12 August 2014

Promised

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A voice from the wilderness cries, "Make straight in the desert a highway for our God." I read it with this small change: "Make straight, even in the desert, a highway for our God."

I'm not one to rewrite scripture, but experience has taught me a couple things: 1) the promised land inevitably leads away from home and through a wilderness first; 2) sometimes our "promised land" and the real "promised land" don't mesh; 3) there's only One who knows the way through the wilderness to the land He has promised us.

Abraham exercised faith and found deliverance on Mount Moriah — he was given back his promised son.

Moses exercised faith and found, however, that Egypt would not be given back to him as a reward. Instead he must journey on, to Midian, to sojourn in a strange land, return and bring a people millions strong to sojourn with him, struggle with them in the wilderness for 40 years and then watch from afar as they entered the land promised.

The men of Zion's Camp were told to amass and defend Zion. They exercised faith, left their families destitute to follow the clarion call. They journeyed and struggled and saw miracles—and then, at the destination of their crusade, were told to abandon that which they had come so far to accomplish.

We pray for Moriah when the Lord requires us to give up what seems a promised land.

Yet what do we do when it turns out to be Midian the Lord has in mind for us? Or Missouri? When the land of promise we have pictured turns out to be the wrong land of promise, the wrong vision? What happens when instead of being given eucatastrophe like Abraham, we are given tribulation like Moses? Or the order to turn back from what we thought was the Lord's will, like the early Saints?

Perhaps there's some of this familiar statement: "I knew, yet I would not know." Meaning, we know what's right, and eventually as things fall into place we see the wisdom of how we were prompted to act; and yet we cling stubbornly to some vain hope that the Lord's just toying with us and somehow Midian will turn into Moriah after all. We say "I don't know" to our friends and neighbors when they ask how we feel about recent turns and events...when really we do know how we feel. We know what the Lord expects of us; we're just afraid to go full-throttle because...all we can see for our pains is wilderness. And why should our faith be rewarded with desert?

Perhaps there's some of this: "What could I have done more?" Why wasn't it enough? Or, why, if I worked so hard, couldn't it have been right? And here there is danger of trying to turn the God into our God, rather than submitting to Him as His offspring.

Perhaps there's some of this: "Sufficient is the day." Meaning, Lord, I'm weak and afraid and angry. I don't know how to get through this. What I thought was promised is gone, and I cannot see the end. Indeed, I don't even want to. So please, help me today. Help me today to bear fruit for Thee, even just a little. A day by day plea for the strength to not shrink today. Forget about this week, or next week, or next month or next year. Just help me not to displease Thee todayNot because it'll get us what we want anymore, but because something inside us knows we still need to stay close to He who takes away what we want in order to (we've been told) give us what we truly desire and need.

Perhaps there's some of this: "Behold, he changed their hearts." Meaning, Lord, my heart is still in Egypt. My heart is still in Missouri. But since Moriah is not Thy will...please change my heart so I will accept this. Please change my heart so I can be happy again (because without His approval, even Egypt can't make us happy anymore). Please change my heart so I can be at peace, even in Midian.

Inevitably, there has to be this: "Prepare ye in the desert a highway for our God." 

Even in the desert. No, especially in the desert.

Some deserts last only as long as a three-day trek to Moriah. Some deserts stretch from Egypt to Midian, from Midian back to Egypt, from Egypt to a lifetime in the wilderness. And sometimes we reach what we thought was a promised land and are told to go back home...as if that promised land was a mirage and we the fools for following.

We don't ask for deserts. We ask for roses and promises assured. But often the Lord requires a wilderness first. It took 40 years in the wilderness for Israel. Eight years in the wilderness for Nephi. A year on boisterous seas for the Jaredites.

The Promised Land doesn't come easy. There's no beaming from mother ship to Zion. And Zion isn't always the land we hope it will be. Or at least, we don't get it at the time we hoped we would. Perhaps we get it never ... in this life.

What do we do when, instead of the comforting peaks of Moriah, we find the desert stretching to Midian, a flaming sword banishing us from Eden, or the simple command to "Return home," after so much travail, prayer and work, and with nothing, it seems, gained or progress made?

It has been written that "the desert shall blossom as the rose." But it blossoms in the Gardener's time and by His will.

Sometimes we may think we don't even want the roses, because they're not the roses we pictured. We'd rather just be miserable in the desert. We don't leave the desert, because we know we can't go back to Egypt. But we refuse to move to Midian either.

That's when we need to prepare the way in the desert the most—when our hearts are at the greatest risk of hardening. That's when we need the Lord the most. That's when we need to redouble our efforts to put ourselves on the Lord's side—prayer, scripture study, gratitude, temple worship, magnifying callings, working hard and serving others. Because the desert will consume us if we don't. Only He knows the true way out, whether we think right now we want it or not.

We cannot tell the day the Gardener will visit. And so the prayers, Help me, today, to do the right things. Help me, today, to not turn back. Help me, today, to serve Thee well. Give me, today, a new heart. Help me, today, to trust Thee.

Because there's really only One who can turn the desert into a garden.

The desert will someday bloom. And someday doesn't always mean 40 years. The roses come when the Gardener can make His way through the desert to plant and tend them.

And then,
  The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad...and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.
  It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing...
  For in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.
  And the parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water...
  And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness... [and] the redeemed shall walk there:
  And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Do we believe it? In some way, small or great, we each have yet to see the desert of our lives blossom. But do we have enough hope and faith, today, to prepare the path in some small way? He's put us there. He'll help us make it through. He'll give us the promised land after He's helped us through the path He's given us.

But it's up to us to make that choice.

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