Change is difficult, especially when it means leaving behind close relationships, financial security, and cherished plans.
Last week I spoke with a “new church start” pastor, Reverend David Shirey, who hails from the Midwest. He had followed God’s leading to Arizona, where his startup church, after 8 years of devotion, has 150 members. “God has a way of putting me just outside of my comfort zone,” he reflected. “That’s where all the growth happens.”
In that same gathering, the words from Deuteronomy were read: A wandering Aramean was my ancestor…. (26: 5). These words, part of the law literature, are given by Moses to the people to say when they bring the first fruit of their harvest to the temple priest.
Here is what follows: he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors, the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
It is a ritual of remembering a journey began by Abraham of Haram, the one who went when God said “go.” When their ancestors were enslaved and cried out, God battled so that they could leave–so that they could journey to a new land. It is believed Deuteronomy is written down just before Jerusalem falls and the people are again driven out. Now, with the Assyrians at their doorstep, the people who are soon to be displaced from their homes remember that they are, at their core, a journeying people.
Part of our heritage is a story of those who journeyed with God. That means, at times, that we find ourselves leaving behind what feels secure and comfortable. It is never easy. Sometimes it feels more like a terrible mistake than a courageous choice. We have to remember that we are not alone. Remember all the complaints of those who had been brought out of Egypt, how they wanted to go back to the slavery they knew rather than face the unknown freedom. But also remember, each time they sought their old ways, they’d run into the hurt of a disappointed God. When they instead looked forward, the Red Sea could part before them.
Look forward, but also know that sometimes the promised land seems lacking in milk and honey. I think of this pastor, as gifted in speaking as anyone. His great success is not a megachurch in a temperate paradise, but a small church in the middle of the desert. Perhaps he is tempted, every now and then, to look at what could have been had he stayed where he knew everyone. And, I suspect, even the young among us onder what could have happened if not for this or that. God knows how we get bound up in the “If only” game. So in scripture, we are given this creed–not a set of beliefs, but a story of a journey we are asked to claim as our own.
Give thanks, but don’t get too comfortable. God may have other plans for you in other lands. Growth happens when we allow God to move us out of our comfort zone.