The Scenic Route

How does God speak to you? There are lots of ways God speaks. He sometimes speaks audibly but not usually. More often, God speaks through a person or reveals things to us in His Word. Sometimes God speaks through dreams and visions. Other times, it’s just a “still small voice” in your spirit that you know you know is God. One way God speaks to me is by highlighting a verse or several verses lots of times, through lots of different ways in a short period of time. Let me explain. There is a verse in Exodus 13 that just keeps coming up in my life, it’s an obscure verse. Not one you would likely see on a Facebook image or on a coffee mug.

I read the verse in the Bible a few months ago and it stood out to me, I’ve read Exodus many times but this time this one verse just caught my attention. I saw it differently than before. A few days later I heard it on the radio, then I was talking to a friend on the phone and she quoted the verse as one that was challenging her, I got an email devotional the other day and guess what verse was the topic of the devo? It was the exact verse in Exodus. I’ve been thinking about, praying about and studying that verse because I’ve learned that when God shows you something over and over, it’s wise to pay attention. Let me share with you what I’ve been learning.

The book of Exodus is the story of the Israelites escape from slavery in Egypt. The Israelites were God’s chosen people in the Old Testament and He had promised them that He would give them a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. The Israelites were living in Egypt but became too numerous and powerful. Pharaoh started to worry they would take over in power. So in Exodus 1:6-11 it says,

In time, Joseph and all of his brothers died, ending that entire generation. But their descendants, the Israelites, had many children and grandchildren. In fact, they multiplied so greatly that they became extremely powerful and filled the land.

Remember, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery because they were jealous. Joseph ended up in Egypt but had God’s favor and eventually became a great leader in Egypt.

Eventually, a new king came to power in Egypt who knew nothing about Joseph or what he had done. He said to his people, “Look, the people of Israel now outnumber us and are stronger than we are. 10 We must make a plan to keep them from growing even more. If we don’t, and if war breaks out, they will join our enemies and fight against us. Then they will escape from the country.”

11 So the Egyptians made the Israelites their slaves.

So now, the Israelites are slaves and God appoints Moses to lead them. God promises the people through Moses that they would be free and have this Promised Land. Pharaoh wasn’t willing to free the Israelites so God shows his power to the Egyptians by sending the plagues until Pharaoh finally lets the people go. Freedom is something the Israelites had been praying and waiting for. This was the answer to all of their prayers! And, this my friends, is where we find the obscure little verse that God keeps bringing me back to. In Exodus 13:17 it says,

17 When Pharaoh finally let the people go, 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 had freed the Israelites from slavery and was very intentionally leading them to the land He had promised them but very intentionally took them the scenic route.

Do you ever feel like God is taking you the scenic route to something He promised? Like He’s asking you to wait? There are lots of promises in the Bible and God has a path mapped out for each of us to get there. Our maps look different and take us to different promises is different orders.

Sometimes we feel that God is setting us aside. Everyone else has what we want and it’s not fair. In reality, God is setting us aside for the very specific purpose he has for us! That doesn’t mean our prayers will never be answered, it just means He’s set us aside and has something special in mind when the timing is right. It might mean that our future looks different than what we have in mind but be assured, God’s plan is better than any you could have for yourself! Did you know that wait is in the KJV Bible 160 times! That’s a lot of waiting. It reminds me that I’m not the only one God asks to wait.

Why did God take the Israelites the long way around? Why does God sometimes take us the long way around when we pray? Why do we talk to friends and hear that they are living in the promises we so long for? Why do we look at Facebook and Instagram just to see picture after picture of people receiving the very things we’ve prayed for in our own lives, the dreams we have deep down in our hearts? Maybe a husband or wife, a baby, a house to call your own, a good job, a promotion, a vacation away from everything to just refresh, healing for you or someone you love. Maybe it’s an area where you see others serving in ministry and you just don’t know why God is opening doors for other people and not for you.

Why do we have to wait? This is a question I had been asking God about a few of the situations I just listed. God, my life doesn’t look like I thought it would by this point. It’s not necessarily bad, I have lots of wonderful things and people in my life. I really try to live my life to the fullest. They say that when interviewing people who are at the end of their lives, almost all of them regret things they didn’t do but few regret things they did. I love to travel, try new things, serve others and make friends. There are lots of good things in my life. But, it doesn’t matter how many good things we have, at some point we must face the unmet expectations that have been set by ourselves and by others. At some point, I think we all look at the promises in the Bible and question why ours haven’t been fulfilled. It’s Biblical to want to be married, to want kids, to ask for healing, to desire to provide for yourself and your family. What do we do when it feels like God is taking us the long way around?

As I prayed about that very question, God used this little, obscure verse to bring some light and clarity. Isn’t it so cool that we can pray and study God’s Word to provide guidance and answers to very real questions we have today? I just love that! Let’s look at a piece of the Israelites story and see what lessons we can learn from their waiting.

Lesson 1: Don’t settle for comfortable

Let’s look at verse 17 again and read a little further:

 17 When Pharaoh finally let the people go, 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.” 18 So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle.

The Israelites were ready to fight but God knew what was ahead of them. He knew the battles they were going to face and He knew that if He allowed them to fight the battles before they gained wisdom and experience, they would retreat and end up back in the bondage they had prayed so hard to escape from.

It’s easy to retreat to what’s comfortable and familiar, even if what’s comfortable and familiar is bad for you. Maybe God has some wisdom to impart to you before you gain the promise you’ve been waiting so long for.

Kids often want things just because they want them, sometimes parents give in and give their kids things because it’s easier to give them the candy, or whatever else, then listen to them whine. That’s not how God works, He has a high tolerance for listening to us whine. He knows what’s best and doesn’t just give us what we want because it’s easier. God wants us to continually grow and mature, He knows that if we are given exactly what we want when we want it, we are likely to fall back to what’s comfortable. Human nature’s comfort zone is to sin, God wants so much more for us!

The Israelites had to win many battles to make it to the promise land. The journey to their promise was by no means a walk in the park. God knew when they were ready to fight each battle, He knew the precise order in which events needed to happen. To the Israelites,  it may have seemed like they were aimlessly wondering in frustration but to God, they were right where they needed to be.

We can’t settle for what’s comfortable! Pray that God would keep you moving forward, even if it’s forward on your scenic route. Don’t let the devil tempt you to go back to something God has delivered you from just because it’s easy. Seek God, listen, and keep moving forward!

Lesson 2: Don’t stop because it’s hard

God promises lots of things in the Bible but most all of them require something on our part. God not only lead the Israelites the long way around, He leads them right to a seemingly impossible situation where they needed to not only have faith but step in and do their part. The first wilderness challenge we read about in scripture is the parting of the Red Sea. The Red Sea needed to be parted because Pharaoh realized the Israelite had escaped and then had second thoughts about freeing all of these slaves. He gathered a large army and went to get them back! In Chapter 14, verse 10 it says:

10 As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the Lord, 11 and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt? 12 Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’”

13 But Moses told the people, “Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Egyptians you see today will never be seen again. 14 The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” 15 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the people to get moving! 16 Pick up your staff and raise your hand over the sea. Divide the water so the Israelites can walk through the middle of the sea on dry ground.

God basically tells Moses, stop talking and start doing! Tell the people to get moving! God gives the Israelites a challenge to grow their faith, the first one of the scenic route. We know this challenge was an easier one than the challenges they would have faced on the most direct route and yet their first response to something hard was wanting to retreat to slavery, back to their bondage.

Don’t stop because your situation is hard. Just like the Israelites, God is fighting for you. If the Israelites would have continued their pity party and ignored what God was telling them to do, they would have been killed. We can’t stop, we must continue to listen to God and follow Him. Most of us are good at talking to God and telling Him what we want and need but sometimes we talk and talk and we miss the direction God is giving us. Make sure you keep moving! Don’t stop just because it’s hard.

Lesson 3: Don’t doubt God because you don’t understand

19 Then the angel of God, who had been leading the people of Israel, moved to the rear of the camp.

Notice, God was with Israel through it all! He didn’t send them on the scenic route and then take a vacation, God was with them!

The pillar of cloud also moved from the front and stood behind them. 20 The cloud settled between the Egyptian and Israelite camps. As darkness fell, the cloud turned to fire, lighting up the night. But the Egyptians and Israelites did not approach each other all night.

21 Then Moses raised his hand over the sea, and the Lord opened up a path through the water with a strong east wind. The wind blew all that night, turning the seabed into dry land. 22 So the people of Israel walked through the middle of the sea on dry ground, with walls of water on each side!

Just imagine what was going through the minds of the Israelites that night. The Egyptians were camped pretty close to the Israelites, I bet there was a lot of lost sleep that night. The east wind blew hard enough to part an ocean all night long! The Israelites may have thought it was the end. They had an ocean on one side and their enemies on the other, camping out in a tornado. What God was asking didn’t make sense but was necessary for increasing the faith of the Israelites. The situation may have seemed hopeless to them but every trial they were facing was necessary for the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea to happen. Every trial they were facing was necessary to grow their faith and wisdom in preparation for the future battles they would face on the way to the Promised Land.

I like to think of it like a dot to dot. You know, the numbered dots you connected when you were a kid. There’s a lot of dots that look like they are randomly placed on the page. Sometimes you connect a dot to another dot that doesn’t make sense to you. It usually takes a good amount of dots before you know what you’re drawing. Sometimes it’s hard to find the next dot and sometimes it would be easier if you didn’t have to follow the numbers. But, if you’re patient and follow the dots in order, no matter what way they lead, the picture at the end is beautiful and makes sense. I think life is a lot like dot to dot. Sometimes the dots in our life are confusing and seem to be randomly placed. They don’t look like our friend’s dots, sometimes it’s frustrating because we don’t know what’s next and sometimes it’s frustrating because we feel like we’re not moving forward. Sometimes we want to just connect the dots our own way because it’s easier. If we follow God and keep moving one dot at a time, one day we will be able to look back and see the beautiful story that God is writing in each of our lives. They are all different, all serve a different purpose but are all beautiful lives that God has created for a specific purpose.

The Israelites thought that their dot to dot was coming to an end but In the morning, the Egyptians chased the Israelites into the middle of the Red Sea on dry land. To Israel, this probably seemed hopeless. But God stepped in, He confused the Egyptian army, twisted their chariot wheels and made the promised escape for the Israelites. He allowed Israel to escape and crashed the waters over the Egyptians. Verse 31 says,

31 When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the Lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

The trial was successful, it increased the faith of the people. They put their faith in God.

Conclusion:

Sometimes our scenic route isn’t so scenic, sometimes it’s annoying and frustrating. Sometimes we want to give up, and sometimes we want to turn back to what we know is comfortable. If we view our scenic route as an annoyance we’re going to miss the lessons God wants to teach us and we’re going to be trapped in the bondage of sin. We live in a fallen world and sometimes it stinks but Jesus has made a way. Not only a way to Heaven but He’s made a way for us to live a life full of the promises He’s given us! It’s not always easy and it takes work on our part but friends, it’s so worth it! Moses encouraged the Israelites with these words, let’s allow the same words to encourage us today: Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the Lord rescue you today. The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.

Sully is the piolet who landed the commercial airplane on the Hudson a few years back. I recently read his biography and one quote stuck out.  He said he received a fortune cookie once that said, “A delay is always better than a disaster.” He kept that fortune because it related so well to his job as a piolet. He never got upset when the plane was delayed because of the delay, however long, was better than flying a malfunctioning plane. That fortune may be applicable to a piolet but it’s also so applicable to our lives.

God may be saving you from who knows what disaster that you cannot see. God created us and knows everything past, present and future. What we perceive as a delay is on purpose, it’s not a mistake. To God, it’s not a delay, it’s just part of the plan He’s had for you from the beginning. A plane mechanic might accidentally call for the plane to be delayed, he might make a mistake, he might be extra cautious and cause people to wait. That’s not God! When God delays your flight, it’s because He knows what’s ahead, He knows what you don’t know. Be encouraged today and enjoy your scenic route!

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