When I was a young Christian, I would frequently call on God to bless my life unilaterally. That is to say, I would petition God for him to act on my behalf, or the behalf of my family and friends without considering how I could, myself, be the source of that blessing. Unfortunately it’s a trap we all fall into.
- We ask God for him to heal a broken home without ever considering how we might physically serve the individuals residing in it.
- We complain about “that church” without being willing to be a member, or serve on the elder board
- We pray for the sick, without being willing to visit the hospital.
- We pray for the poor, homeless and struggling, without taking actionable steps to come alongside them.
- And sometimes we pray for our labors to be fruitful without putting in the hard work necessary to make that blessing a reality.
But, God has no interest in blessing free-riders. God is looking for kingdom builders and business partners. Fortunately, this is a lesson written in to the very landscape of redemptive history
The “promised land” was not a place where God’s blessing comes easily
At the very end of the long, arduous, exodus and wilderness wandering, when Israel encamped on the eastern side of the Jordan River, Moses took a moment to describe the land that the fledgling nation was called to conquer and inhabit. He told them:
The Land that you are entering is not like the land of Egypt, from which you have come, where you sowed your seed and irrigated it, like a garden of Vegetables. But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, a land that the lord your God cares for. The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it from the beginning of the year to the end of the year (Deuteronomy 11:10-12).
Moses was warning the Israelites in two ways.
- He was warning them that the “promised land” would require greater dependence on God for blessing.
Egypt was one of the breadbaskets of the world. The Nile and its annual flood made large scale cultivation possible via irrigation. By the time of the exodus, a parcel the size of Maryland was able to be cultivated. By the height of the Roman Empire, Egypt could provide enough food for the entire city of Rome for four months out of the year.
Unlike Egypt, farming in Israel depended on the rains of heaven (dry-farming). Unfortunately, the “Promised Land” stood on the margins of where such farming was even possible given the amount of rain they received. The types of grains that predominantly took root were less desirable and any year of drought could have a devastating impact for generations. In other words, the land depended on God for its fruitfulness in ways that the land of Egypt did not.
- Moses was also warning the Israelites that the “promised land” would require them to work harder for God’s blessing to take root.
More than dependence, the geophysical realities of the land meant that a lot more work was necessary for God’s blessing to take root. In Egypt cultivation occurred at the toe-tip. The relative flatness of the Nile delta meant that a field could be watered by simply pushing over a small berm with your foot. Water from nearby irrigation canals would flood the field and your harvest was all but assured.
In the Promised Land, the Israelites would have to give God something to bless. Yes, fields depended on rains from the heavens but that water easily ran-off the hills into valleys controlled by Canaanites. This was especially true in the central hill country where steep valleys required terracing in order for fields and orchards to become sustainably fruitful.
More than that, massive and complex water collection and food storage systems were necessary to support the Israelites and their livestock during times of drought. In other words, in the Promised Land, the Israelites would have to partner with God for the vision of a “land flowing with milk and honey” to come to fruition.
Give God something to bless
God chose the land of Israel for a reason. While I don’t presume to know the answer, the geophysical reality suggests that you can’t learn to depend on God in a land like Egypt where everything you need to live is at the tip of your fingers.
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God found more glory in requiring the Israelites to live in a place of greater labor. There is something that makes our fruitfulness rot when it comes easy. There is something about resting on the laurels of an ever present Nile that is detrimental to our dependence on God.
- How many pastoral downfalls begin once a Pastor believes they have “made-it?”
- How many fields do you water with your foot? Did you choose your church, or your job or your friends based upon what was easy?
- How many relationships do you cultivate through terracing so that when God’s rains do come, they are put to good use?
Next time, before you ask for God’s blessing, do the work necessary for that blessing to be best displayed. More than that, be the mechanism by which God can bless others. Next time, work hard with honest dependence and give God something to bless