The Long Way

While I consider myself a joyful person, and while I tend to be considerably even-keel, there is one giant thing that has a 98% chance at throwing me into a tizzy (to put it quite lightly).

traffic.

Be it rush hour, an accident on the highway, or roadwork clogging up the coveted left lanes, I hate it all. It also includes the moments of me getting lost, missing a turn, or not being able to figure out the 37 freeways in downtown Dallas that are far too reminiscent of Rainbow Road (the trippy course on Mario Kart that everyone loves to hate).

You can imagine, then, my concern for the morale of the Israelites when I read Exodus 13:17:

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near.

I stopped reading and the questions came. HE TOOK THEM THE LONG WAY? I was horrified. Why? Why would Yahweh do that? Isn’t He supposed to be good? It was already a stressful situation for the Israelites. They were being uprooted from their land (albeit slavery, it was home). They had gone out in a rush, and they were unclear on what their destination would be. And Yahweh intentionally leads them on the path that He knew would take longer than it needed to take.

For my fastest-route heart, it was instant cause to doubt if God is trustworthy. What if there was a faster way to the desires of my heart? What if God was keeping me from getting where I hope to go? What if He knows a faster route and still chooses to take me the long way? Doubts and questions and uncertainties swirled rebelliously in my weakly devoted heart.

But as I continued the story, the doubt was replaced with mourning. Mourning that my heart is so set on the fast track, even a fast track of doubt.

For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle… And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people. Exodus 13:18, 21-22

The Israelite’s detour surely did not come because the Lord was punishing or teasing them, nor is the Lord withholding blessing from you by taking you on a longer route.

For those who feel trapped in a waiting season, or wondering if Yahweh has forgotten, here are three lessons we can learn when Yahweh takes us the long way:

1. Yahweh protects His people.

“Lest the people change their minds…” (verse 18) Yahweh knew things the Israelites simply did not know. He knew they would see war and more importantly, He knew it would cause them to doubt. I’m sure the Israelites would have claimed faith in the moments of their leaving Egypt. They likely felt invincible, never believing they would run in fear. But Yahweh knew they were as fickle as a middle school girl on Valentine’s Day. Certain of her love one morning, and reeling with uncertainty the next.

He didn’t take them the long way to punish them, but rather to protect them. It was because He knew what they would face on the fast track and He didn’t want their hearts to doubt. So then, the very thing that caused my own heart to doubt was Yahweh’s effort to protect His people from that sickly feeling of apprehension.

2. Yahweh prepares His people.

“And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle.” (verse 18) Because He took them the long way, the Israelites left prepared for battle. The Lord allowed their confidence to grow on the little-bit-longer journey and it was for this reason they were prepared for the battles they would soon face. Had He allowed them to go the shorter route, they would have seen war and been instantly disoriented. Instead, they grew courageous and though they bickered in the days and weeks to come, Yahweh was forming their warrior spirits and preparing them for the battles ahead.

3. Yahweh’s presence goes with His people.

“And the Lord went with them…” (verse 21) Perhaps the sweetest promise of them all is that the Lord traveled with them. In a pillar of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, He journeyed with them in order that they might not lose heart.

Not only did Yahweh protect and prepare the people of Israel as He led them out of Egypt, but He is protecting and preparing you right now. And just as His presence remained with them in the pillar of cloud and fire, so His presence dwells with us in the form of the Holy Spirit.

You have not been left alone, dear heart.

My plans fail. A lot. And though my heart will always choose the fast track, I’m learning to trust the heart of my Creator. I’m learning to trust that He really does know things I cannot and will not ever know. I’m learning that acknowledging my brokenness before Him quickens my heart to remembrance. And while I think I want the shortest route, what I really want is just to be with Jesus.

His presence is worth the longer journey.

Are you feeling forgotten on the long way? Are you wishing for a faster route or even checking other maps for a quicker arrival time? Turn your eyes back to Yahweh. Know that the days you spend on the longer route are protecting you from doubt and preparing you for battles you have yet to fight.

You can know with confidence that Yahweh God is good. He hasn’t forgotten you, He isn’t teasing you, and He hasn’t left you.

He’s protecting. He’s preparing. His presence is with us still.

May these truths sing over us like a broken record of remembrance.






 

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Just Be Still.

The MRI technician was painfully unclear.

With one ear pierced and scrubs that barely covered his midriff, he was the last person from whom I expected to receive a lesson in truth that afternoon.

But then again, doesn’t that seem to be Yahweh’s favorite way to meet us? When we least expect it, from folks we may not believe are even ready or capable to speak it.

Uncomfortable in a hospital gown, he directed me to lie down on the small, narrow table next to the seemingly massive machine. The table became a glorified conveyer belt and it was already moving before he asked his last-second question of, “Are you ready?”

As I rolled into the machine, heart beating double and anxious for the half hour I would be lying immovable, he sent me off with some last minute advice:

“Jennifer, you’re perfectly safe… just be still.”

Just be still.

I’ve been finding it quite hard these days to just be still. I find it easier to let my mind run wild with frustrations from the past and fears of the future. I want to know who and where and when and why. I don’t want to be still, I don’t want to wait – I just want answers.

And that’s where my plan to follow Jesus and remain in control begins to unravel. I learned that the MRI would only be successful if I listened to his last minute advice. The images could only be captured if I gave heed to the instruction of the odd technician and indeed laid still.

Knowing that my physical restlessness would directly affect the doctor’s ability to identify and diagnose the issue in my shoulder, I was motivated to get over the nerves and just be still.

As I slid into the massive machine, unable to do anything but lay and wait, I heard the same advice echo over the wonderings swirling in my mind: just be still. My restlessness directly affects my ability to hear my Shepherd’s voice and follow His lead.

And I’m as dumb as the dumbest sheep to ever be cared for by a faithful shepherd. I am quick to doubt, I am critical, and I am hesitant to believe truth. I am restless, feisty, and prideful. I choose myself over Jesus a lot.

But oh, to be still. To be led by still waters. To lie down in green pastures. To know my Shepherd’s voice so well that when He beckons me to uncharted territories, I follow without question. To be so confident in His heart that I don’t need answers, or details, or everything all at once. To know that I can trust Him. Oh, to be still.

“The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.”

Exodus 14:14

Standing before the Red Sea. Fleeing their captors. Entirely unsure of where they were going, only a hint at Who was leading them. And in the grandest moment of their exit from Egypt, at the height of their fear, Moses speaks with bold humility and proclaims a promise flowing straight from Yahweh’s heart:

The battle is mine. You are mine. Just be still.

Be still, be still, be still. You have a King who cares so delicately for your heart. He knows what is to come. He’s seen it, He’s preparing it, and He cares about it.

Stillness is antithesis of anxiety and the embodiment of confidence in God’s goodness. (It’s also the antithesis of my tendencies, which constantly shout “make yourself busy with “good” things and you won’t notice how much you forget Yahweh.”)

My only prayer for the MRI itself was clarity. I simply wanted to know whether or not there was a tear and what I would need to do to fix it.

Ironically, the MRI was as unclear as scientifically possible. They could see that there was no major tear, but further testing would be necessary to determine if there was a minor tear causing me trouble. The former is good news, no doubt. But the lack of certainty, potential need for further testing, and ultimately the inability to know for certain what action steps were necessary was exactly the point.

As I walked out of the doctor’s office that morning I heard Yahweh’s gentle voice:

“You can’t control this either, Gwen. You’ve just got to be still.”

Be still and know or be restless and forget.

Knowing that Yahweh is a good God can set you free from your need to control, to have it all together, and to make calculated decisions based on the things you can and cannot see. Remember, “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.”