In the Old Testament book of Joshua, the people of Israel cross over the dry bed of the Jordan River into the Promised Land. This is the fulfillment of a promise made by God almost 1,000 years before when God led Abraham from his father’s house and commanded him to go to a new land. Then the Lord made a covenant with Abraham and promised that Abraham would have descendents as numerous as the stars and that the land on which he stood would one day belong to his children’s children.
But neither Abraham nor his children nor grandchildren owned the land. In fact, Abraham’s descendents ended up as slaves in Egypt. But after many years, the Lord delivered them from slavery through a man named Moses. Then the Lord led them to safety, providing all that the people needed for life. And finally he led them back to the land that he promised to their ancestor Abraham.
And there the people of Israel stand. Now the promise of God is fulfilled.
Often we have to look at the big picture to see God’s purposes. For Israel, it took almost 1,000 years for the people to receive the fulfillment of God’s promise. Often this is how it is with us, too. If we focus on the everyday events, it’s difficult for us to see how the events of our lives fit together. But when we stop and look at the big picture, we can see God’s action in our lives.
I know this has been true in my life. When I first started thinking about the idea of ordination. I was enthusiastic but still really immature in my faith. I made an appointment to meet with my minister about starting the ordination process. But by mistake, I wrote down the wrong time and missed the appointment. Before I could reschedule, I lost my job. That event threw my life into turmoil. I knew, even then, that I was in no state to consider the life change that seminary would bring. But I was disappointed.
With the perspective of time, I have realized that this delay was a blessing. I was not at all prepared to begin such a life changing journey. If I had spoken to my minister, he might have said “no” and I could have become so discouraged that I would have given up. Instead, over the next three years, I undertook an in-depth theological study. This equipped me to better articulate my faith. I grew in my relationship with God through prayer and worship. And I had the opportunity to do youth ministry in my parish. So that when I did go to my minister – three years later – I proceeded smoothly through the ordination process. Those three years had prepared me for the work that the Lord was giving me.
But it took the gift of time to understand this.
Sometimes in the midst of the everyday we wonder where the Lord is. But if I step back and look at the big picture I can see God’s presence. But often this takes the perspective of time. It was actually many years before I realized the blessing of that missed appointment.
This big picture isn’t always easy to see. But in my life one discipline has been helpful – taking time to reflect on my spiritual journey. It takes time but it can be very revealing. This might be done by reflecting on important events in your life and where God was present in these events. It might be done by thinking about the different decades of life and the important life passages. I have found that when I have reflected on my life – especially the times of trial and struggle – I have been able to see God’s presence with me. And this understanding has helped my faith to grow.
As we see the big picture of our lives and appreciate the working out of God’s plan in our lives, we grow in our faith. We know that despite the passage of a thousand years and despite their struggles, the Lord was working out his purposes in the midst of the people of Israel. He is in our midst also, working out his purpose – his plan – in our lives. And we can trust that no matter the circumstances the Lord is with us.