A few years ago, I was making popcorn from scratch when I may or may not have forgotten about it. Suddenly, my kitchen engulfed in flames. Ok, yes, I’m slightly exaggerating, but you couldn’t miss the fire overtaking my stove. It was bright and hot. Quickly my problem-solving abilities kicked in. I flung three bags worth of flour at the flames to put it out then sat in a heaped mess on the floor. At that moment, I was thankful for the little bit of flour advice the fire-training-dude gave me several years prior when I said to him, “What do I do if my kitchen catches on fire?”.
Israel’s Wilderness Detour
The Lord went ahead of them. He guided them during the day with a pillar of cloud, and he provided light at night with a pillar of fire. This allowed them to travel by day or by night.’
Exodus 13:21 NLT
In Exodus, we read of the Israelites being led by God from Egypt, where they were captives, to ‘the promised land’: a place they could be free and call home. It was a journey which should have taken only 11 days, yet took them 40 years.
I have heard countless sermons about why on earth it took the Israelites 40 years instead of just over a week. The answer was often, ‘they were whingey, godless, ungrateful people with a negative mind-set’. Yet, Exodus blatantly points out a truth that makes me wonder if we’ve been a bit tough on those poor Israelites, keeping in mind we just read God was leading them to the promised land. It goes on to say:
‘… God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness…’
Exodus 13:17-18 NLT
Battle or Wilderness
Sometimes our life contains ‘wilderness’ experiences. We often blame the devil, as if he put them there, where in fact, I wonder if it was God who decided to lead us through the wilderness in favour of protecting us from something worse. For the Israelites, God faced a choice: Battle or wilderness. He chose wilderness.
A ‘wilderness’ is a place that can be lonely, depressing, full of waiting and difficult challenges. With the Israelites, God knew it would take longer and be harder, but He also knew the people could get through it. He wasn’t so convinced they could endure a battle. Note: God’s concern is always with us going forward, toward His promises, not backward toward an old way of life.
The reality is: God planned their journey—even the wilderness part. God plans our journey, even the pathways where we question if He knows what He’s doing. God has a purpose and a lesson for us to learn in it all.
So be encouraged. The wilderness, while uncomfortable, may be better than a battle. The fire, while hot, clarifies us. I guess I’m just pointing out the silver lining here. If you’re struggling with those low seasons, know that He’s still guiding you through. He’s always within you, ushering the way.