I have often found myself wondering why God had me where I was. I often feel like God is taking me the long way around, and feeling that way if often frustrating.
And I think that this is a feeling that's not isolated to me. The places that we are headed might be different, but the feeling that we're not going there in the fastest way is the same. Maybe it's a physical move that keeps getting delayed, maybe it's something you have been praying for that has yet to come, maybe it's a change that you are wanting to see. There are as many different places to go as there are people to get there. And if it were up to me, I would want to take the shortest route between where I am and where I want to go. And I have to assume that you want the same.
But more often than not God takes us the long way. Why..?
In Exodus 13 we see the story of God leading His people out of Egypt. He has just acted in a mighty way to see His people releases from the strongest empire on the planet at the time, but on the way out something strange happens. God tells Moses that He is going to take His people the long way. (v17) And He tells Moses the reason why.
The shortest route would take the people of Israel through the land of the Philistines. And God knew that to do so at this time would bring His people into harm and despair. By taking them the long way He was actually saving them from something that they didn't even know was there. And I have to wonder how often this has been the case for me. How many times have I complained to God for not putting me on the express train to my destination not knowing that what He was doing was for my good.
And this shows, more than anything, how much I struggle to trust that God is working for my good. It's something that's easy to do when it seems like we're moving quickly, and things are going our way. But when it seems like the season we're in is lasting too long, or this route that God has placed us on is not the quickest we can often grow anxious. Though we would never word it this way, what we're doing is saying that we would be a much better god than God is. We are saying that we should be the sovereign of our selves. And we only say this, if we dare be honest, because we think that God isn't doing a good job at it.
Back to the Exodus story, we see something else that happened on the long way 'round. It's this route that takes the people of God to camp with their backs up to the Red Sea. Had they gone the quickest route then one of the most amazing displays of God's power in redemptive history would have been lost.
God was not only taking His people the long way for their good, but for ours as well. Who among us hasn't marveled at the power God displayed to part a sea and have His people walk through on dry land. Who among us hasn't seen the parallel of the Exodus from Egypt and our own exodus from our past lives of sin and shame. In taking His people the long way around He was showing them, and us, just how big He is. He took them to the Red Sea just so that He could split it open. And when we begin to see how big He really is, it becomes easier to trust Him. Or at least it becomes easier for a little while, as we see if we keep reading through Exodus.
The last thing that we can see when reading why God took His people the long way is that this would lead to God getting the most glory. If you read through the next chapter you can see that God hardened the heart of pharaoh once again to the point that he set out with an army to re-capture the people os Israel. And when he does God utterly destroys him, drowning him in the Red Sea.
None of these things necessarily make being taken the long way easy. But when we allow the truth of these things to seep down into our hearts we can begin to trust what God is doing. We may not know why we have been taken one way or another. We may never know what evil God is saving us from or how He'll show up and show out in our lives down the road. But we can trust that He is doing something.
If you are like me you can think that perhaps it would be easier if God would come down and lead us like He did back then, cloud by day and fire by night. Then it would be easy to follow Him no matter what's going on. For us who walk through our day without a cloud to follow it may seem easier to doubt what the hand of God is doing. But as one of my heroes, Charles Spurgeon once said, "God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart."
So trust His heart no matter what path He has you on. Because even if you had a cloud to follow you'd wander off and find something to complain about. I know this because those who had the cloud and fiery pillar did just that. And we have the Holy Spirit within us, which is better than anything the children of Israel could have even imagined.