The Pain of Growth
Last week, my seven-year-old boy William started asking if he could buy some “Robucks” for an iPad game called, “Roblox.” After DAYS of begging, finally it appeared as though his dream would come true on Wednesday night. All we had to do was make it through dinner.
Unfortunately for William, we didn’t exactly make it through dinner. I had set out plates and asked him tell siblings that dinner is ready. He didn’t do it. I told him again, with a slight reprimand. Still not responding, I gave him a strong reprimand. Five minutes later, I found him sitting around like I hadn’t asked him to do a thing. So I laid the hammer down: no allowance tonight. I waited for the sobs. Instead, he calmly informed me that he was okay with that.
Just a little word of advice to kids: if your parents try to punish you, at least pretend it hurts.
Of course, I took William’s response as a challenge to my authority. So I detonated my Weapon of Mass Destruction: “Okay, William. We’re not going to buy you any Robucks tonight.”
That’s when I got the response I was looking for—wailing and screaming—but he also gave me more than I bargained for. Briefly looking up from a puddle of tears, he shouted, “You did this because you HATE me with your WHOLE HEART, and I’m NEVER taking those words back.”
Have you ever noticed how growth is always painful? It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about the growth of a child’s character, growth of a business, growth in the gym, or the growth of God’s children. Growing pains are really a thing. We know this from observation. But no matter how much we “know” it, we tend to “un-know” it… when we suffer.
We’re in a series right now called, “Uncharted,” because we believe God has spoken over Wellspring this year that our church, as well as many individuals within this church, will be entering into uncharted territories, a new frontier. Throughout this series, we’ve been gradually revealing the steps it takes to realize our life purpose. First, discover your purpose. Then, take a risk to bring it to pass. Once you do, this leads inevitably to a spiritual battle, a fight. This week, our fourth step is “Grow.” Step 4 is where we learn the tools we’ll need—not just to be successful, but to be enduringly successful. Not just in the world’s eyes, but in God’s.
Today, we’ll be in the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 8. The Book of Deuteronomy was the last book of the Bible written by Moses, and it’s basically a really long sermon about everything Israel has experienced—from the Exodus to their wilderness wanderings. The wilderness was Israel’s season of growth, as we’ll see. We’ll start by reading the first 10 verses. Here, Moses warns Israel about what it will take to enter the “Promised Land”—and stay there.
8 “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. 2 And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. 3 And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word[a] that comes from the mouth of the Lord. 4 Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. 5 Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. 6 So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. 7 For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, 9 a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 10 And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.
The Pain of Preparation…. The Preparation of Pain
The first point I want to make this morning is: God uses the Wilderness to Prepare us for the Promised Land.
The reason I say “us” is that Israel’s experience with a literal wilderness of scarcity and a literal land of promised abundance corresponds with a pattern lived out by God’s people: Joseph experienced a “wilderness” before he became a prince; David experienced a “wilderness” before he became a king; Jesus experienced a wilderness before beginning His ministry, and so did the Apostle Paul. God uses the Wilderness to prepare us for the Promised Land. He uses seasons of scarcity to prepare us for seasons of abundance. God ALWAYS blesses us abundantly, but only sometimes does He bless us with abundance.
You say, “Why in the world would we NEED scarcity to prepare us for abundance?”
Israel’s Calling – a light to all nations
To answer this, we first have to understand Israel’s calling. Israel was not just called to BE a nation; she was called to be a LIGHT to other nations. This goes back to Israel’s formation, when God told Abraham, “I will BLESS you, and then THROUGH you, all the NATIONS of the earth will be blessed.” At the core of Israel’s calling is that she was blessed to be a blessing. Thus, entering the Promised Land wasn’t just a matter of receiving blessing; it was a matter of stewarding it, for the benefit of the whole world.
Israel’s God – our Father in Heaven
That’s why Deuteronomy 8 reads the way it does. God compares himself to a father in verse 5. Fathers care for their children by providing for their needs, just as God provided food and clothing and protection from swelling feet. But good fathers don’t just care for their children’s present needs; they prepare their children for a productive future. And this is where discipline comes in. God wanted His son, Israel, to be a good citizen, a humble and generous steward of His blessings. Otherwise, she’d become just another Empire vying for position in the world and consuming itself in immorality. Imperialistic empires are just the national expression of a spoiled brat that uses his strength to beat up all the other kids on the playground. God didn’t want that for Israel, so He gave her a dose of fatherly discipline. God let them wander in a dangerous and hungry wilderness, not because God was cruel and delighted to see them suffer. Quite the opposite. God was doing to Israel what I was doing to William. He wasn’t just caring for Israel’s present needs, He was preparing Israel her future calling.
And just like William, Israel wined and shouted the ancient equivalent of, “You did this because you HATE me with your whole heart!” The Scripture says that God disciplines those He loves, but discipline never feels like love, it feels like hate. Are you struggling to believe God’s goodness in your wilderness? Do you feel like God hates you or has forgotten you?
The Benefits of God’s Discipline
Two hours after my episode with Will, I was tucking him in, but he was still non-communicative. I asked him if he still loved me, and I probably shouldn’t ask questions I don’t want the answer to, but he told me matter-of-factly he did not. So I turned it into another lesson. I said, “William, I always try to deal with my anger before I fall asleep, because the Bible says in Ephesians 4 (paraphrase for kids!) that our hearts become a little bit darker if we don’t.”
For the first time that evening, he engaged me in conversation. He said, “What do you mean that our heart gets darker?” I said, “It gets a little less loving and a little more hateful, and it stops caring as much about God.” He said, “But I’m too ANGRY to not be angry anymore.” I said, “This would be a perfect time to ask for God’s help.”
So he asked me to pray for him, which I did.
After a long pause—I could see the wheels turning—he gave me a hug, and he said, “When you do your morning prayers, will you wake me up at 6:45 to pray with you?”
We don’t usually get to see the results of discipline till they get older, but it was like God gave me an early glimpse. Imagine with me the power of William learning this lesson now: what difference might it make in his future marriage, if he continues to live by the rule of not letting the sun go down on anger, of reconciling with people he loves, and of ordering his day around seeking God first? What difference might it make for his future children, and their children after them, and all the lives that those generations touch?
These are the things God has in mind when He shows us love, not only by generously caring for our present needs, but painfully preparing us for our future calling. Like Israel, you were blessed to be a blessing. The Promised Land is not just about experiencing abundance, but stewarding it for the good of many. God uses the Wilderness to prepare us for the Promised Land.
Now, let’s come back to the passage, and I’d like to read a few more verses:
11 “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
Now here’s my second point: If we don’t let the Wilderness prepare us for the Promised Land, the Promised Land will prepare us for another Wilderness.
The Danger of Scarcity and Abundance
On either side of the Promised Land, there’s Pain. On either side of abundance, there is scarcity. The wilderness is meant to humble our hearts to be ready for the Promised Land, but if we forget the lessons we learned there, we go into exile, like Israel did. We go back into the wilderness, where we can once again be humbled, so that we can once again bear God’s abundance as wise stewards who use their abundance to bless others, not just themselves.
In this sense, both abundance and scarcity are dangerous. The danger of scarcity is that we think God forgot us. The danger of abundance is that we forget God. Verses 10 and 11 say, “Once you eat and are full… take care, lest you forget God…” We need God just as much in the Promised Land as in the Wilderness. But when we’re living in the Promised Land, we forget.
Remember the LORD
That’s why the central commandment of Deuteronomy 8, expressed negatively in verse 11, is “Don’t forget the LORD.” Expressed positively in verse 2, it says, “Remember the LORD.” To our Western ears, remembering God simply speaks of calling Him to mind intellectually. But to a Hebrew mind, remembering meant so much more. Verse 11 says, “don’t forget the LORD by not keeping His commandments.” To “remember” involves more than our intellect; it involves our hearts, our souls, and our bodies, acting in unison to obey God… to show God how meaningful He is to us in the present because of what He’s done for us in the past.
Practically speaking, what does it look like for you to remember God—so that you can grow in your wilderness, move on to your Promised Land, and then stay there? I’ll offer two ways.
Remember God Through Stewardship
The first way to remember God is stewardship. I’ve been using this word, but what exactly is it? The English Standard Version of the Bible translates “steward” as “manager.” The idea is that you and I don’t actually own a single thing. Our money and our talents don’t belong to us. Everything we have, down to our very life, is a loan from God. One day we’ll give an accounting for our accounting: Did you hoard your blessings, or did you use them to bless others? Did you use your gifts to point people to God’s worth, or your own? If Jesus managed your budget, how different would it look? God blessed us to bless others. He saved us to be stewards.
On a personal level, that’s why I’ve invested the last 15 months in learning to speak Spanish. God gave me a gift for learning languages, and even though I didn’t see a use for it in the moment, I trusted that God didn’t give me the gift for no reason. Now, after 15 months, I can see God opening doors. In the past two weeks, I’ve spent several hours on the phone, mentoring our Cuban missionary Norlen Perez in Spanish. This is the same Cuban missionary who was literally on his way to baptize 300 people, and who three months prior, baptized 300 more. In a small way, I feel like I got to be part of that. And so is everyone in this room who’s made financial contributions to the work in Cuba.
Stewards share God’s blessings, but in sharing God’s blessings, we find ourselves the ones blessed. You were blessed to be a blessing, but also, blessing others blesses you. If you want to get off the wilderness cycle, get on the stewardship cycle. Bless others, and you’ll be blessed, so that you have more blessing to bless others with. It’s a wonderful cycle.
Remember God Through Sacrament
Now, for a final way to remember God: the Sacraments. Specifically, in this case, Communion.
There’s a sense in which we can move from scarcity to abundance, from Wilderness to Promised Land, throughout this life. But there’s a sense in which this entire life is a “wilderness” as we await entry into our “Promised Land”—that is, our eternal place of rest and abundance.
Just like Israel was given bread from heaven to eat and water from the rock to drink during their wilderness wanderings, the Apostle Paul says that these miraculous provisions were a “type,” a foreshadowing, of Communion. Just as Israel was sustained by God’s provision in the wilderness, we are sustained by grace, literally deposited into our person, through the power of Jesus’ life death and resurrection, as we eat and drink the elements of communion by faith. Communion sustains us in the wilderness of this world until Jesus returns and transforms it into our eternal Promised Land.
I saved communion for the last point because everything we do for God is ultimately rooted in what God did for us, through Jesus. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s original promise to Abraham, that through Israel, God would bless all nations. If you read Israel’s history, they were not faithful in the wilderness, nor were they faithful in the Promised Land. It seemed as though God’s promise to Abraham would never come to pass—as though Israel’s unfaithfulness would somehow undo God’s faithfulness. Rather than being a steward of God’s blessings, Israel hoarded those blessings and even used them to worship other gods. They didn’t learn the lesson of the wilderness, and consequently, they went back to it.
The good news of the Gospel is that man’s unfaithfulness cannot undo God’s faithfulness. Where Israel failed the test for 40 years in the wilderness, Jesus passed the test for His symbolic 40 days of fasting. Jesus is our representative Israel. He stewarded the blessings of God perfectly, so that through His life, death, and resurrection, God fulfilled His promise that through Abraham’s offspring—Jesus was Abraham’s offspring—through Him, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Through faith, you and I are Abraham’s seed, and through us, the light of God’s promise continues to shine. Man’s darkness cannot put out God’s light. Man’s unfaithfulness cannot undo God’s faithfulness.
God LOVES the world with His whole heart, and He’s never taking it back.