True story: The Book of Numbers is not usually on the top of my personal devotional Bible reading list. But one of my goals for 2018 is to read the entire Bible. I guess maybe it’s a Christian version of the New Year’s resolution. I’ve read the Bible cover-to-cover several times over the years, but my normal routine is to “camp out” in certain books, chapters, or passages for long periods of time. My go-to books are usually Luke and Acts. I’ve written a Bible study curriculum on The Acts of the Apostles, titled “GOD SPEAKS: The Guidance of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Acts and Today,” and find the topic of the guidance and gifts of the Holy Spirit to be a fascinating one. There’s a lot of ACT-ion in Acts (get it?). I’m an action-loving girl. Therefore, I generally like to hang out with Dr. Luke (who wrote both Luke and Acts) and my Pentecostal pals for personal Bible study. Left to my own devices, I’d pretty much stay in the Book of Acts for the foreseeable future. Possibly forever. However, my friend the Holy Spirit (see e.g. John 14-16 for Jesus’s descriptions of the Holy Spirit and some of his roles in the life of the believer) guided me toward reading the full-meal-deal this year. The whole shebang. At the moment, I happen to be in Numbers.

Like many Christians in January, I felt led to enter into a partial fast and a more intentional prayer time as a way of seeking the Lord’s clear direction for the new year. I was inspired by Pastor Jentezen Franklin and his church, Free Chapel (Atlanta, Georgia), who participate in a group partial fast every January. (He’s on TBN, a Christian TV network). When I enter into seasons of fasting and prayer, I tend to hear more frequently and clearly from God (which is the main point, besides humbling ourselves and dealing with our own issues. Just to clarify, we don’t fast because God has issues, we fast so God can set us free from our issues. The idea is for him to increase in our lives, and us to decrease). Bottom line: when you fast and pray, God has ways of getting your attention.

In my personal devotional time today, I was reading Numbers 14. I decided to write about it because I thought it was just possible that someone out there was dealing with the same thing I was:

Then the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night. Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. “Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” (Numbers 14:1-3, NLT)

The whole passage was really jumping off the page at me. In fact, I never got beyond it (hence it may take a lot longer than a year to read the whole Bible again, I’m afraid). When God speaks to you through the Bible–which is the primary but not the only way he speaks, by the way–it’s what Christian-theology-wonks call scriptural “illumination.” You know what I mean. It’s when you are reading the Bible and a passage seems to “jump” off the page and into your heart. The Word of God comes to life, so to speak, and changes your mind or gives you clear personal direction. I actually became born-again, and gave my life to Jesus Christ, while reading an illuminated scripture. See my testimony on my website if you’re interested in the story. In any case, the last line from the above Numbers passage just grabbed me today. “Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?”

As reticent as I am to admit it, I can point a prideful, judgmental finger at those complaining Israelites in the wilderness, if I’m not careful. After all, I smugly reason, they had just witnessed first hand the Red Sea physically part and the sea bottom dry up and were led out of slavery in Egypt. What were they thinking? Why in the world would they complain? I haughtily muse. Just then, my friend the Holy Spirit (who loves me just as I am, but too much to leave me that way!) took his spiritual mirror and had me take a peek at issues in my own soul (my mind, will and emotions), that he would like to deliver me from. His kind of soul-deliverance is not unlike the way he delivered the Israelites from their physical slavery in a physical place called Egypt, through the leadership of Moses and Aaron. My guide and healer, the Holy Spirit, and I have done a lot of that kind of inner healing work together since I’ve come to know Jesus Christ as my personal savior. It usually starts with the dreaded “R” word. Repentance. (That’s another theological term, which means we ask God for forgiveness for our sin and turn away from it, with his help.) As a result, I’ve had a great deal of personal transformation (and I needed it!). Thank God! It’s a continuing process in my life, but I’m making progress. That’s very good news.

From today’s reading, I learned that I can become fearful and freak-out and face the same temptation those whining, complaining Israelites did. Instead of thanking God for all that he has done in my life, I can tend to complain. Worse, I sometimes have a strong desire to run back to old, familiar habit-patterns, hang-ups, and dysfunctions of the past. Those are my emotional or spiritual forms of enslavement in Egypt, so to speak. Now my life hasn’t been a cakewalk since I’ve come to Christ. In fact, I’ve been through great personal difficulties including a serious physical sickness and major relational loss. I’ve lived through a long, Egyptian-like wilderness season too. (But that’s a very long story for another day.) However, even after I have been delivered from those very challenging times, I have sometimes been tempted to look back and to run back to my old familiar Egyptian attitudes, habits, or hang-ups. I suppose that my past, even when it was very dysfunctional, seems more familiar and somehow “safer” to me.

Today, as I read about those complaining Israelites who were freaking out and facing the same temptation I was, I asked God instead to forgive me for a complaining heart instead of wagging my pointing finger at them. I prayed that he would help me to have an attitude of gratitude and to send his Holy Spirit to help me overcome the temptation to go backward into my former dysfunctions: relationally, spiritually, and emotionally.

How about you? Ever gain some ground relationally, emotionally, or spiritually, step forward into new levels of victory in your life, and then find yourself whining in the wilderness not long afterward? Ever been tempted to go back to some form of enslavement? Perhaps your slavery looked like unhealthy habits, an eating disorder, bitterness deeply buried in your heart, haughtiness, uncontrolled rage, selfishness, an unforgiving attitude, a paralyzing fear, smoking, alcohol abuse, an addiction to a prescription or OTC drug, viewing pornography, or some other form of sexual immorality? There are lots of ways people can get themselves enslaved through their own sinful choices. Maybe you’ve even been tempted to go back into a dysfunctional relationship from the past that Jesus set you free from? You, me, and the Israelites all have! But Jesus never would have set you free from something that was good for you, now would he?

Might I suggest that in 2018, in lieu of complaining in the wilderness and running back to your former slavery, you might consider worshipping, fasting, praying, reading God’s Word and repenting instead? It’s a heck of a lot more productive than weeping in the wilderness, and much more fun too. When we invite Jesus to send the Holy Spirit to speak to us, to heal us, and to deliver us, he is sure to answer. The Holy Spirit is a helper, guide, and deliverer to all believers who ask for his assistance. He will help you to walk forward in faith instead of running back to your enslavements of the past this year. All you have to do is ask, and then follow him forward.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come” (Luke 4:18-19, NLT).