On June 23, 2013, Nik Wallenda set out to cross the Little Colorado River Gorge near Grand Canyon National Park on a tightrope. My husband and I were watching it from home. I was sitting on the couch in my bathrobe. The camera panned out to reveal the breathtaking depth of the canyon and the daunting length of the wire stretched from one side of the canyon to the other. It zoomed in on Nik’s tiny feet, which were snuggly tucked into shoes that looked like black ballet slippers. The wire under his feet looked like twine. This is crazy! I thought. He’s never going to make it!
Nik began to place one foot in front of the other, inching his way along the wire. The wind was billowing Nik’s shirt and ruffling against his microphone. I couldn’t help but look down at the giant hole gaping below him. I felt dizzy.
“Do you think he’s going to make it?” I asked Ryan, hoping he would say that Nik was secured by hidden tethers or that this was an optical illusion.
Instead he said what we were both thinking, “I don’t see how he can make it.”
It was too intimidating. We expected him to fall. We expected a terrible end.
Skeptical Expectations Replaced with Hope
You and I can have a similar posture toward God’s ability to finish what He has set out to do in this dark world. We look upon life with skeptical discouragement. Politics, the environment, the economy, national security, culture, our health, our jobs, our churches, and our families seem destined to a terrible end. Circumstances intimidate us like vast gaping holes in the ground. We imagine the worst. We mutter, grumble, complain, and criticize. How can God possibly be up to something good when things look so bad? How can He win when it’s so obvious that He is losing?
I wonder how our negativity—particularly our distrust of God—affects us? I wonder if our negative forecast affects our children? When we shake our heads and speak about the terrible state of the world, are we missing an opportunity to create hope in the people around us?
What if we expected God to save the day like He said He would?
What if we expected Him to help us no matter how dire the circumstances or powerful the temptations?
What if we expected Him to be as powerful in the future as He has been in the past?
How would it change us? How would it impact our children and our world?
Looking at Life Like the Israelite Spies
There’s a story in the Old Testament that reminds me how much our expectations and the way we speak about our current state of affairs matter. It challenges my assessment of circumstances and people, and it turns my eyes upward to the loving, almighty God who can—and will—save the day.
God had promised to establish the Israelites in a homeland that would flow with milk and honey. His people had been enslaved, abused, and overworked by the Egyptians, but with countless displays of power, God brought them out of Egypt through the wilderness. Before leading the people into their new homeland, He instructed Moses to send spies to scout out the land.
Moses gathered twelve leaders and instructed,
Go go up into the hill country, and see what the land is, and whether the people who dwell in it are strong or weak, whether they are few or many, and whether the land that they dwell in is good or bad. . . . Be of good courage and bring some of the fruit of the land (Num. 13:17–20).
I wonder why God wanted these men to spy on the land? It wasn’t for His sake. He knew the land down to each grain of fertile soil, the people down to each intention of their hearts, and the seasons down to every raindrop. God wasn’t wondering what the Israelites would be up against. He wasn’t waiting for the spies to let Him know if things would pan out. Perhaps He was inviting the spies to demonstrate that they knew and trusted Him?
After forty days of scouting out the land, the spies returned with samples of the land’s lush produce: pomegranates, figs, and grapes so big and juicy that it took several men to carry one bunch. Despite having this glimpse of abundance, ten of the men reported that there was no way the Israelites would acquire the land.
“The people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. . . . We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are. . . . The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height . . . and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Num. 13:28, 31–33).
Scripture calls this “a bad report.” The details of the report were accurate, but their expectations were way off. The ten spies left God out of the equation. According to them, God would not (or could not) act on behalf of His people.
Long-Reaching Consequences of Counting God Out
This bad report impacted an entire generation of Israelites. It gripped the people with fear. Anguish, discouragement, and discontentment raged through the people like wildfire. They wept through the night. The spies’ report was so hopeless that the people were ready to pack up and return to slavery.
Then, the two remaining spies, Caleb and Joshua, shocked everyone by saying, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” Although Caleb and Joshua saw the same things—the fortified cities, the strong armies, and the giant people—they expected a different outcome. They said,
“The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the LORD delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them” (Num. 14:7–9).
This report was powerful. These two men had iron-clad trust in God. Every time I read it, my eyes are turned toward Jesus and my faith is fanned into flame. But the Israelites would not listen. Instead, they gathered stones to stone Caleb and Joshua.
Then, the Lord silenced the crowd and appeared to all the people of Israel. He was livid, ready to strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them. Moses pleaded with God to have mercy. God conceded according to his steadfast love, but He replied that every Israelite who had complained against God would die in the wilderness. Their children would wander in the wilderness for forty years before entering the Promised Land. The ten faithless spies were struck down before the Lord and died of a plague.
But Caleb and Joshua, the two faithful spies, entered the Promised Land and their descendants inherited it. Their good report spared countless lives. The words they spoke about what God could do in the direst of circumstances mattered.
This story makes me sit up and pay attention because we are in a similar historical moment.
We’ve Been Delivered; Expect Deliverance
Like the Israelites, we have been delivered from slavery to sin and are being led to our eternal home, where we will live in security and intimacy with God. We, too, have seen God’s power as He conquered death and evil when Jesus was nailed to the cross and rose from the grave. We, too, daily depend upon God. “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). He has shown us His power and He promises to bring us safely to our Promised Land, the new heavens and earth.
When our feet are on the wire and all of life gapes below us like a bottomless pit, we will not fall. There is no question: God will get us to the other side. And not just that. He will be on the wire with us, which is, in and of itself, a beautiful thing and something to proclaim.
Our lives are replete with invitations to demonstrate that we know and trust the Lord. With every piece of news and every circumstance, let us give a good report about who He is and what He will do.
Let’s expect God to save the day.
Let’s speak words that cause people to turn toward Jesus and put their trust in God. He will give strength to every generation! Let’s be amongst those who stubbornly expect Jesus to create something beautiful out of daunting circumstances, intimidating endeavors, and insurmountable trials.
“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isa. 43:19)
Pause and ponder the idea of expecting something beautiful from God in the difficult parts of your life. What do you want to say to God about this? Can you find a Scripture that gives you a good report about God’s power to carry, save, and give you victory over the things in your life that feel most intimidating? Ask God for an opportunity to speak a good report about Him this week.