I like a nice clear finish line that tells me I have “arrived” someplace. Unfortunately, life doesn’t send up balloons and shoot off fireworks to mark graduation from some faith lesson. There’s often no delightful moment of pause for enjoying the moment before fresh challenges start up.
I thought of this while reading about the Israelites desert camping experience in Numbers 9:17-23. They would set up or break camp, not according to how tired they might be from traveling or how anxious they were to get started again, but according to whether the cloud of the Lord’s presence was hovering or moving. Sometimes the cloud stayed put for a bit, sometimes it moved on almost immediately. But “whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out.”
How disruptive it must have been when the cloud moved on. Packing and moving and unpacking again throws life out of kilter. Nothing is where it is supposed to be. Nothing is convenient. You can’t even confirm you’ve lost something until the moving stops and you can unpack and take inventory.
Imagine the noise of all those families walking, children yelling, herds of cattle, sheep, goats, and camels milling, mixing, lowing, bleating. Imagine the perpetual, inescapable clouds of dust kicked up by more than a million pairs of feet. What confusion. I imagine there were days Moses and the people heaved a collective sigh of exhaustion when the saw the cloud high-tail it down the road again.
I think that’s a lot like the life we lead as God-followers. Just as we feel we’ve “caught up” with God, the dust stirs, the noise of our situation drowns out the sound of His voice and His presence suddenly seems to go on vacation.
It only looks that way, though. While I flail my arms in a grasp for answers, God dangles His guiding cloud just out of reach, forcing me to lean for it. This seems to be how He keeps tricking my feet into stumbling forward.
It’s confusing when God is on the move. His Spirit seems far away, His voice seems too quiet. In the turmoil, I can’t remember where I packed the answers that were so clear to me before this moving began. If He would just stop the caravan and explain things to me. But He doesn’t. He keeps moving on. I have to decide if I’m going to stick with Him even if He doesn’t explain where we’re going or how long we’re going to stay.
So, I put my feet back on the road, spit the dust out of my teeth and settle my heart that I’m just going to deal with this momentary chaos of moving on to I-don’t-know-where. One of these days, we will set up camp again. I just don’t know when.
Now, if I can only remember which box has the toothbrush.