the hot, dry desert.

I, most sincerely, was thankful, filled to the brim with gratefulness, gratitude.

But …

it was back … the lull, the pause …

and fear crept into the corners and crevices, whispering

now what?

For a moment the beauty of my mountaintop experience was shadowed by the absence of a goal, a destination … a struggle that comes with a rush of adrenalin that makes blood pump through our veins, dilates our pupils … reminding us how much we need help … God.

So …

now what?

That’s my question, the one that I am wrestling … wrestling like Jacob wrestled with God … with himself.

For the next while, I am going to process my now what question, my wrestling match, and I am going to share here what I am learning, the process that God would seem to be leading me through.

But I have to be really, really honest … I don’t read the last page, the last chapter of a book … nor do I know where this process is going to end up.

But, I know this … I am trusting God to reveal his will, his plan … I also know that God goes before, behind and alongside of me, of us.

So, in this lull in the storms of life, I am looking up, with wide-eyed anticipation and trust.

If you’d like to come along, let’s start by reading Deuteronomy 8 … maybe there is an even better view up ahead.

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I remember a time, many years ago, when the rent was due and no money in the bank with two days before payday. We prayed. The paycheque arrived in the mail and was predated … for the day that the rent was due.

I remember a time when hubby had to have a biopsy. He was scared, I was scared. We prayed. When the results came back and there was nothing to be concerned about.

I remember a time when our daughter was heading to university and we had little with which to help her financially. We prayed. Then she received a very unexpected bursary.

We prayed. God answered.
and our expectation that this is the norm was created.

Unfortunately the immediate is not the norm, but the abnormal, the unique … honestly, it’s the rarity.

Much of the time we pray and wait … and wait some more. Sometimes the answer isn’t what we want. Sometimes the answer never seems to come at all.

Shawn Bolz has said,

“A lot of times we really want to bypass process. We just want instantaneous, we want immediate gratification, we want God to meet our needs, we want God to meet our desires. But He’s the God who loves process, He’s in the process.”

In this time of instant everything, from gratification to credit to all that Amazon Prime delivers, we are unpractised in process. Yet, from Genesis to Revelation process or order is a common thread … process is God’s norm.

God operates in the order of process. We only have to open Genesis and read the creation account to see that his ways are detailed, methodical, scientific, logical … in short, he generally moves through a process.

And the process he works through is his process. His perspective is grand, limitless … more vast than we can even imagine. He is all-knowing … aware of the past, present and future. It is his process, there is purpose in the process and we can trust it!

The other thing to remember, while wading through whatever process you are in the midst of is that he cares for you immeasurably more than we can imagine, more than anyone else in our lives. He loves to the point of allowing the blood of his own son to spill for you … If he loves you that much, he won’t leave you in the midst of the process you are currently going through.

“And I am sure of this,
that he who began a good work in you
will bring it to completion
at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Philippians 1:6

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“It’s humid as …”

That was the note to let us know that our son had arrived in Thailand … the country where he and his mission school group will serve for the next couple of months.

It is good to know that he arrived, that he is safe. As the team will be travelling into a more remote area, he has pre-warned us that we might not have contact for much of his time there.

I (the mom) am both at ease and feeling the loss that disconnect can mean (I mean, mom and control freak do go hand in hand).

Then I read this, from Isaiah 58:11:

“The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”

The LORD will guide you always …

Not one of his angels, not a really spiritual or physically strong Samson-esque person … the LORD, himself.

ahhhh … I can rest.

I read it again … when I read verses like this, I always need to read them a second time. You see, when I read it the first time, I read it like a momma. What my momma heart read is “God is gonna strengthen your frame. He will keep you (your son) safe … from sickness, injury, hunger, humidity … from harm.” I read it that way because that is how a momma, a parent thinks. We think that if we can keep our kids safe from harm, then all will be well. Then we lay that, our expectation, on God the father.

But, on second read, I don’t think that is what this entire verse means (when I read it with my head, with my soul). What I think, instead, that is being communicated by Isaiah (said with a North American or New Zealand accent) is:

not that the LORD will keep us, (my son) from physical harm, but that He will sustain his body and meet the needs of the soul for refreshment.

This can be humbling, even tough to pray, because we like to know that the physical part of our lives and the lives of those we love are secured, safe. The soul … it’s just so … invisible, untouchable.

Yet, to think that there will be strength for your frame (that means that the physical body will be nourished enough for the task at hand … no promises of health or lack of injury or all-you-can-eat-buffets!). That refreshment in a sun-scorched land will be never-ending … that one’s soul is being guided by the God who created our soul …

that means our soul is in the care, the hands of it’s creator, who knows the soul best.

The LORD will guide you always …

and this is the greatest comfort, the greatest encouragement. That the Lord, himself, is our guide. He is leading all of us (my son included) … that means he goes before us, ahead of us. He’s keeping watch over the path ahead and he is our personal guide, leading us … our souls, through the (stressful, sorrowful, fearful … even humid) journey.

This verse is not just a promise, but a prayer.

“The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs
in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring
whose waters never fail.”

amen

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Recently I read a quote by Virginia Woolfe:

“There is a virgin forest in each; a snowfield where even the print of birds’ feet is unknown.” Virginia Woolfe

I think it might be the introvert’s version of heaven. A solitary place within us, where no one has even left footprints. A place of personal seclusion, rest from all noise, interruption from our quiet, but deep thoughts. In a sense,

it is Sabbath.

Sabbath, the day to remember and keep holy. The day orchestrated by God, for us, which he, himself participated in, after the creation of the world and all in it.

In Hebrew (the language of the Genesis Sabbath) the word used for rest is menuha, but it does not refer to the rest that is a nap … menuha refers to celebration, delight.

In my mind, what God meant when he included Sabbath into our lives, was like a snow day. A day when you wake up, ready to do the routines of life and work, but it’s snowing wildly and all the regular plans of the day get cancelled and a sense of freedom and delight fill your soul.

It is a snowfield where even the print of birds’ feet is unknown

Sabbath is not just a snow day, but a mindset. It is taking delight in the midst of work of the snow … shovelling, scraping, bundling up with a heart celebrating in the creation, the Creator, while taking pleasure in the work that we have to do.

Sabbath is a mindset of celebration and delight, in the midst of the work as well as in the rare afternoon nap … snow not mandatory … but sooooo lovely.

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