At first we would always ask, “How far?” Wanting to mentally [and physically] prepare ourselves, we craved definition, specifics, beginning and end points.
In Africa, the answer was inevitably, “Not far. It’s just there. We go.”
We went. and went. and went some more. Turns out “just there” is more like “way far.” Farther than you’ve ever walked before in your life ever. It seemed like we always took the long way. the around way. the wandering way. the way of potholes and dirt paths and uphills. the way of turn left at the split tree and cross over the log-bridged stream. the way of you’ll know it when you see it.
eventually we stopped asking.
This latest season of life has found my spirit walking farther than I’ve ever walked before ever. And because I still crave those beginning and end points, I find myself again asking, “how far?” Because it feels like we are taking the long way around. I know the Lord has promised things that I’ve yet to see. I know that in the dry season the Lord quenches my thirst. I know there is a Canaan up ahead. But getting there is taking so much longer than I expected.
And I regularly find myself like the Israelites facing the Red Sea, torn between insurmountable obstacle up ahead and certain defeat approaching from behind, resorting to painting pictures of Egypt and bitterly asking the Lord if He delivered me from Egypt just to have me die in the desert. Dramatic, much?
So in my search to remember what’s true I’ve found myself camped out in Exodus 13:17.
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road [through the way of the wilderness] toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle.
though that was shorter. in my quest to discover “how far” I’m completely locked on these four words. God intentionally, on purpose avoided the road through Philistine country, the direct route, the road that would have fast tracked the Israelites to the promise of Canaan; he intentionally, on purpose delayed the fulfillment of promise and prophecy and he deliberately steered the Israelites around by desert road into the Red Sea. I fear that “how far” may be an entirely moot question to the God of Around.
But the God of Around is also the God who wastes nothing; not potholes and log bridges, not wilderness routes and Red Sea encounters, not shifting jobs and communities and seasons of life.
The God of Around knew that the Israelites were not yet ready to face the Philistines in battle. The stench of slavery was still on their calloused hands; their backs still bore scabs not yet turned to scars; their feet, though now unchained, were trained for small steps and the shorter route did not give them enough time to lengthen their stride and trade trowel for sword.
The God of Around led the Israelites through the way of the wilderness because he had matters to settle with his chosen people. He had laws to give. He had covenants to seal. He had deposits to make. And in the solitude of the wilderness, His Shekinah presence could dwell with his people–He could prove himself faithful and able. The difficulties of the wilderness were meant as a gentle training ground for the battle they would face to claim what was theirs.
“How far” isn’t the point. And the longer we camp at “though that was shorter”, the more we miss that the God of Around led his people. And his presence did not leave them.
Though the way feels long. Though we feel like we are wandering aimlessly. Though we would love to see a pillar of cloud by day or a pillar of fire by night, the God of Around is leading us. me. you. And when I take my eyes off “how far” for a moment, when I lift my eyes off the obstacles and to His glory, I find myself little concerned with how long it takes as long as his presence is leading me.
May I not mistake the preparation for the battle or the trowel for sword. And when I arrive at the edge of Canaan, may I be able to look back to see your faithfulness and look ahead to say, “I’m ready.”