What do you do when it seems God is not listening, he has stopped moving and you are not getting the answers you are seeking? We have all had times when it seems as though God is going much slower than we would like him to. Times when we are not advancing or when God abruptly changes our plans without any warning or any given reason – so frustrating. I have been there many times and as a Pastor I meet people like this constantly; their life is good, they love God, they love their family then suddenly a curve ball is thrown at them that they did not ask for or welcome in any way but now they have to deal with. It could be a sickness, it could be a family issue, but simply put it is the experience that we never expected when we woke that morning but by the end of the day has changed the whole shape of our lives. In Ephesians 6, Paul calls it the evil day that we would do well just to keep standing in.
In Numbers chapter nine we read the story of how God guided Israel through the wilderness. Israel had just left Egypt and slavery, everything was new to them. They were going to a new territory, a new land and spiritually they were going in a new direction. They had big dreams of this place that they had come to know only as the ‘promised land’. As well as dreams they had questions, how would they reach their destination? Which direction would they travel? Where would they find food and water? Which path would avoid the attack of an enemy? God had determined that during this time Israel’s movements would be regulated by the cloud of his glory. The cloud of God’s glory led them by day and then it appeared like a pillar of fire by night. The cloud would lead and Israel simply had to follow. When the Cloud stopped moving then the children of Israel had to put up the tabernacle and set up camp, when the cloud was lifted up they moved. It was a simple yet frustrating process. Sometimes the cloud stopped for days or months, at other times only hours and all Israel could do was be obedient. They had no choice, you can’t push a cloud, when the cloud stopped it didn’t explain itself; God didn’t give any reasons he just looked for obedience.
What did Israel learn in these seasons?
Assurance: The cloud was Israel’s reminder of God’s constant presence. God had not abandoned them. Israel needed to know that even when things seemed to be on pause and God was not answering as quickly as they would like, they could still be assured of God’s presence with them. God met their needs with manna from heaven, the cloud lead them to water, God provided DAILY their needs, never enough supply for weeks or months. When Paul did not get the answer he was looking for he was still assured of God’s provision ‘My grace is sufficient for you’ 2 Cor 12v9.
Holiness: God used this time to make them into a holy nation. God protected Israel from attack, but at them same time he also protected them from getting too close to nations that were steeped in idolatry, nations that would corrupt them. Israel had lost so much of their identity during their time in Egypt. Stories about the living God they served had become vague and only a distant memory. God uses times of what seem to be inactivity or barrenness to refine us.
Patience: (We all need lots of it!) This was a time of preparation for Israel. This 11-day journey took 40 years. As a nation they could reach their destiny in less than 2 weeks, but they weren’t ready quite yet. God had work to do within them during these 40 years.There were just enough problems and trials between Israel and the Promised Land to make sure that when they got there they could handle it. God wants us to be ready for where he is taking us.
Willingness to Learn: When the cloud stopped for Israel they set up camp. Sometimes it was for a few hours, at other times a few weeks or months. I am sure there were times when the people complained saying to themselves, “We only just got here!” God commanded their stops and their starts, and during this time Israel had to stay teachable. It is important for us to remain teachable and allow God to come and give us new insights, new lessons through this experience of the cloud stopping.
Intimacy: Israel’s most important lesson at this time of learning was about their relationship with God. There were countless battles that lay ahead, and for a season God wanted his people for Himself. When the cloud stops we can be intimate and totally honest with God.
Stillness: Wouldn’t we all love a season of rest, a time to be refreshed and renewed where we drink in instead of give out, where we feel no guilt whatsoever in taking? When the cloud stopped for Israel it was time to catch their breath between two seasons.
Church: Everything Israel did in the wilderness they did together. They progressed, halted and failed together. For these years they were stuck with each other. We need to make sure people never feel they have to go through something alone. Church should never become a place where people can’t share their true feelings and struggles, but a place where people feel loved and cared for. When the cloud stops we are to look out for each other and be church.
What do you do when the cloud stops? Realise God is never inactive and always has something to show us.