Scripture Reading: Exodus 23:20-33
Praying for anything big to happen in your life? Waiting for God to bring it about? Wondering why it’s not coming about as fast as you’d like?
When I get frustrated that I’m not seeing the big, grand vision come together for something that I really think God is putting on my heart, I take comfort from a short passage in Exodus chapter 23. It reminds me that God is able “to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine,” as the New Testament says in Ephesians 3:20, but that God doesn’t always do it all at once.
Why not? Here’s what God told the Israelites, and what He often tells me, too.
As the Israelites approached the “promised land,” a huge expanse of property that God promised to give them when they got out of Egypt, God told them that He would drive out the current occupants of the land because of their wickedness and rebellion against Him. But, He added:
“I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals too numerous for you. Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land” (Exodus 23:29-30).
God was still going to give them their promised land, but little by little, for their own protection, and for the safekeeping of His vision for the land.
Even though there were over 600,000 Israelites at the time, the land was still bigger than they could effectively manage had they gotten it all at once. The land would have become desolate and overrun with wild animals. God, in His grace, was going to wait to drive out the current inhabitants until the Israelites increased enough to take possession of the land.
This is extremely encouraging to me! I don’t like to wait for God’s promises to be fulfilled―especially when I can see them so clearly, when they look like they’re within reach, yet when I can’t seem to take hold of them. These verses remind me that God will do what He says He will do, but in His timing, for our good and for the good of the vision He’s given us.
For many years now I’ve been praying for a real “ranch,” a place where I can invite people to spend time with God, away from the busy-ness of their lives. I’ve been to just such a ranch with my family―a beautiful private retreat on 240 acres of rolling hills in northern Illinois. Yet as I looked around at the expanse of the property, I couldn’t imagine all of the care and maintenance it would take just to put gravel on the back roads every few years, let alone take care of all the cattle, sheep, ducks, fencing and guest homes.
Even though this seems to be exactly what I’ve been praying for, and continue to pray for, I know that I’ve not “increased enough to take possession” of the fullness of this vision. That doesn’t stop me from asking, and it doesn’t stop me from believing that God will someday fulfill the fullness of what He’s put on my heart. But it does help me to be thankful―so thankful―that God holds back from giving me what I’m asking for before I can handle it.
Maybe you’ve been praying for some big things to happen in your life, or a friend’s life. Maybe you’ve wondered why things aren’t happening as fast as you’d like, or to the extent that you’d like. Maybe you’re getting discouraged and wondering why God is poking around, taking His time, when there are so many things you want to get done―and now!
Take heart from this little passage in Exodus 23. As God Himself says several times in this passage, He will do what He promised. There are still things He wants us to do in the mean time. But, for our benefit, and for the benefit of His unfolding vision, He often carries out His will “little by little”―so we won’t be overwhelmed by the answer when it does come.
Want to learn more? You can watch a podcast with more discussion about this topic below.