It happened three Sundays ago: my stiff neck loosened. I barely registered Alicia's touch on my shoulder as she stood behind me, praying softly. With my body bowed over, words of thanks and commitment pouring out, I hugged myself tightly, afraid that if I didn't, I would melt. And over and over I heard in my heart: "The LORD your God … will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs" (Zephaniah 3:17).
Jesus rejoices over me with singing? Me? The woman who's endured enough unanswered prayers and God-silence to wonder whether God intends to move in her life? The woman who's wondered most of her Christian life whether the cross really applies to her because of all the sins she's committed? The woman who's "helped" Jesus out time and again, but who should have used her talents in better, more spiritually mature ways? A stiff neck indeed.
I could have taken lessons from the Israelites—bound by slavery for hundreds of years, whom God brought to a place of freedom, but who preferred bondage in too many ways.
God Speaks and Moves
After hundreds of years of seeming silence, God commanded a displaced fugitive to lead 600,000 male slaves, plus their wives, children, and livestock out from under the long shadows cast by millions of bricks made and laid with sweat, blood, and tears; out from under the wet memory of baby boys surrendered to the Nile—without a fight—because a shrewd, ruthless king said so; out from under the certainty of food, water, and shelter; out and into the desert to make sacrifices to him and to be taken to a land flowing with milk and honey.
As Moses obeyed, God acted with an outstretched arm and mighty judgment: plagues, death, miracles, cloud of fire, thunder, darkness, a voice from an untouchable mountain, manna, quail, healings, Moses' shining face, a tent filled with glory, visions. In moving his chosen people from slavery to freedom, God put himself on glorious, overwhelming display.
In Jesus, thousands of years later, God put himself on display in ways no less glorious or overwhelming. After all, when Jesus spoke and moved, the blind recovered their sight, people were freed from demonic oppression, the deaf heard, the lame walked, the dead were raised.
Those aren't just stories from the past. God still speaks and moves today. So why am I so quick, like those stiff-necked Israelites, to complain bitterly when life (i.e. God) won't cooperate in the ways I believe I need?
If I want to move from being "" to the freedom of enjoying the life God has in mind for me, then I must keep in mind the following:
1. I'm on a journey.
Jesus' ministry began with an exodus of his own: After his Father blessed him, the Spirit immediately led Jesus into the desert for 40 days and nights where Satan tempted him. Hunger, thirst, fear, and doubt: Jesus endured the very tests the Israelites did, and he fought and won. So must I. I've forgotten that the story isn't yet over: As God's daughter, called out and set apart, I'm also on an exodus, walking to a home that's being prepared for me. When I lose sight of that truth, I fall back into the chains of my past bondage.
2. I'm in a battle.
God promised those stiff-necked Israelites a land. He also gave clear directions: They would have to battle other nations to claim that land. I've forgotten that my exodus involves swords, breastplates, shields, helmets, and appropriate footwear. I've forgotten the freedom-fighter's weapon of prayer because I've been caught up in hiding those things I don't want to give up: money; approval from my boss, coworkers, and family; clinging to my house no matter what God calls me to or where.
I've forgotten the freedom-fighting, exodus-living woman's secret weapon: worship. When I see God work, I'm moved to worship, as the Israelites were: "I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God who has freed you from your oppression …" (Exodus 6:7).
The Israelites knew. They saw God in the parting of the Red Sea and the destroying of Egypt's finest chariots and warriors. They saw God in the cloud that wrapped the Tent of Meeting when Moses and Joshua went in to speak with God. They felt the Presence in the cloud and fire that rested over the tabernacle. They heard God directly—not only through Moses and the elders. God was all-consuming fire and sound.
Why their complaints then? Why mine?
The enemy battles for our souls. Our freedom is at stake. Every complaint, every time we look away from our Commander in Chief, we lose precious ground that Christ gave his life to take.
3. I must learn to wait.
The Israelites worshiped God. They also made a golden calf and bowed to it while Moses talked with God. They couldn't wait. Me neither.
I've forgotten that waiting is as much part of the Exodus, and my exodus, as is fighting. I quickly forget that God has seen the journey from beginning to end and has already won the battles that lie ahead. I need to trust his stops and starts. He will always provide for me what I will never be able to provide for myself: freedom to approach him boldly with any request; forgiveness for those who've hurt me; courage to let prayer and Scripture into the darkest places. That kind of worship—worship in spirit and in truth—also means that I understand how deeply God, my redeemer, restorer, and soul-lover, feels my rejection. The Israelites' complaints showed they rejected God. When an exasperated, tired Moses struck the rock, he rejected God … and never entered the land.
It's hard to fight with a stiff neck. It's also hard to be humble. That Sunday morning, I stopped demanding that God fulfill his promises in my way and on my schedule. I laid down my rights to know and do and hasten along. Only then, bent over and entirely undone, did I hear, believe, and receive, in a new way, his joyous song for and over me—and I found freedom.