The East Side of the Jordan
Not too long ago, while sitting in the choir loft during a sermon, I followed a thought along a rabbit trail that led me to Numbers chapter 33. (Sorry, Pastor).
Titled "Stages in Israel's Journey," this passage captures Israel's rest stops on their trek out of Egypt to the Promised Land. It basically reads, "The Israelites left this city and camped at that city. They left that city and camped at this other city. They left this other city and camped at..." You get the picture.
As I navigated my way through the almost thirty-verse cadence of "they left, they camped," "they left, they camped," something began to stir in my heart.
And the only imagery that I can think of to express what happened next was something akin to the scene in "The Sound of Music" when the new governess, Maria, stumbles upon the abandoned ballroom of the VonTrapp mansion. Long since closed off to the life that once indwelled, the dark, cavernous void was pierced by light as she gently pushes the unlocked door ajar.
Recognizing a similarly neglected room in my own heart, it felt like the Holy Spirit nudged the door open. And the divine light that spilled into the darkness revealed countless hastily discarded doubts and questions about my future at the church, particularly about my role as choir director.
The room was painfully familiar because most every Sunday, I would toss armfuls of unspoken feelings like, "Maybe I am too old," "Perhaps my season has passed," and "Maybe its time to step out of the way and let another generation lead" through the doorway. As the clutter accumulated, I would often pause, glance around, then politely exit whispering, "I just don't have the energy to deal with this right now." That ritual dragged on for months and months... and dare I say, more months.
As I continued reading that liturgy of transition, a song from many years ago came to mind. "I feel like going on. I feel like going on. Though trials come on every hand. I feel like going on." Tears began to well up as I realized that in my weakness, the Spirit himself was interceding for me, articulating my unspoken, burgeoning heart-cry [Romans 8:26].
Quietly listening, I sensed a nudge to flip to the previous chapter in Numbers. As I read the story, it was like God threw open the drapes of that denial-packed room and allowed Light to stream into the recesses of my heart.
At the beginning of Chapter 32, we discover that the Tribes of Israel had camped on the East Side of the Jordan. Two of those tribes, the Reubenites and the Gadites, "saw that the lands were suitable for livestock." Something to note… they had "very large herds and flocks."
Now just before Israel was to cross into the Promised Land, the Gadites and the Reubenites decided, “Nah, we’re good, right here.” Content with the fact that their herds were prospering in their current location, they approached Moses with this request. “Do not make us cross the Jordan.”
Now, if I were to embellish their proposal, I could hear it going something like this. “Now Moses, it's not that we don't want all of the benefits and blessings of the Promised Land. It's just that... well... do you have any idea what it is going to take to cross the Jordan? I mean, we have all these people, let alone our enormous herds and these thriving flocks. I mean, look at all those precious little ewes! Why traumatize them with all that upheaval? And, honestly, our wives and our daughters are just now catching their breath from the constant packing and unpacking. They're finally beginning to settle in. Just look over there. Moses... friend... camping buddy... I know we’ve traveled a long way together, but where we are right now is perfect for them... honestly, for all of us. Why mess that up? Please do not make us cross the Jordan.”
Moses was not impressed.*
Right at that moment, I was stung by the painful revelation that the Gadites and the Reubenites were not the only ones who were remaining on the East Side of the Jordan. I was, too.
And just as they tried to rationalize with Moses, I had been subtly wrestling with God, trying to justify why I was lingering… or more accurately wandering, on the East Side of the Jordan for the last year, unwilling to cross into another season of choral directing.
Tears streamed down my cheeks as the root of my behavior was exposed in the light of Love. This choir director had been lingering on the East Side of the Jordan because I could not bear the thought of crossing the Jordan without all of the precious people with whom I had begun more than 12 years ago.
As I have begun to sort though the the emotional accumulation, I recognized that I was oblivious to a significant reality. The longer I hesitated in indecision, denial, and grief, the more I unwittingly held my choir hostage on the East Side of the Jordan with me. That void in my leadership meant that we kept cycling through the meaningful songs we had sung along our journey, but never moved forward learning anything new. And as tidy, spiritual, and perhaps even noble it sounded, waiting for circumstances to change and hoping situations would resolve, it was still a hostage scenario.
Broken, I repented in prayer for holding myself and others in spiritual limbo. Through tears, I joined with the chorus of those who have gone ahead of me into the Jordan, I feel like going on. I feel. like going on. Though trials come on every hand, I feel like going on. “God,” I prayed, “Where You lead me, I will follow. Rank me with whom Thou wilt and we will keep in step with the Spirit.”
So what does repentance look like? For me, crossing the Jordan has been a musical journey, Sunday by Sunday, rehearsal by rehearsal, and anthem by anthem. It has meant learning new songs rather than only rehashing the old ones. It has been casting vision and calling whosoever will come to walk in step with the Spirit. I am excited to testify that God's divine exclamation point in the journey forward has been opening the doors to that once closed-off room and writing a new song that has equipped our church with language for the upcoming Lenten Season. Thanks be to God!
If this blog is resonating with you, may I ask, “What is the Jordan that you do not want to cross?” In what areas of your life have you been lingering on the East Side of the Jordan rather than moving forward? Perhaps it is a difficult decision that you have been putting off. Maybe it is addressing a neglected issue or even finally writing that book that has been percolating. Is it finally forgiving and releasing someone? Whatever it is, perhaps it is time to put your foot in the Jordan and to take steps toward the Promised Land.
If there is a “yes” in your heart, perhaps the lyrics to this song may be a starting place to pray. “I will go, Lord, because You said so. Knowing You are behind me, knowing You are before me, knowing You are beside me, I will go. Yes, I will go, Lord, because You said so. Entrusted with the Gospel, empowered by Your Spirit, equipped for all You’ve called me, I will go. I will go” [taken from I Will Go, Jonathan C Dow].
Beloved, “You will go out with joy and be led forth in peace; …This will be for the Lord's renown, for an everlasting sign that will endure forever” [Isaiah 55:12-13 NIV]. Amen.
*As a side-note: My CliffsNotes version of how the matter was resolved is that the armed men of the Gadites and the Reubenites actually did cross over the Jordan with the rest of the Tribes. But, those men then returned to the Land to the East of the Jordan where their children, wives, flocks, and herds remained.
If the first song I mentioned is unfamiliar to you, here is a version of "I Feel Like Going On" that I have appreciated.
If this blog has been meaningful, I invite you to do two things. Subscribe to the blog. You will be one of the first to receive a heads-up via email when a new entry is posted! Then, I invite you to share this blog with your friends. You never know how God might sustain the weary through a simple word of encouragement.
Thank you for reading jonathancdow.com, this is my 151st blog entry.