The Wilderness Way

“So God led the people around by the way of the wilderness by the Red Sea.”
Exodus 13:18

Blink and you miss it in that verse nestled right before the crossing of the Red Sea in the Exodus of the Israelites. Right there, God led them out into the wilderness. It’s where John the Baptist would be called from before birth. It’s where Christ would spend 40 days. It wasn’t new for Moses to be in the wilderness, it’s where he met God.

God was intentional in leading His chosen people out of bondage and directly into the wilderness. There was another route, a more direct one along a road. But they would have encountered the Egyptians’ fortification for defensive purposes there, done long before the Exodus. God knew this, and He knew the Israelites were not prepared for battle…yet.

He knows this about us too. Knowing that the route we see as easier and exactly what we would plan out for our escape from slavery and bondage within this world isn’t for us. That route has a battle on it that we just aren’t ready for, so He leads us out into the wilderness just like Moses and His chosen people.

A few verses later we see exactly what was in store for the people of Israel on the wilderness way:

“And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night.”

He led them out to safety, to security, as a safe place and trusting guidance on their journey. He would part the sea through Moses’ hand. He would provide a way of escape for them. This wilderness way would point directly to depending upon God fully in the journey, for provision, for light…for all of it. This wilderness way was so the Israelites would focus on Him, His Presence with them in the entirety of each step, each moment, each day. In everything.

How often do I even recognize His Presence with me in my own life? In my wilderness, do I see it as a way to be prepared by Him? To be led by Him? To fully acknowledge and depend fully upon His Presence with me in every moment? Do I stop to consider He goes before me, leading my way into and through the wilderness because that’s exactly what He wants for me, and knows this is the absolute best for me?

I have been wrestling with thoughts of “Is this it? Is this what the next 40 years will look like God?

And I wallow in it y’all. I find it pulls me into a darker existence, questioning circumstance, a future and not allowing any room for hope in the midst. At times it can be all-consuming, filling and overflowing within and out. Sometimes it is just a passing whisper of a moment.

But it is there.

In my mind, rolling about like a pinball that keeps banging off the bumpers, and never quite hitting the pocket to complete the round. Instead it gets bumped into prayer in a light hearted way, then stronger into a frustration and then a cry of desperation to God.

“IS THIS IT?!!?”

Then I read a small phrase, blinking or hurrying through reading would make me miss it. In fact I did until someone pointed it out. There it stands, maybe not mattering to you in Numbers 21:4, but hitting me so hard that I had to sit in it’s power almost breathless.

“But the people became impatient because of the journey.” (HCSB)

That’s it. The mic drop moment God had with me. Oof.

The Israelites had just come from battle, and the journey was growing longer as we all know if you’ve looked at Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy or went to Sunday School as a child. The journey was dragging on, and their impatience in it grew by the day.

Right there is where I see myself. Where I see the thoughts of “Is this what it’s like from now on?” I am the impatient one on the journey. He doesn’t want me focused on the next thing, the next goal or project or the bump in my career (or a completely new one). He wants me focused on His leading, just as He led them with a cloud through the wilderness.

There’s a covenant and a hope of eternity in the promised land, just as He did with the Israelites. But in this time, season, in the now? He desires none of that extra. He knows me better than myself, and that the extra tends to get made into idols that are worshiped rather than Him. Idols of work. Idols of distraction. Good things in and of themselves that I then fashion into false gods that sit on a throne that is only made for Him.

Just as it’s guaranteed that a journey will involved mountains, valleys, and plateaus there is also the guarantee of rest, or I simply wouldn’t continue. Just as they came to a rest after the battle at Mount Hor, time dwelling on our own desires for ourselves instead of resting in the Presence right before us allows for impatience to grow. It’s part of the journey to take a rest, to give time to re-energize before taking up your pack once more to journey. While we often have maps or trails that allow us to see the destination, the end point, I must realize and trust there’s an eternity on this path with Him. I already know the conclusion, as His promise is sealed. The means by which to get there-a relationship with Him, is the end as well.

While I grumble in the moment, asking “What now?! Is this it?” He’s saying “Am I not enough?” He wants this moment, this season, this life with Him, in His Presence more than anything else we could fathom. Because He wants us. He wants good for us. He wanted a relationship with us so badly He gave Christ for it. It’s for this time when I would choose Him above the doubt of the next thing, the impatience of a slower journey, or the unknown of time that is not my own.

I may utter words of prayer that ask “Is this what it looks like?” while He is continually responding, “Isn’t it worth spending with me?”


Continuing His Story

By now the presents have been unwrapped, some returned, others already discarded. The gleam and shine of Christmas is slowly dimming. The spirit of joy and peace having been replaced with frustration and strain for many.

And here I am, still sitting in the manger, adoring His story in history. But it’s not history, as we live it and breathe it in daily. We bring back this story of His embodiment of both God and man each year. I still marvel at the manger. I still sing with joy “For yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn.” Today is new, tomorrow will be too.

Yet once the calendar moves beyond December 25th, we pack away His story, the joy of His being with us and we go on about our moments, our days and our weeks until we find ourselves back here in the manger in December once more.

We get back to distraction, to resolutions and work that we allow to define us. We replace the journey of a star with the drudgery of another project or to-do list. We begin anew the things we said would not matter to us during this season. Why does this have to be but a season for us? Why does the marveling at the wonder of God with us, Immanuel, have to end because of a day on a calendar?

The last two days I have come to the story of the wise men. The magi who journeyed across hundreds of miles, after visiting Herod to see this Child, born a Messiah. The same star which heralded the birth to the shepherds, I believe cast a light for the magi to follow for weeks to get to Him. That even the stars could not contain their praise of Him. I love that by the way…

The wise men didn’t arrive the night of His birth, as we often depict in manger scenes. No, their path was long and I imagine often daunting. Yet that star rose before and went ahead of them, much like Christ would do for us. It rested over where He could be found, a newborn of humble beginnings that would be the Savior of us all. Three gifts were brought before Him, gifts many of us could name them long before we ever had a Sunday School lesson. But do we look closely at what they laid before Him?

Gold…to signify His royalty. This Child born of a virgin and laid in a feeding trough at birth.

Frankincense…sweet aromas to please Him. A newborn with new lungs in which to breathe.

Myrrh…annointing oil at death.  A Child recently born and just beginning life.

I look at the lives of the magi on that journey…following a brightness which heralded good news through what was a long trip over terrain unknown to them. Guided by something going before them, laying down gifts before Him and bowing before Him in worship, with their treasures laid before Him. Gifts that mean He is royalty, laying their crowns and wealth before Him. Bringing sweet aromas of praise before Him. Knowing they must die to have life in Him.

I see that I too am a magi, a shepherd, the manger. I am all parts of this story of His entry into our lives, and yet I choose to enjoy it only up until December 25th. May His story bear repeating, living and rejoicing in throughout the next 363 days of my life just as He calls us to do through His birth.

There and Then

I think God has a genuine sense of humor. I truly do.

This week I commented to my Graduate Assistant that I was feeling put together again, back in organizing mode and giving due attention to the things that needed it. It’s been a season of triage and rushing. As I made the statement, closing a binder to replace on the shelf, several binders fell from the shelf. Then I dropped my pen, which was open, and commenced to writing down the front of my dress. The topping on the cake was then getting hand sanitizer shooting up like a fountain onto my desk and papers. To which we both agreed that God just laughs at us when we make statements like that.

In the humor though is real love and attention to our lives. Last month, and for many before that, a focus shift occurred where I was looking ahead to the next thing. Which in and of itself is not a bad thing. Much like I talked about in a post last month, “by now” started to creep in. It went beyond marital status though. Soon I felt hurried and rushed to be addressing the next thing and not relishing the now.

“God laughs when we make plans” has been something I have seen throughout life, but never more have I seen it come true than in recent weeks and months. When we become preoccupied with the plans ahead we begin to regret and bypass the now. We speed through lists, through meetings, through people in order to get to next thing quickest.

I cannot help but be reminded of two of my favorite passages when I get too far ahead. They are so oft quoted that I wonder if they become cliche and fettered about only in times of suffering or trial. Whatever your usage of them, Jeremiah 29:11 and Isaiah 55:8,9 are reminders that we are living in the now based upon the plans and ways of a Creative and Thoughtful God. Yes we can plan, but we should not be so focused on the then that we never see the now.

Throughout Scripture He reminds us of stillness, of waiting, that we always have Him with us, and yet we cannot help but focus on future planning. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not a bad thing until it becomes the only thing we can focus on. Sometimes the journey towards that future is just a beautiful as what is awaiting you. In fact, the deeper I dig into my journey I am seeing that the end result is merely a by-product or side effect to the present I am choosing to live. It’s a life built on His love and sacrifice, but also overseen by His design.

If I am not trusting in that, I have a much graver future ahead. After all He journeys with me so why not enjoy the company I am in now, knowing the only guaranteed future is one spent eternally with Him anyways?

Are We There Yet?

From what I recall, and my family can correct me, I was never an “Are we there yet?!” kid when we traveled. I just didn’t mind the journey. Of course I was usually asleep or reading, until I got the Game Boy and then life changed forever.

Now though? I ask that alot.

Or rather I assume that far too often in my faith journey.

Whether it’s a a specific area God is having me address in my life or my entire spiritual walk. I find myself trudging along sometimes behind repetitively asking “Are we there yet God? I feel like we should be there by now. Seriously? How much further?!” I am the ubiquitous 15 year old in my faith. I am petulant, defiant, and constantly asking “But WHY?!?!?” to God when this journey seems to be taking so long.

Then I stop and consider the truth that spiritual maturity isn’t something I will fully complete this side of life. I must continue in my development, yes, but to complete this journey will take my entire life.

Many of the paths will be longer than the others, and often I will wonder if we are there yet…and that’s the interesting thing about this life. My timeline and God’s are drastically different. When I am in those moments of tiredness from the journey or frustration in the delay I have to remember one thing:

My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
” -Isaiah 55:8 (NLT)

Meaning the way He chooses for my journey to go, I cannot question when I have arrived. I have to trust His way is good, is right and is true. Sometimes though that makes me yell from the backseat “ARE WE THERE YET?!?!?!”

Chin Up, Buttercup.

For a while now I have walked with my chin down. Head lowered and focused on my feet.

Was it in reverence to God? No.

Was it because I am too clumsy for my own good? Not quite.

It wasn’t until Sunday afternoon that I realized just long I had been walking around with my chin down. Why was it difficult for me to look ahead instead of down? Because in the moment, I was dwelling on taking the next step. Just that next step. I had focused for far too long on the things I had done, or didn’t do. How I had screwed up or been blind to red flags.

It was like a splash of cold water on my face.

The realization that swept over me as I saw myself with my chin down.

Wordless Wednesday

In the blogging community of awesomeness that I am a member of, we have started a Wednesday posting called Wordless Wednesday. I thought I would join in today.The goal on this for me, is to share an image that reflects some of my thoughts right now. For those reading, it’s an opportunity for you to see what you want from the image, what you are needing to pull from it.

Photo property of Sara Stacy. Do not copy or use without permission.
Photo property of Sara Stacy. Do not copy or use without permission.

I took this photo and it has come to be one of the most endearing photos in my collection. I am glad I can share it with you all today on Wordless Wednesday. If you’d like to share, feel free to post in the comments below or on social media with #WordlessWednesdays in the photo.