For the past couple of weeks, I have led life one day at a time. All plans have been written in pencil, and more than once recently my day has turned out completely different than I had planned.

That’s what life is like in the wilderness. Though God may have our days completely mapped out, He doesn’t reveal more than the next step to us. For planners like me, living moment to moment can be maddening at times. But when you are in the wilderness, being on a need to know basis can sometimes feel more like grace.

Two weeks ago, had my dad known that his simple heart catheterization would lead to quadruple bypass surgery and a mitral valve repair, followed by the complications he has endured with each new day — the implantation of a pacemaker, the low platelets, the heavy fluid around his heart and lungs making it difficult for him to breathe, and now the pulmonary embolism — it would have been a lot harder to sign that consent form.  But having God show him just one day at a time has made each day in this wilderness a little more bearable. Not knowing what tomorrow will bring is often God’s mercy for us.

That’s the way the Lord was bringing the Israelites through the wilderness in the months after they first left Egypt. A pillar of fire by night and a pillar of smoke by day led them step by step from their days of slavery toward the land God had promised them. They didn’t know what each day would bring, what enemies they might face or what difficulties would await them. They just knew that God would show them the way and that he would go with them.

Until the people of Israel refused to follow God’s daily leading, that is. After God had graciously led them all the way to the edge of the promised land, miraculously providing food and water and all they needed for life, they refused to take the next step he showed them, conquering the enemy and inhabiting the land flowing with milk and honey.

Provoked by their rebellion, God was persuaded by Moses not to destroy the nation, but instead, he gave them over to a future of wandering. In a single breath, God told them what the next forty years would hold for them, a generation of wanderers, and we don’t hear of the pillars of God’s presence again until Moses’ death just outside the promised land years later.

The punishment for their rebellion was not really the wilderness and not really the wandering. The Israelites had been wandering the wilderness one day at a time with God leading them for a while. The way I see it, the greater punishment was knowing the sum of their days in the wilderness before the first day was over and having to make their way without God’s presence leading them one day at a time.

We deceive ourselves by thinking that life would be easier if we could just see what the future held. The reality is, God gives us these seasons of uncertainty in the wilderness to remind us that all our days are in his hand to dole out to us one at a time as a gift. And when He walks through them with us, it makes the gift greater still.