The Land Between

9 08 2010

Last week I  attended The Global Leadership Summit and had the opportunity to hear Jeff Manion speak (among others). Jeff’s talk was titled Land Between based on a book of the same title. I thought I would write about it this morning, because I so often find myself there.

If you ever find yourself saying, “for now” (as in, “I am working in this job for now…” or “I am living with my parents for now…”), this is the land between. If you ever look back at where you were or look ahead to where you want to be, you are in the land between. The land between might be a place you find yourself in a holding pattern; the land between might be a place you are in pain; sometimes you don’t know how you got there, sometimes you don’t know how you will get out; you just know you are in between.

Manion had us look at the story of Moses and pointed out what the land where Moses was living actually, physically looked like.  There was Egypt to the left (all green and lush on the map) and then there was The Promised Land of Israel to the right (also green and lush) and then there was the desert of Sinai; barren and brown. This was where he wandered, in the land between. God told Moses in Exodus 3 that he would take him out of Egypt into the land of promise; there was no mention of “in between.”

Two years in and they are still there, in the land between. God is feeding them Manna for breakfast, lunch and supper and the people are sick of it. In Numbers 11:4 we hear their complaint, “If only we had meat!” Manion did a masterful job of drawing this out and then  said that the land between is fertile soil for complaint. The thing about the children of Israel is that they weren’t just complaining about their situation; they were complaining against God. They were sick of eating the same thing day after day after day. They were essentially saying that life was better where they had been; life was better without God.

Jeff asked, what are you sick of? Are you sick of living here? Are you sick of the bills? Are you sick of your marriage? Are you sick of leading? Are you sick of healing a broken church?

How is God going to meet Moses here in the land between? How will God meet you?

You should read Moses’ honest prayer in Numbers 11:11-15. It is absolutely loaded with “I, me, I, me.” I have prayed prayers like this. The land between is fertile soil for emotional breakdown/meltdown. Moses says, “put me to death right now!”

Whose voice do you hear in the land between when

  • You are the couple facing medical tests?
  • You are the one struggling to make ends meet?
  • You are the parents with a child who is running away from God?
  • You are the pastor navigating ministry during a time of division?

In the land between you can feel like you have a hose hooked up to you, draining you dry. Any leader gets this, understands this feeling. Church leaders feel it every time someone leaves the church. It’s like a breakup; like people are saying, “It’s not you, we just want to date other churches right now.” Be prepared for disappointment, sometimes years of it, and sometimes being a disappointment. Be prepared to feel like you can’t do it any more.

God tells Moses to go and get 70 elders. He says they will help to “carry the burden of the people.” Go and meet with God in the “tent of the meeting” and there God will take the same spirit He has put on Moses and put it on them; basically giving him 70 “mini Moses'” God uses the same language here that Moses used in his prayer: “I will, I will.” The land between is also fertile soil for God’s provision.

Manion highlighted another famous meltdown: Elijah who was running for his life. He also prayed that  he might die; he said, “I am not accomplishing anything!” He wakes up and sees and smells bread.  He expects a lecture and God makes him lunch. God says, “Hey, you could really just use something to eat.”

What if God still does that? What if God is still good? What if God is still gracious? Open your hands and let God provide in the land between. Maybe God will give you patience, a job, strength, contentment, courage. Maybe He will pull you out of depression, or give you what you need daily, perhaps an email of encouragement, a “spookily” well-timed verse.

Back to Moses’ story; God is providing during the “Manna Riots.” He addresses the lack of meat in Numbers 11:18-20 (read it); God says, “I will give you so much meat it will come out of your nose! Because you have rejected the Lord…” The people had turned a corner in their complaining, lashing out against God and this bordered on “cosmic treason.” God responds and says (11:23a), “are the Lord’s arms too short?” Are you questioning God’s goodness or competence?

God sends meat. Truckloads of meat. And then He disciplines them. So what does this mean, if you complain God will drop you? No. We need to remember that God disciplines. He inflicts pain for redemptive purposes, to rescue us. We are naive if we think we are immune to correction. When we entertain a spirit of complaint against God, God does discipline.

So…transformational growth happens in the land between. Trust me here, God says. Israel is an unruly mob indoctrinated in idolatry. They are not ready for the Promised Land. They were a people of slavery and they must become the people of God. This time, in the land between, is a time of preparation for them to be God’s people. God says, “I need you to learn to trust me here, at this place.”

Here we learn to pray. Here we learn to depend. It does not happen automatically; time does not automatically heal, in the land between time can make us bitter and acidic. The time we spend in the land between will determine who we will be in the future. We learn about faith (or not) here; we die here or we grow here.

Complaint, in the land between, comes as an uninvited guest. Even as you try to dislodge it, it sneaks back in, it resists eviction. Good pushes out bad, but bad also pushes out good. We need to keep inviting trust back. Even when we don’t “get it” we need to keep inviting it back.

I have visited the “land between” more than once. Sometimes I am there a few days, weeks. I have been in and out of there over the course of a year and years. I do not like it there. I do not like the sense of waiting, of walking in circles; I definitely don’t like it when the land between is painful.  But Manion is right, it is the place where I can hear what is going on between God and I. There is so little furniture in the land between that the room echoes and I am so aware of what is going on inside me.

Sometimes God is just calling me to chill out in the land between; I am just in need of less noise and to be less noisy. God imposes rest on me and wants to make lunch for me but I am itching to move. In this kind of “in between” I need to just sit down a while. I say, “I don’t want to be here anymore!” and I hear God’s Spirit say, “Just stay; I am here.”

In the land between I see a lot of things in me: sometimes impatience, sometimes selfishness sometimes bitterness like barnacles beginning to attach itself and I am reminded of what I never wanted to be: bitter. So why am I bitter? I am reminded that I have always said that I never wanted to run away. So why am I running? I let Him chip off the barnacles; I let Him nudge me to move towards, instead of away. But don’t misunderstand me; this is a messy process. I don’t glide in the land between; I am clumsy; I am half a disappointment but I am seeing God do His best work here.

I really don’t like that; I want God’s best work to be somewhere in the two green areas (the one behind or the one ahead). If there is one thing I am getting though, it’s this: when we say, “God’s timing and our timing are different” this is really, really, really true. I believe God could spend all day in between because “it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:14)

— Teresa Klassen

Afterword: Thinking about it. The whole “OneBrownLeaf” idea came from being in between.

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2 responses

9 08 2010
nadine rigby

thanks Teresa,
I think I needed to read that today. Thank-you for sharing!

9 08 2010
teresaklassen

Praying for you guys!

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