A few years ago when the kids were really small, I decided I was going to be ‘Amazing Homeschooling Mom’ and take my kids on a field trip. To a bee farm. Two hours away. For fun. We woke up on the appointed day and packed lunches, diapers, water bottles, snacks, car games and everything else you may possibly need. I kissed my husband good-bye and packed everyone in the car and we all happily left. We drove, and drove, and drove, and drove, Makayla threw up, and drove. Since we were on one and a half lane country roads in the middle of nowhere, I told her that we would get her all cleaned up when we got to our soon coming destination. We slowly pulled into the long drive and I was breathing a sigh of relief that we had made it with only one puking mishap from the bumpy roads. The slow drone of fuss was starting and I patted myself on the back that we had made it just in the nick of time. And then I noticed something. No cars. Not one. Not anywhere. I looked at my email again and with a sinking feeling, I realized that the field trip was not scheduled until the next day. I turned around and looked at those little faces filled with anticipation and dashed their dreams of seeing bees flitting around doing their bee thing. “Guys, the field trip is actually tomorrow. I had the wrong day. We’re going home. Well, to Walmart. I’ll buy you a treat for your troubles and a calendar for me.” A little voice piped up, “Do we have to come back tomorrow?” We didn’t. We now refer to it as our Walmart field trip. Nevermind that Walmart was less than three minutes from our house and we drove a four hour detour to get there. It was the most pointless long car ride that I have ever been on.
This kind of detour is harmless and makes for a funny story (later), but what about when the detours are the detours in our life? I am not talking about the good detours in our journeys where we find something unexpected or where God changes up our plans for His. Those are exciting ‘detours’ that are just different than what WE had planned.
I am talking about those places where we feel stuck and like we’re going around and around and around and getting nowhere fast. You know, the things that you just keep dealing with again and again and again and just can’t get free from. Maybe it’s a person you can’t forgive. Maybe it’s a habit you can’t break. Maybe it’s a heart issue you just can’t work through. Maybe it’s something that pops up in every relationship you have and you are starting to realize that the common denominator in your broken relationships is you. Maybe your family just can’t seem to get along. It’s THAT thing that you keep dealing with over and over and over and over again. It’s that place that makes you feel dead inside.
I imagine that the Israelites felt this way in the desert. They walked around and around and around for forty years. Eating the same thing. Seeing the same thing. Smelling the same thing and because of God’s provision their clothes did not wear out. They were even wearing the same thing. There was no world traveling for these guys. No new clothes, no new food, no new anything. Everything was mundane and the same. They didn’t even have the comfort of a home. “What do you want to do today, honey?” “Oh, I don’t know, walk I guess?” “Hey, is that a new robe?” “Oh wait, that’s the one I bought you thirty eight years ago. How could I forget?” “What do you want for dinner?” “I was thinking manna.” I really can’t imagine anything more boring. The thing is, God had so much more planned for them. He didn’t bring them out of Egypt so that they could wander in the wilderness for forty years. He had His sights set on a land flowing with milk and honey. THIS. This is a land fit for My people.
The Israelites being rescued out of slavery and bondage in Egypt was only part of the story. He was saving them FROM something FOR something. That is the same with us! I Peter 2:9 says,
9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests,[d]a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness INTO his wonderful light.
He has called us OUT of our past, our sin and our shame INTO a life where we are known, secure and loved by Him. A life where we see things as He does. A life that brings Him glory because it beautifully points to Who He is. It’s a life lived as He created it to live.
I was praying a while back and I felt like the Lord spoke to my heart that so many of us are stuck in the INTO. It’s kind of like God saved us FROM our past or our Egypt, but rather than walking in what He’s promised to us, we live in the desert and wonder why in the world it doesn’t look like the Promised Land. Well, friends, it’s not. We can also get stuck in the thought that the abundant life is for later. Well, yes. BUT it’s also for now! Sometimes we even pretend to others that we are living in what’s promised, but we wonder why there is sand stuck between our toes and the sun scorches our back. We state that this is the Promised Land, but our hearts are telling us otherwise. But what if we’re right? I mean, if we think and believe we’re in the Promised Land, but we’re actually in the desert, wouldn’t it be nice to know? If that’s you, this may be the happiest news you’ve had in a while. I know I got excited about the thought. Some of us are rescued alright, but living far from abundantly.
It’s important to state that I am not talking about outward situations. We all know whether we admit it or not that living on this earth, we will experience trouble, hard times and all of those things. What I am talking about is the state of the heart. Some of the saddest people I know include those with the easiest lives, but having a hard life doesn’t make for a happy person either. The truth is that outward circumstances don’t have to and often don’t dictate the state of the heart.
Probably one person who has impacted me the most is Richard Wurmbrand. If you haven’t had a chance to read his biography, Tortured for Christ, it really is a must read. He went through a horrendous experience for fifteen years in a prison. He was tortured in mind, body and emotion, but his heart just couldn’t be touched. There was a joy that was completely unreachable by evil man. There was a peace that no amount of torture could take away. One guard even came to know God DURING a torture session. He endured much. In ways, he was kind of like a modern day Paul. I was so struck by the fact that this man who had a truly horrible life could walk so free, while I who had a relatively easy life truthfully, felt so inwardly bound. It’s not that I didn’t have a relationship with God. I did, but there was just something in Wurmbrand’s life that made me believe that perhaps I was actually missing a piece of the abundant life that the Bible so clearly talks about. I started to see that maybe my heart resembled more of a desert than a place filled with abundant life.
I sometimes wonder if those who claim that relationship with God is boring, perhaps are stuck in the desert. Deserts are boring, but wandering in the desert is even worse. I mean, Egypt looks pretty enticing when you’re in the desert. It did to the Israelites. They complained loudly about being rescued because slavery seemed better. When slavery or sin looks better than what God is offering, check for sand between your toes. While in the desert they lost sight of where God was taking them.
The thing is, they HAD to journey through the desert to get to the Promised Land, but it wasn’t supposed to take years and years and years. God didn’t send them on a direct route because he knew they weren’t prepared to fight the battles they would need to. The Philistines were in their path and they were still a fragile people stuck in a slavery mindset. He first spent some time showing them who they were. He even dictated their clothes. He wanted them dressed like royalty – not slaves. God took the Israelites out of Egypt and used the wilderness to take Egypt out of the Israelites. So what was it that caused them to get stuck there?
They complained and complained and complained. Not only that, but in their mind, their battles, their circumstances and their life situations were bigger than God. God had said, “I am giving you the land.” They said, “The people are big.” God said, “I have brought you out and called you mine.” They said, “We want to go back to Egypt.” They did not enter the Promised Land because they refused to believe and trust Him. Unbelief kept them in the desert. Hebrews 3:19 says, “So we see that because of their unbelief they were not able to enter his rest.”
If we are living in unbelief, our hearts will never be at rest. Faith is not ignoring reality or saying that something is a certain way when it’s not. Faith is not the belief that everything will turn out how we want. Faith is trust in the One Who is bigger than anything that life can hold – good or bad. Faith is holding onto God when life is easy because we know that nothing holds a candle to Him. Faith is holding onto God when life is hard because if we have Him, we can lose the whole world and still have everything we need for a life filled with peace, hope and rest. Of course, it may take a while to find our equilibrium sometimes, but if He is truly where our hope rests, we will find it. Faith is remembering the BUT GOD at the end of your hard. “Yeah, these people are way bigger than us, BUT with GOD all things are possible.” “This food is kind of getting boring, BUT look how GOD is providing for us.” “Egypt looks better sometimes, BUT GOD help me to see as You do.”
The Psalms are filled with heartfelt and real situations. They aren’t sugar coated with happy thoughts, but when you look closely there is a theme. Most of them end with a BUT GOD or a focus on His goodness, His heart and His ability to save, sustain and deliver.
A desert prayer for a current wanderer may look like this: “My family is falling apart, BUT GOD I know that You are the Restorer and You are good and have good intentions towards us. Help us to live according to YOUR purposes for our lives.”(Psalm 147:3) “My job is gone, BUT GOD You are my Provider. I choose to trust You.”(Philippians 4:19) “I don’t even know what’s wrong; I have so many internal things going on. BUT GOD, You know every part of my heart and You know exactly what needs to be done. I trust You with me.”(Psalm 139:2) “This diagnosis scares me, BUT GOD, I know that You are the Giver of life. I pray that You would heal, but if You do not, I know that I can trust You with my life (or their life).”(Isaiah 53:5) “God something in me still loves Egypt, BUT GOD, when I ask, You will forgive and You are able to heal the broken part of me that chooses Egypt over You. Please help me to see clearly.” (Colossians 2:13)
Friends, Let’s lift our eyes higher and focus on the One who can truly bring our hearts rest in the middle of whatever life holds. Let’s not live in unbelief, but BELIEVE that He is Who He says He is and does what He says He does. Let’s quit wandering around looking at our circumstances or looking longingly at Egypt and instead focus on the One who holds our lives in His hands.
(The story of the Israelites can be found in Exodus and Deuteronomy)
Photo taken by Luca Galuzzi * http://www.galuzzi.it
Camel Thorn Tree (Acacia erioloba) in Sossusvlei region, Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namib Desert, Namibia. (Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-2.5) CC BY-SA 2.5