Stumbling Through Troughs
We sat in Tim's office, as he was out for the morning. It's a rare occurrence when Lyric and I get to have school in Daddy's office, so we went for it. The school room was quite literally a mess, and the office provided a quiet haven from the hub-bub downstairs. Perhaps that is why the Bible lesson spoke so profoundly to my heart that morning. I could actually hear it.
For weeks now Lyric's Bible lesson has focused on how The Lord brought His people, the Israelites, into the Promised Land. It seemed ages ago they left Egypt, led by a quaking yet obedient Moses. We learned how time and time again Moses pleaded with God on behalf of his people, asking for God's mercy to forgive them and show compassion. And time and time again, God forgave. Because our God is a God of mercy.
So, you can imagine the surprise when Lyric and I read how Moses struck the rock instead of speaking to it as The Lord had commanded. Forty years of righteously leading the obstinate Israelites dashed in that one act of disobedience. He will no longer be allowed to lead the people into the Promised Land. (Lyric likes to call it, "The Land Flowing With Milk and Honey.")
"Oh no, Momma!" Lyric was horrified. How can this be?
It's a sobering reminder that those who lead, are indeed held to a higher standard.
Moses endured years of troughs, low points of wandering and quite possibly wondering what God was doing, where He was leading, when they would ever arrive. And now, Moses learns that he will not arrive. At least not to where he had thought.
Troughs and Trials
I meet with friends for a book club each term here in Oxford. This term, we're reading The Screwtape Letters. I haven't read this book since high school; re-reading it reminds me why I loved it so much the first time.
On Thursday evening we met and read the section where Uncle Screwtape advises his nephew, Wormwood, on how to use troughs, or trials, to lead a soul away from God.
"Now it may surprise you to learn," writes Screwtape, "that in His (God's) efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else."
I immediately thought of Moses. I think of Moses as a special favourite of God. God met Him in a burning bush, let all His glory pass in front of Him up on the mountain, and used his hands to carry God's holy words down to the Israelites. Yet, the trough period for Moses was long, 40 years. And, at the end of it all, Moses would not even be allowed to see what he had longed for.
Yet, somehow, Moses still pressed on. He continued to lead the Israelites, even when what he had hoped for was taken away.
"It is during such trough periods," continues Screwtape, "much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best."
The trough periods can last 40 years or they can last 4 months. But during that time, God is molding a man. Dry as the desert was to those Israelites, our soul may be parched with sorrow. Yet, God Himself is at work. His hands are molding, forming, shaping.
God's Own Two Hands
God did not allow Moses to enter the land of Canaan. But He was going to give Moses something much better; a home superior to any promised land. Moses may have felt abandoned, forsaken, alone. I am sure there were questions as to why one act of disobedience resulted in such drastic consequences. Yet, Moses continued to walk on, placing one foot in front of the other stumbling through that wilderness.
"He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand," says Screwtape, "and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles."
Pleased with their stumbles. I love that.
What reduced me to tears as I read to Lyric in the office that morning was not the fact that Moses lost the gift of going into the promised land. What undid me was what He received instead.
After the Israelites defeated the Midianites, Moses climbed Mount Nebo to be alone with God, and die. The death of Moses is perhaps the most beautiful story rarely told. Alone on the mountain, preparing to die, The Lord let Moses see the promised land from afar.
And then, Moses died.
But that is not the end. Scripture says, "He buried Moses."
God buried Moses.
With His own hands, God scraped up that dirt and lifted Moses's body into the dust. The same hands He withheld from Moses during the trough in order for Moses to learn to walk by faith, those same splintered hands lovingly lifted his body and buried it in the ground.
I backed away from the page as my heart framed the story of a grace that is pleased even with our stumbles.
When I cannot feel those splintered hands in mine, when it takes everything in me to stumble on through the trough, God is preparing something better for me.
To this day, Moses' body has never been found. I guess that's what happens when God Himself does the digging. He can chisel away into this body of mine, because I know those same nail-scarred hands will one day carry me to a land promised. A land where there will be no more tears. No more death. No more stumbling.