An ‘updraft’ in meteorology characterises a storm’s early development as warm air rises, eventually bringing the rains that offer sustenance and life. Rick’s hope for this monthly updraft column is for it to be a catalyst for change, ultimately contributing to the transformation of our faith communities. This regular column first appears in the Northern Baptist Association monthly newsletter, ‘Northern Lights’.

A significant birthday this past month had me reflecting on my life journey. I thought about the experiences that had shaped me, the long walk through the valley of despair. I thought about the times when I’d momentarily stand upon the mountaintop, clearly seeing the view along the path I’ve walked and a vision of the road ahead, which seemed to offer great perspective and clarity. That was before finding myself back on the descent into the uncertainty and messiness of life experiences. I remembered with great gratitude the constant presence of God’s Spirit, even when I doubted or couldn’t ‘feel’ him with me. I remembered his constant work of healing, changing me, growing me, forming me in an ever-increasing likeness, knowing there’s a long, long way to go. It was good to take time to remember. In remembering, we discover more of who we are.

Throughout the scriptures, we see the importance of remembering. The Israelites built altars to remember significant encounters with God. Deuteronomy encourages us to remember the word, past experiences, where we have come from and the experiences that have shaped us. Moving into the New Testament, the practice of communion instigated by Christ at the last supper is an opportunity for us to look back at Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension and look forward to his second coming. A practice of remembering ‘Christ’ and his presence with us now. 

But there is also an unhealthy remembering that we see the Israelites exhibiting in Exodus: A nostalgic remembering that longs to return to a place when times seemed happier, easier, and less complex. A yearning for the ‘good ole days.’

In Exodus 16, we see the Israelites are in the desert, about six weeks after God has miraculously freed them from slavery in Egypt. For 430 years, God’s people had been crying out in slavery (Exodus 12:40-41). God heard their cries and remembered his covenant to help. That help came with the miraculous parting of the Red Sea, which led God’s people to freedom. Now, about six weeks into the journey out of Egypt, all is not well for the Israelites (Exodus 16:1-2). They were experiencing a food shortage in their desert wanderings. What did they do? They turned their focus backwards, remembering their food in Egypt, the communal times of sitting around pots of meat, and wished they’d never left. Despite being in slavery, there was an impression they had what they needed. Now, in a situation outside their control, struggling for a sense of purpose and identity with a lack of clarity on the journey ahead, concerned for their survival, they were looking back. Even slavery seemed a preferable option. Amid their challenging experiences, they again cry out to God. Again, he hears them and responds by providing the daily manna. 

God is faithful to his character. Time and again through the scriptures, we see he’s a God who hears, intervenes, and brings deliverance to his people. Offering a reflection on what turned out to be a forty-year journey in the desert, Deuteronomy 2:7 provides a testimony of the goodness of God. ‘The Lord your God has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.’ We can declare God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good! 

I wonder if there are learnings for us as the church today as we face similar challenges and struggle with our sense of identity as the people of God. As we experience a time of great complexity, a time of transformational change and high levels of uncertainty around the journey ahead. 

How are we responding as we experience a significant disruption to the rhythms and practices that have been fruitful in the past? Are we looking back and wishing for a return to what was? Or are we turning our eyes towards God, placing our trust in his presence and provision? Are we willing to follow him into his new work in and through his church?

How do we ‘remember’ in a way that honours the past? Recognising how rhythms and practices have shaped us as the church to be who we are today. Yet doing so in a way that ‘forgets’ those aspects which now inhibit our journey forward, keeping us enslaved to our past.

The temptation is to look back to what we have known, wishing for the good ole times, but we are not returning to what was. God is doing a new thing! Rather than grumbling or complaining, may we have the humility to trust God, embrace the change journey, and do so with hope. Not just being hopeful for a better future, but with a hope grounded in the character of our good God. A hope that knows he is watching over us, that he is present, that he is active, and he will continue to provide our every need! Doing so in a way that continues to shape us and change us and grow us as his people into the ever-increasing likeness of Christ.

Rick Pierce is Minita-a-rohe mō te Hauoratanga me te Whakawhanake, Network Pastor, Health and Development, Northern Baptist Association. You can contact Rick by email: [email protected]

For more editions of Updraft, click here.

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