Stay In The Tent
One of the biggest struggles for many people is their desire to move on to the next stage of life. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with wanting to grow up, get out of the house, finish your degree, or get that new job. In fact, if that’s you, your friends and family will likely be fairly grateful for it. There is, however, a potential problem with wanting to move on so much that you try and rush out of the season you’re in.
The Lord tends to operate in our lives in seasons, and it just so happens many of those seasons are growth seasons. Fun, right? Sometimes not so much. If you’re anything like me, there’s a good chance you want to be done growing and go do “big things”. Big things for the Lord, big things in your career, or whatever it might be. You want to prove to other people that you have something great to offer. If you find yourself in a season of growth as you’re reading this chapter, I have four simple words for you – Stay. In. The. Tent.
THIS IS AS GOOD AS IT GETS
I’m about as futuristic as it gets, so nothing excites me more than looking to what’s ahead. I can remember so many different moments in high school when all I was thinking was, “I just can’t wait until I get to college to study something I actually care about.” Once I was a freshman in college, I started saying, “I can’t wait to have an upperclassmen parking pass” (if you’re in college, you probably know that struggle all too well right now). Finally, as I got closer to graduation the saying became, “I can’t wait to be done with school and just be doing ministry.” See the pattern?
No matter what I was doing, I was so ready to move on to the next thing to prove I belonged somewhere else doing something bigger, better, and more important than whatever it was I was already busy doing. After I graduated college, I noticed a problem. That incessant longing I had for the next great thing didn’t go away. It was like I never arrived enough to sit back and say, “I did it.” I hadn’t done something big enough, I hadn’t proven myself to others just yet, and I caught myself looking ahead time and time again. That’s when I needed the Lord to come in and knock me upside the head.
As I was wrestling with that longing for the next great thing, I felt God speak these revolutionary words to me, loud and clear: “The best season of life that you’ll ever be in is the season you’re in right now.” What? No way.
Me: “But God, I’m single right now. What about when I get married and stuff?”
God: “The best season of life that you’ll ever be in is the season you’re in right now.”
Me: “But God, what about when I have kids and I’m a pastor and I’m not broke? Won’t that be better?”
God: “The best season of life that you’ll ever be in is the season you’re in right now.”
For a while, it just didn’t make any sense. How could this be the best season of my life? Isn’t that incredibly pessimistic, saying it’s pretty much all downhill from here? There’s no way God can be serious about this.
Me: “Okay God, I give up. How is this the best season of life I’ll ever be in?”
God: “Because you’re in it.”
It all clicked. The best season of life I’ll ever be in is the one that I’m in right now, because I’m in it. Here’s what I had to learn – if you spend all of your time looking ahead to the next season longing for what’s ahead, or looking back at the last season wishing you were still there, you’re going to miss out on what God is up to in this season.
This is the best season of life that you’ll ever be in because God is at work.
He wants to do something new and something fresh in your life that He couldn’t do in the season you just came out of, or the season that you’re about to head into. No, that doesn’t mean that everything going on around you is supposed to be fun, amazing, and happy-go-lucky, but it does mean that no matter what season we’re in we should have an attitude of expectancy that God wants to do something transformative inside of us to prepare us for whatever’s around the corner.
The beautiful thing about this saying is that it’s almost always true (intentionally leaving some wiggle-room for the extreme cases of tragedy or heartache). At just about any point in your life, whether you feel like you’re on a mountain top or in a valley, you can remind yourself that the best season of life you’ll ever be in is the season that you’re in right now. If you choose to let it, this season can get you closer to the heart of God than you ever thought was possible. If you let it, this season can prepare you to be the man or woman of God you were created to be. It’s okay to reflect on the past and to peer into the future, but don’t linger for too long. Be present for the work God wants to do in you now.
BACK TO THE TENT
When I stop and think about some of the characters in Scripture who found themselves in weird seasons of waiting, there is one that sticks out to me a little bit more than the rest – Joshua. When the majority of us think about Joshua, we think about the tough dude that marched around the walls of Jericho, that fought the Amorites while the sun stood still, and that said that famous line that’s probably hanging up in your house somewhere. You know, the “As for me and my household” one.
But, what most of us seem to glance over is who Joshua was before he was Joshua, the one we all talk and preach about. It’s easy to almost accidentally forget where people came from when we know how the story shakes out in the end.
To refresh your memory, in Exodus 17 we meet a young Joshua for the first time as a warrior and commander. Moses has called Joshua out and asked him to lead the charge in fighting back against the Amalekites who have just attacked the nation of Israel, not too long after they escaped from Egypt. Not a bad introduction into Scripture for our man Joshua. After this, we see that Joshua is able to go up Mount Sinai with Moses, where he (Moses) meets with the Lord for the first time on the mountain. We don’t know exactly how far up the mountain Joshua went with Moses, but we do know from Exodus 24:13-14 he was privileged to get closer to the glory of the Lord than anyone else. It reads,
“Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”
Basically, Joshua went pretty far up there. Later on in the book of Exodus, probably the most fascinating part of Joshua’s journey is revealed to us. Moses would regularly go into what the Israelites called “The Tent of Meeting” to meet with the Lord (ah, there’s the tent reference) to discuss what He wanted the Israelites to do. When Moses would go in, all the people of Israel would rise and watch Him go into the tent as the cloud of God’s glory would rest at the entrance as God spoke to Moses. What’s really interesting is what goes on inside of the tent. Take a look:
“The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent” – Exodus 33:11.
My favorite part of these early stages of Joshua’s life is easily found right at the end of Exodus 33:11 – “Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.” I’m not sure if he didn’t leave because he was asked by Moses not to, commanded by the Lord not to, or if he decided on his own that he didn’t want to, but at the end of the day I don’t really care. The fact of the matter is, he stayed. Joshua likely knew what was coming; he’d be a leader, a key player, and at worst one of the highest army commanders in all of Israel. But for now, all of that could wait – he was in the presence of the Lord.
We can all take a page out of Joshua’s book here in my opinion. It’s easy for us to be in a place where we know exactly what’s coming up around the corner, and we can’t wait to prove that we deserve to be the next leader of Israel, the next hot-shot church planter, missionary, nurse, or business leader anyone has ever seen. But what would it look like for us to put everything in front of us on pause, and just stay in the tent with the Lord? It’s so tempting to look at what’s coming and forget the fact that you’re able to stand in a tent with the Almighty God, and you have an opportunity to sit, grow, and learn in His presence. I don’t care what’s coming up in your life, if you have a chance to sit in the tent with the Lord, take it – here’s why.
I might be giving Joshua the benefit of the doubt here, but I’m going to do it anyway. I think the main reason Joshua stayed in the tent was because he realized he couldn’t be the leader he needed to be if he wasn’t familiar with God’s presence. My guess is that Joshua knew that only the presence of the Lord would carry him when he didn’t know what step to take, because spending time in the tent makes you a threat.
Let’s just be honest – the enemy isn’t scared of anyone that doesn’t spend time in God’s presence. What are they going to do to him? How are they going to know how to lead people towards Christ, or expand the kingdom? It’s simple – they won’t. The flip side of that coin is that the enemy is terrified of people like Joshua who have saturated themselves in the presence of God. I’m talking about the Christians that spend time in the Word in order to become a better spouse and parent, or the believers that pray the Lord would help them to love their neighbor more effectively. He’s scared out of his mind of those people.
People who spend time in the tent naturally become better leaders. They become better husbands and wives. They become better coworkers and employees. They become better pastors and congregants.
They become more like Jesus.
If you want to make a serious dent for the Kingdom of God, you can’t skip spending time here. You have to learn to love the presence of the Lord.
HIS TIMING, NOT YOURS
We all know the end of the story, and we know the Joshua doesn’t stay in the tent forever – he ends up leading Israel into the promised land. So the question is, when can you leave? Of course I don’t ever want you to think it’s okay to stop spending time in God’s presence. If that was the question, the obvious answer would be never. But if the question is pointed towards when can you leave this season of growth you’re in then I think it’s a fair question. The answer? In the Lord’s timing.
There’s an interesting period of time for Joshua that takes place between Numbers 27 and Joshua 3. In Numbers 27, we see the Lord command Moses to commission Joshua, giving him some of Moses’ authority over Israel. This happened because the Lord banished Moses from entering into the promised land as a result of his disobedience a few chapters before. At this point, it’s pretty much a no brainer who will succeed Moses. Despite this being the case, for another book and a half or so of the Bible Moses is still around and in charge quite a bit. It would’ve been so easy for Joshua to try and take over at any point, putting his foot down and declaring there’s a new sheriff in town. But, Joshua didn’t try to prove anything – he waited for the Lord to fulfill what He’d already spoken.
So, fast-forward now to Joshua 3 when the Lord has fully commissioned Joshua to lead the Israelites. After 40 long years of wandering in the desert as a nation, they’re finally about to cross the Jordan River into the promised land. Up until this point, Joshua has done everything right. He stayed in the tent, saturated himself in God’s presence, humbly submitted to the leadership of Moses, and he’s faithfully waited for the Lord to fulfill His words in His timing. Then the Lord says to Joshua,
“Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses” – Joshua 3:7.
Man, how sweet those words must have sounded in that moment. He’d stayed close to God, and the Lord exalted him. Now you might be asking, “Thanks Marcus, that’s nice for Joshua but what does this mean for me?” It means this:
The Lord only exalts those He can trust, and He can only trust those who spend time in His presence.
God could trust Joshua to lead Israel and to lead them well, because He knew him. From all the time they spent together in the tent, the Lord was comfortable enough to exalt Joshua in front of an entire nation of people saying, “This is my guy. I want you to follow him.”
We live in a world full of people that so desperately want to be exalted (which, once again, is not the way of Jesus). We want to be the person that everyone notices, follows, or appreciates. We want to lead people closer to Christ, or we want to make a difference for the Kingdom, so we want the Lord to give us a platform to do it now.
The truth is, if you’re chasing that platform, you’ll never get it and that’s not even close to the point of the Christian life. If you’re trying to prove the calling the Lord has placed on your life to the world, they’ll never believe it and the Lord will never exalt you. He only exalts those He can trust, and He can only trust those who spend time in His presence. If you want to be exalted by God, stay in the tent. There, He’ll rid you of any desire you have for exaltation and give you something far better – Himself.