In 1964 when I was about to be conscripted into the Australian Army for 2 years during the Vietnam War, the well known song writer, singer Bob Dylan wrote the song called The Times They Are A-Changing, a song deliberately written to create an anthem of change for the moment. There was a new generation making its voice felt and it was particularly expressed in the following verse:
“Come mothers and fathers throughout the land, And don’t criticise what you don’t understand,
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command, Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new if you can’t lend a hand, For the times they are a-changin’”
And many years later, the times are still changing, as they always will, with the result that we come to moments where we transition from one place or state to another.
I can think of four occasions in my life where God has led me through times of transition. For me they were times where I felt quite uncomfortable, disoriented and even fearful. They were times when I needed to walk by faith and not by sight, nor by my feelings. They were times of letting go of the past, of living with uncertainty, and even wondering if I would make the transition successfully.
As we read the Bible and the history of the church, we see many occasions where God took His people through times of change where they transitioned from one place to another with varying degrees of success. They were times when God was doing something new, times of uncertainty and risk because there was no guarantee that they would automatically get to where God wanted to take them.
God can be at work in the most unusual ways to initiate a time of transition in our lives. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was forced to transition to preach in the open air when he was refused access to the pulpits of his day. This transition made it possible for Wesley to reach the ordinary people in large numbers with the gospel. Encouraged by the precedent of the Sermon on the Mount, Wesley rode over 250,000 miles (400,000 km) on horseback (a distance equal to 10 circuits of the globe) and preached over 40,000 sermons (usually 3 a day) to crowds estimated in the tens of thousands. At his death his followers numbered 79,000 in England, a number that would not have been possible if he didn’t make the uncomfortable transition from preaching in the Anglican Churches to the open fields where he reached the ordinary and the poor people of his day.
In the desert of transition that was birthed unexpectedly by a closed door, God opened another door for John Wesley that shook England and then spread across the globe with unimaginable impact.
In times of transition, there are important questions that God’s people faced. Will they cooperate with God and allow Him to birth the new thing He wants to do? Will they trust Him as He leads them into an unchartered future? Will they find their security in God and not in the familiar things of the past? Will they be tempted to say, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”
In Exodus chapter 16, we find the people of God in a time of transition. They had just experienced a powerful act of deliverance as God supernaturally had taken them out of Egypt and destroyed the whole Egyptian army that was following them.
God had successfully taken them out of Egypt. But now came an even harder task. Could He take Egypt out of them? Without this happening, they could not inherit the destiny He had prepared for them.
Now for a time of testing, where God would take from them all the props that they had grown to rely upon. It would be a time when they would be required to find their security in God alone. It would be a time of shaking so that only the unshakable things would remain.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Are you or your church or organisation in a time of transition? If you are, what can we learn from this incident in order that we pass the time of testing and preparation and move on to inherit the destiny that God has for us. This story is of significant importance for us as we read of this incident in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians where he wrote,
“These things happened to them (the Israelites) as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.” (v11) In other words there are critical lessons for us to learn as we go through times of transition.
I suggest four lessons.
- In times of transition REMEMBER THE GREATNESS OF GOD (Exodus 16:1-2)
God’s people had only been in the desert a few days following the mighty display of God’s delivering power, and they forgot the greatness of God.
From fearing the Lord and putting their trust in Him and Moses (14:31), they soon began to panic and grumble. They took their eyes off God and His promises (6:6-8) and let the immediate circumstances dictate their response. In the desert of transition, they were unable to walk by faith. They forgot the greatness of God because it is impossible to grumble and keep your eyes on the greatness of God at the same time.
The problem is that we may not have acted any differently, because God’s people have traditionally had short memories. Have you been grumbling in the desert of transition lately?
- In times of transition REMEMBER TO KEEP YOUR SECURITY IN GOD
Transitions are times of shaking. If you are like me, your emotions can become unsettled, but emotions are never to be the guide upon which we rely.
Transitions are times when God is preparing us to move on, but historically the danger for God’s people has been to succumb to the temptation of looking back. Can you imagine how Moses would have felt when he was accused of bringing his people “out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” They rather short sightedly wanted to go back to Egypt “where we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted.”
So often it is true that “the good old days were never quite the good old days.” Actually, God described the good old days in Egypt as times of misery and suffering. (3:7)
Transitions are times when God leads us out of the past to prepare us for a new future. Before God can take us on, He wants to make sure that our security is in Him, and nothing else. Notice where His people had placed their security. It was in the traditions of the past, in a location, in the familiar and known things, and their response is a reminder to us not to make an idol out of any of these things. Rather, we should thank God for them and move on into the new future He has for us.
In a time of transition, the people of God had two choices; to move on to inherit their destiny of to die in the desert. They thought they had a third choice, of going back to Egypt.
Often it is only when we have stepped out of the familiar into the unknown, that we ever really get to know where our security lies. When God calls us to walk in glorious uncertainty and He alone is our security, how do we respond?
- In times of transition, REMEMBER TO PASS THE TESTS OF GOD (v 4-8)
God was taking His people through times of testing. “I will rain down bread from heaven for you…. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instruction.” (v 4) God wanted to deliver them from the two great weapons of Satan that we face in times of transition – unbelief and fear. Fear of the future, fear of not being in control, fear of losing touch with the past, and fear of the new thing God wants to do. In these times, we continually ask “what if” questions and in doing so, we display an attitude of sanctified grumbling, rather than the attitudes of TRUST and OBEDIENCE that God is wanting us to display if we are going to pass His tests.
Has God been testing you lately? Has God picked a fight with you and been upsetting you? Has God been pulling the props away from you? Has He been taking away the things of the past to prepare you for something new? In times like this, remember Moses’ words, “You are not grumbling against me, but against the Lord.” (16:8)
It is in the desert of transition that God strips us of the securities of yesterday. The desert of transition is not just a time of testing, but more importantly it is a time of preparation. God is preparing us to face the challenges of a new era that we’ve never previously encountered, to win battles that we have never previously had to fight.
- In times of transition, REMEMBER TO LISTEN TO THE VOICE OF GOD
Transitions are not times for us to follow what seems logical, or what may have been appropriate in the past, or what can be secure and comfortable. To do so, may cause us to miss God’s purposes and forfeit our destiny. Even though God intended to take His people to the promised land there was no guarantee they would get there. History records they stayed in the desert for 40 years and many died. God had to raise up a new generation to inherit the destiny He had for them, because they never listened to and obeyed His voice. They listened to the voices of fear and unbelief.
God’s leading is not always determined by a democratic vote. It is discerned by those who have developed a listening ear, who have spent time in God’s presence, who nail the wisdom of their flesh to the cross and who are prepared to trust and obey God.
So be careful in these changing times if you find yourself in a similar situation to that which the Israelites were in 3,500 years ago. It may be that God is in the process of transitioning you into a new place that you have never been before to do some amazing thing that you have never done before. And God has given us this experience as an example from which we can learn these lessons in these times that are changing.