When the Lord sent Moses to free the children of Israel from slavery He told him in Exodus 3:12 (New King James Version), “And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” It is not coincidence that the sign that God offered Moses for this impossible task would come only once the task was completed. Most of us would prefer to see a sign that God is with us during the battle or, ideally, before the battle. But Jesus said in Mathew 12:39-40, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” Sometimes the only sign God gives in difficult times is that you’re alive in a place where it is not possible for you to survive.
There have been many times in my life where I’ve worked towards a goal that seemed to become more distant the harder I worked towards it. The only sign I had that God had put dreams in my heart were the dreams themselves; there was no evidence that any of my labor or sacrifice were yielding even the slightest results. I am reminded of Joseph, the favored son of Jacob, whom God had given dreams of a bright future. But those dreams got Joseph nearly killed, thrown into a pit, and sold into slavery. It wasn’t long after that before he was sent to the lowest dungeon in a foreign land. He worked studiously, acted ethically, and continued to believe in the dreams that God had given him but none of it delivered him from the dungeon. In fact, believing in the God that had given him dreams only caused Joseph more trouble. He watched as other people’s dreams lifted them from the mire while he remained wrongly shackled for many long hard years. For a long time, the only sign that God was with Joseph was that his dreams remained alive in a deep dark prison cell where no dream could survive. I know what it feels like when the thing that keeps you going is the same thing that makes you want to give up every moment.
The great news is that God caused Joseph’s dreams to come true just like He promised. He caused Abraham to inherit the promised land even after decades of wandering the barren desert. He granted Moses the desire of his heart even after Moses had failed miserably to achieve it himself. Jonah accomplished the goal that was set for him even after enduring circumstances that no human being could survive. The Bible is filled with the stories of everyday people who accomplished the dreams that God had put into their hearts even after those dreams had cost them everything with no sign that they would ever come true. Even now, at the tender age of 42, I am believing God to fulfill a dream that I’ve worked towards since I was 15 years old. It appears that I’m further from achieving that dream than I was those 27 years ago. I persist because I’ve learned that God’s ways are higher than our ways; the world values results; the Lord values faith because only He Himself is able to produce results. The only sign I have that I’ll ever achieve my dream is the dream itself. That fact is not permission to get discouraged but encouragement to chase the dreams that God has put into my heart no matter how long it takes or how difficult and fruitless the path. My prayer today is that you believe in the impossible again that you’ve only hoped for in your wildest dreams because, “ … faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1)
At the end of Nehemiah 8:10 God’s people are commanded, “Do not be sorry, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” When Jesus died on the cross and was risen again three days later He made the impossible reality of walking with God available to anyone who could believe it (Mark 9:23). Before, you needed to be born of the right lineage or present many sacrifices to have a relationship with God according to the law. Otherwise, you’d have no right to the peace of the God which surpasses all understanding. You couldn’t live from day to day with a shouting joy in your heart after you’d just lost a child, or suffered a bankruptcy, or received a terrible medical diagnosis. That kind of happiness has always been far beyond human strength. The Lord granted me once to see a believer survive what certainly should have been a tragic car accident and laugh that the accident had only granted him another testimony to share of God’s goodness. This believer’s laughter wasn’t the nervous laughter of a person who was struggling with the fact that he had just narrowly avoided death; this believer’s joy was not dependent on whether he lived or died.
Israel faced many hardships after the Lord delivered them out of Egypt. One of those difficulties were the bitter waters of Meribah. The waters at Meribah in Exodus chapter 17 were bitter to all of Israel but most of the Israelistes had forgotten the waters of the Red Sea that the Lord had parted only days earlier. Even after such a great display most of the Israelites didn’t believe that God’s intent was to do good to them and not evil. The bitter waters of Meribah weren’t a light thing—no water meant a million or more people, women, men, children, the elderly, would all die—and God provided, but unbelief caused most of the people to walk through a difficult time in an unnecessarily difficult way. A few of them did rejoice and laugh even in the face of severe dehydration and the only difference was that those few believed that God meant good for them even if it felt like they were going to die of thirst. It wasn’t that they were stronger Israelites then the rest. It was that the joy of the Lord was their strength.