Saturday, July 12, 2014

In the Middle of Nowhere

"When Pharoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, 'If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.' So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea." Exodus 13:17-18a

Archimedes once said, "The shortest distance between two points is a straight line." But is the shortest route always the best route? That is the question this passage in Exodus leads me to answer today. 

In God's estimation, the shortest route or the path of least resistance is not always best. Such was the case for the Israelites, and often is the case for us today. When Pharoh finally let the people go out of Egypt, one would have thought the Lord would lead them to the land of Canaan by the quickest route, the shortest way. But God took them the long way around past the desert, through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Not because He wanted to make their lives more miserable, but because His ways are higher and better and serve a very specific purpose. 

I am reminded of Proverbs 16:9 which says, "In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." Matthew Henry says of this, "Man proposes, but God disposes, and in his disposal we must acquiesce, and set ourselves to follow providence." To "acquiesce" means to comply with God's will. That indicates a voluntary action, or an act of our will. No matter how hard we try, or how good we think our strategy is, God ultimately determines how things will go. We are masters at dreaming up all kinds of solutions to our problems, making suggestions to God to "help Him out" as if He needed our help. But we toil our minds for nothing because it is God that determines our course according to His providential plan, to serve His purposes, to bring Himself glory. More often than not, God's plan looks very different from anything we could conjure up. And 100% of the time His way is better.

So why does God often take us the long way around to get to our desired destination? To get to the answer we are seeking, or the one He has promised? Why doesn't God just quickly hand it over on a silver platter? 

Here's my take. Quick answers can lead to situations we are not yet ready to handle. Quick answers can lead to pride and distorted thinking, taking credit for good things thinking we brought them about when all credit is due the Lord. A better question might be, "Why does God lead us to new things before we are ready to take them on?" I believe the answer is, to give us the motivation and desire to press on through the preparation process it will take to get there. If we are truly submitting our lives to Christ, really wanting to be more like Him, then we must be willing to submit to His plan for bringing that about.

It takes time to make our rough edges smooth.
It takes time to prepare us to handle battles and blessings yet to come.
It takes time to get our hearts and minds thinking right.

Even though God is leading us to something or some place that we feel certain is His will for us, we might not be immediately ready for the answer; for it all to come to fruition. Most often God makes us ready as we walk toward it, letting Him light the way. Verse 21 says, "By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so they could travel by day or by night." No matter what time of day we are taking steps toward the new thing, God is there to lead us. He is our guide.

God led the Israelites away from the direct path which in modern times might be represented by a well lit, well marked highway. A travel route that represents safety. The straight road that gets you from Point A to Point B. Instead, He led them through the wilderness and off the beaten path. They may have felt like they were traveling through the middle of nowhere. Today that might look like woods and back roads. A way not marked. It might represent danger, uncertainty, difficulty, possible starvation. It is certainly the unpopular route. A way that would seem nonsensical to most. But a life of faith doesn't make much sense to the common world. 

An unmarked route requires a compass for direction. In that place, deep in the middle of nowhere, Christ is our compass. Travelers who want to reach their destination must be fully dependent upon Him to guide them.

Just because we are not quite "ready" for the next stop in life doesn't mean we should stop in our tracks or give up and return to Point A. No, we should put one foot in front of the other and by faith, walk in the direction God has told us to go, believing the path will be made clear, the answers and the provision will come, and the destination will be reached in due time when He deems us approved and ready. There is much to learn off the beaten path. Greater faith develops along the way.

Scripture says the Israelites were not yet ready for the war they were going to face. The Lord needed to prepare them and chose to do so in the place less travelled. Little did they know during this preparation that in their future they would lead the charge and God would drown the Egyptians in the Red Sea. In the wilderness God was proving their loyalty and making them humble. He was essentially preparing them for battle, something impossible to do on the path of least resistance. The last half of verse 18 indicates that they came out of the wilderness ready. "The Israelites went up out of Egypt armed for battle." 

What might God be preparing you for? Are you submitting to His will in the wilderness? Is He truly your compass and guide?

Father God, as I put one foot in front of the other and walk toward the things You have called me to, I pray that You would make me ready for the answer. Make me ready for the destination Lord, that I might serve you well and bring you the most glory. Be my compass and my guide when I feel I'm going nowhere fast. In Jesus' name I pray, amen.

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