If you’re bewildered by what God has been doing in 2020, you are not alone. The pandemic has brought us deaths, lockdowns, masks, social distancing, closed businesses and churches, widespread unemployment, and much more. It’s territory we’ve never encountered before, and it’s not over yet.
But as this year thankfully begins to wind down, I’ve concluded that its message can be put in a nutshell:
God sent us a Rude Awakening…
in hopes we would experience
a Great Awakening.
Time will tell, but if a spiritual awakening is the end result of all the distress, it will be worth it all.
However, the hoped-for Great Awakening hinges on our response to four distinct “tests” sent to us in 2020. Each of these is displayed in an intriguing story found in 2 Kings 2:1-15, when the prophet Elijah was about to be taken up to heaven.
Elijah’s protégé, Elisha, was eager to become his successor and receive a double portion of his spirit. But Elijah told him the double portion would only be possible if he was with him when Elijah departed.
Then Elijah took his young disciple on a journey to four significant places in Biblical history: Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho, and the Jordan. It just so happens that these stops on their journey signify exactly the four experiences – and four choices – God has caused His people to face in 2020.
GILGAL – Joshua 5:2-9
After the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land, their first stop was Gilgal. If they assumed the Promised Land would be all fun and games, they learned right away in Gilgal that they were in for a Rude Awakening.
They must have been astonished when the Lord said they couldn’t continue to occupy the Promised Land until all the men were circumcised! Ouch… This important step had been neglected during their 40 years of journeying in the wilderness, but now it was urgent if the Israelites were going to be ready for the blessings ahead.
Circumcision was a cutting away of the flesh, signifying a death to self. Jesus said no one can be His disciple without this kind of experience – denying self, taking up our cross daily, and following Him, no matter the cost (Luke 9:23).
However, 2020 revealed that many of us had strayed from this kind of radical discipleship. Instead of dying to ourselves, we were trying to live the American dream and enjoy our “best life” without needing the cross. We may still have attended church and gone through the motions of following Jesus, but we were living much more in the flesh than in the Spirit.
In 2020 God gave us a new opportunity to return to Gilgal and be circumcised in our hearts. Painful? Absolutely. Inconvenient? Of course. But this kind of pruning is necessary if we’re going to experience a fruitful Christian life (John 15:1-5). So never forget: If you want a double portion of the Holy Spirit today, your first stop will be Gilgal.
BETHEL – Genesis 28:10-22
A turning point in Jacob’s life came when he was fleeing from his brother and came to a desolate place to spend the night. There God gave him a powerful dream of a ladder between earth and heaven, with angels ascending and descending.
God revealed Himself to Jacob that night as “the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac.” You see, Jacob had been blessed with a rich spiritual heritage through his father and grandfather, just as many Americans do today. Yet until this dramatic spiritual encounter, Jacob lacked a personal relationship with the Lord.
In 2020, many of us found our churches and Bible studies shut down. This was quite a test for some. We learned whether we were walking in a daily, firsthand knowledge of God, or just were living off the spiritual life of our pastor and churchgoing friends. For many of us, it was a Rude Awakening to discover that we had been neglecting our personal times of prayer and study of the Scriptures, relying instead on the church to give us nourishment.
My friend, it’s time to return to Bethel! Whether or not your church is open, I pray you will have a personal encounter with the Lord today – and every day.
JERICHO – Joshua 6:1-20
Upon entering the Promised Land, the Israelites had many battles to fight. The first, and seemingly most daunting, was the city of Jericho, whose thick walls made it appear invincible.
You probably know the story. This was no conventional battle, fought with the usual weapons of war. God told the Israelites to circle the city for seven days with the ark of the covenant. On the seventh day, the priests were to blow ram’s horns, and the people were to give a great shout of victory.
What a strange strategy! But just like God promised, the walls of Jericho fell down and the enemy was vanquished.
If you haven’t realized it yet, 2020 has been a year of incredible spiritual warfare in America, at a level most of us have never experienced before. The news media typically pointed to human agents as the cause of our conflicts, blaming the opposing political parties, Antifa, BLM, or white supremacists.
Even many Christians fell this blame-game trap, as you may have noticed on social media. We failed to see that such an analysis is both superficial and misguided, playing right into the devil’s hands. As the apostle Paul explained, our main enemy is never “flesh and blood,” but rather unseen spiritual powers of darkness (Ephesians 6:10-13).
As the strife of this year unfolded, it became painfully apparent that many Christians were completely unfamiliar with fighting such a battle. Too often, we ended up attacking each other instead of the unseen foe that was doing all the damage.
Eventually, many believers were awakened to our need to employ spiritual weapons such as prayer, fasting, and worship to counteract the enemy’s onslaught. While hateful organizations such as Antifa resorted to rioting and looting, we chose to move in the opposite spirit, relying on kindness and worship to change the atmosphere of our cities. One of our favorite anthems declared, “This is how I fight my battles!”
Jericho reminds us that, no matter how dire the situations may be in our individual lives or our nation, God wants to give us strategies for victory. However, it also serves as a warning that we must learn to recognize the true enemy and fight with spiritual weapons instead of fleshly ones (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
THE JORDAN – Joshua 3:5-17
The Jordan River has great significance in many Biblical stories, but I believe Elijah intended a special message when he brought his young apprentice there. He wanted Elisha to be reminded of the time God’s people first crossed over the Jordan, leaving the wilderness and entering the Promised Land.
Moses had parted the Red Sea by stretching out his rod over the water, and the people walked across on dry land. But things were much different in how the Jordan River parted in the days of Joshua. The priests had to step into the water before the Jordan parted. And instead of making it easy for them, God brought them to the river when it was at flood stage and overflowing its banks.
There’s a powerful and timely lesson here: It’s impossible to experience a Great Awakening unless we are willing to take bold steps of faith in obedience to God’s instructions. Yes, the Lord is a Way Maker, as we like to sing about. But just as happened with the Israelites, He sometimes tells us to step into flood waters before He makes a way into our Promised Land. By asking the priests to step into dangerous flood waters, God seemed to signal that entrance to the Promised Land would begin with a Rude Awakening.
As I look back at 2020, I’m amazed by how many of my friends were led to take courageous steps of faith. Engagements and weddings. Quitting jobs and finding new jobs. Bold geographical relocations. Generous financial commitments. New ministry initiatives.
As a result of their obedient responses to His leading, God has been sparking Great Awakenings in these friends, bringing them to new levels of fulfillment and impact.
Is It Worth the Journey?
As his mentor took him on this strange trip to Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho, and the Jordan, Elisha must have been wondering, “Will the journey be worth it? After all of this, will I truly receive the double portion anointing I so desire?”
My friend, as you’ve journeyed through 2020, you’ve probably wondered this same thing at times. Can God bring any good thing out of all these baffling twists and turns? Will it be worth the sacrifices, prayers, and steps of faith?
It’s intriguing that after each stop on their journey, Elijah gave Elisha the same message, “Stay here.” But this was just a test! You see, if Elisha had remained at Gilgal, Bethel, or Jericho, he never would have experienced the powerful outpouring of the Spirit when Elijah was taken up into heaven.
This is such a crucial lesson for us today. At each new stage of our spiritual journey, we will hear two competing voices. One will say, “Stay here,” and the other will say, “Press on.” Somehow Elisha managed to hear the second voice, articulated later by the apostle Paul: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 NIV).
Today, and every day, we face this same test. Will we be content to stay where we are? Or will we continue to press on toward God’s best and our heavenly calling?
This story of Elijah and Elisha had a wonderful ending. First, a chariot of fire appeared and carried Elijah by a whirlwind into heaven, while his mantle fell to the ground.
Elisha quickly picked up the mantle and struck the waters of the Jordan River. “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked (2 Kings 2:14). To Elisha’s delight, the river parted, just as it had done for Elijah a short time before.
The baton had been passed from Elijah to a new generation. Elisha would go on to do many miracles that were very similar to those his master had done. In fact, some Bible teachers have pointed out that he seemed to perform double the number of miracles.
You see, it was worth the journey for Elisha – just as it will be for you and me. “The God of Elijah” is the same God we serve, and the circuit of Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho, and the Jordan is the same path we must travel.
If we learn the lessons of 2020, I’m hopeful the Rude Awakening will eventually give way to a Great Awakening. Will you join me in that prayer and that quest?