During Sukkot, many Jewish families construct a three-sided sukkah to dwell in during the holiday. The sukkah is a memorial of the time when the Jewish people dwelt in the wilderness after God freed them from slavery in Egypt. This Sukkot Wanda and I have been pondering the sukkah which represents freedom. What we see is how many believers also live in a virtual sukkah. Comprising prayer, Bible study and church attendance this sukkah can, if we are not careful, lead to bondage. It is only when God begins moving us from the mind to the heart can we again find freedom in these spiritual disciplines.
The temporary shelter
To understand this process better, we must first observe the Jewish sukkah. It is a temporary three-sided structure open to the elements. By design it is weak and flimsy, much like a tent. This is like the dwellings the Israelites had when they sojourned in the wilderness. The sukkah was never meant to be permanent, but a reminder of traveling through the wilderness until they reached their home. In every sense, the sukkah is a harbinger of freedom.
Just as the Jewish people benefit from their sukkah, we also benefit when we construct a ‘sukkah’ around our relationship with God. Using the spiritual disciplines of prayer, reading the Bible and being part of the church allows us to define a boundary around our time with Jesus and nurture our growing relationship. These tools are essential to growing our faith if we are diligent enough to exercise them.
Believers are also called to be in relationship to their God, much like the Israelites were.
But learning how to dwell with God in this temporary shelter is not easy. Although we have a framework to learn how to tabernacle with Jesus, the practical outworking of this relationship is neither clear nor easy. This is where many believers struggle.
For many spiritual disciplines are onerous burdens they struggle to carry daily. This is a sad fact in our increasingly polarized and dysfunctional society. Too often convenience, pressure, fear and busyness assault us from without causing us to miss or avoid spending time with God. Even if a believer resists the obstacles and presses in, our sukkah can still become a place of bondage.
Moving from the mind to the heart
To understand the nature of this restriction, we first need to understand that all spiritual growth is a progression from Egypt to the wilderness to the Promised Land.
We start in Egypt, in bondage, having to learn how to relate to God with our ‘self’ nature intact. This means that our heart, mind and will are wounded and bent toward ‘self’. We often connect to God more from our mind than our heart in our sukkah. This is normal as we learn to grow into trusting God to heal our damaged emotions.
Next, over time, our listening and obedience to Jesus will lead us into the wilderness. This is where we learn how to tabernacle with Jesus in intimacy. Our prayers, Bible meditation and attending a fellowship move from the unhealed mind into the healed heart.
Finally, we arrive at a place where the sukkah becomes our permanent home. No longer content to just visit Jesus, we passionately live with Him continually.
Unfortunately for many believers moving from the mind to the heart in our relationship with God never happens. Why is that?
Letting go of 'self'
When we first enter the sukkah we are amazed at the wonder of relating to a God we did not know. The Holy Spirit brings the Word to life and our prayers are filled with joy. Attending a church is exciting as we meet other believers who share in our newfound zeal. All of this, believe it or not, is a temporary high in our sukkah. It is not mature enough to last.
Like all relationships, we will eventually find God is calling us to let go of ‘self’ so we can embrace more of Him. The process is subtle and quiet. One sure thing is that after a time your zeal for the sukkah will turn into a burden that it hard to carry. There will also be growing angst and frustration over the gap between what you desire, Jesus. Your continual fleshy ways you are powerless to stop only add fuel to the fire.
It is at this point where many believers find the sukkah more of a prison than a place of freedom. What we choose next will determine if we will stay confined in this prison or be delivered into an unplumbed depth of intimacy with Jesus.
Many quit and never go back. What will you choose?
Remember that angst you faced as you went from being a child into a teenager? Hard decisions, dealing with friends and family, trying to find out who you were and what to do with your life are part of the process as we mature. As it is in the physical, so it is in the spirit, but in this case you can only mature if you make the right choices.
When the angst hits between what we want and what we will pay to get it, we face a tough choice. To have all of Jesus in the sukkah will cost you all you have. Freedom isn’t free, it costs. To be free in the sukkah will require moving from the mind to the heart. It sounds easy, but it is anything but. At this point the believer must choose. Leave prayer, Bible reading and fellowship behind or embrace the loss of all things so they can have more of God.
This crisis of the sukkah is something every believer passionate about Jesus will face. No one is exempt.
A simple exchange
You can easily guess what will happen to the person who goes back to their old ways. However, the path of the person who embraces the sukkah fully and begins moving from the mind to the heart is not so obvious.
The childish freedom and flighty peace we experienced in the heady days of our early sukkah experience will fade. Drudgery and angst will replace the joy. If we press in it can, and will be replaced, by a matured, practical freedom. A place where the Word of God flows through our thoughts as naturally as the breeze. Where prayer is a constant stream of communion with silence and words. And where fellowship happens anywhere and anytime.
All of this, of course, comes with a price. The going rate is one ‘self’ nature for all of Jesus. A simple exchange, however it is far from balanced. We receive far more than we ever lose when we follow Jesus in this way. The choice is yours.