War, What is it Good For… if You Run?

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.”  But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.  – Exodus 13:17-18

If they face war, they might return to Egypt.  You might be tempted to think something like this:  Why would a mighty God lead people around difficulty… especially when most of the Bible is filled with God taking people straight through the middle of difficulty and providing them a way to make it through?  (Much like He had just done by leading them out of Egypt).  In other words, doesn’t this approach seem weak?  Doesn’t it feel timid?  Doesn’t it sound un-God-like?

God can lead the 300 to defeat the hundred thousand. (Judges 7)

He can bring down walls and deliver cities to those marching in circles. (Joshua 6)

He can bring down a giant with a sling shot toting boy. (I Samuel 17)

So why would God fail when the Israelites saw war? I’m glad you asked. God would not have. They would not have fought. They would not have stood their ground. They would not have prayed and trusted God.

They would have fled. Ran. Tucked their collective tails and scurried away. This is easily identified as their M.O. Miracle after miracle they consistently complained when things didn’t go their way, often blaming God for their freedom while claiming oppression, prison, and slavery would have been better.

God, being the intelligent Creator that He is, knew exactly what their response to war would have been.  They would have gotten completely out of Dodge.  Promptly.

The bottom line is that God won’t use people that aren’t willing to be put into usable situations.  You can’t start a prison ministry if you aren’t willing to step through that barred gate.  You can’t go on an overseas mission trip if you won’t walk on a plane.  You can’t witness miracles if you aren’t in over your head trusting God and following His commands.  And you certainly can’t defeat an enemy while running in the opposite direction.

It’s not really that God can’t… it’s more that He won’t.  God loves us so much that His plan fully includes us.  We are a part of the plan… we are the plan.  It’s operation ‘rescue people’.  And He was willing to let His Son go in order to pull it off.  We have a part too.  We have to accept.  We have to listen.  We must obey.

In Matthew 15:21-28 a woman confronts Jesus and He turns her away.  While there is likely a bigger story here, she still played her part.  She reasoned with Him and pleaded with Him.  And He changed His answer allowing her daughter to be healed.  The opposite happened in Matthew 14:22-33 when Peter walked on water.  He played his part and stood with Jesus on the waves in the storm.  But when he was distracted, he began to sink, losing the favor His Savior had previously given him.

I’ll stop with those and just claim there are a plethora of stories where Jesus acted in response of us.  Humans.  People.  Even in the old testament when man talked directly with God they would reason and ask Him to reconsider.  He did.  Moses got his brother Aaron on the payroll of the Egyptian exodus after arguing his inexperience to God.  Abraham convinces God to spare Sodom if only 10 righteous are found in it.  Lot convinced the angels to allow him to flee to a small town after they commanded he run to the mountains.

The point is… we have something God gave us.  A choice.  We can accept His commands.  We can speak with Him and lift our concerns to Him.  Or, we can simply deny Him.  The Egyptians made a habit of ignoring God.  And He knew it.  Still loving them in spite of their disobedience, He gave in to their contempt and took them the long way around, knowing all too well that if he blessed them with the shortcut, they would have bolted before looking to see if God was still with them… or even bothering to recall the countless situations He had already delivered them from.

God can, if you can.  He doesn’t require us, but history shows He won’t empower us if we aren’t willing and trusting.  If we won’t equip the full armor of God, you can safely bet He isn’t going to be toppling armies before us.  David beat Goliath because he was willing to sling the stone.  The walls of Jericho fell because the horns blew after the march was complete.  When commands are followed, miracles are witnessed.  When obedience is observed, God provides.

I have tried eating triple cheeseburgers and praying for weight-loss.  It just doesn’t work that way.  God gave me the ability to make my own choices.  If I can’t give my own life some effort, why should He?  When I stop yelling “Supersize!” at every drive through window I pass, God becomes more attentive.  When I start exercising and tossing out late night snacks, I feel burdens lifted.  God cares.  And He works in our lives.

He does not need us to do anything and we cannot earn anything from God.  But we still have our work to do anyway.  Most often, that work is bending a knee.  Sometimes its bending an ear and following instructions.  But the ones that had the best relationship with God… the ones who favored the most through trying times and impending danger… they were the ones who dropped everything and lived in a constant relationship with Jesus Christ.  Listening, sacrificing, following, obeying.

God didn’t strike down the enemies of the Egyptians in this passage because they wouldn’t lift up the sword.  They complained about the conditions of their freedom, they complained about the travel, they complained about the food, they blamed God and Moses for every inconvenience.  Their alternative was slavery, torture, and most likely an early death.  Yet they just expected to live posh lives while God delivered every nicety unto them.

What we often forget is that the story of the Egyptians isn’t just a lineage narrative.  It’s a parallel to what God has also done for us.  We are facing an eternal life of unimaginable negativity.  (grossly understated, of course)  And Jesus has delivered us from that as well.  But while on our journey, we will face the enemy along the way.  Just like the Egyptians, we can either run, endure more, and fully risk losing our path… or we can fight with God on our side.  Better put, we can fight on God’s side.

I can’t help but wonder why God isn’t more active in my life.  And then I remember the Israelites and I can plainly see when I’ve chosen to pick up the sword and where I’ve simply complained to God while doing nothing.  How embarrassing when I find out God is leading me the long way around.  It shows my lack of faith, my unwillingness to obey, my fear, and my inability to see the concrete past where God has kept His promises and provided.  It’s not a testament to what God can’t do… its about what I didn’t do.  Its a mirror image of my failure and a reminder that life is easier in the trenches with God than it is on the outskirts without Him.

 


 

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Prayer-archy of Needs

I’ve taken the liberty of adding some fun clip art to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  His pyramid explains how we tend to our most basic needs first.  Only once we consistently accomplish or attain those needs do we venture up the pyramid.  Essentially, you probably aren’t worried about your cousin’s wedding if you are starving to death and you won’t likely have aspirations for winning the Nobel Prize or quarterbacking for the NFL if your life is consistently in danger.

That is a bit of a rough paraphrase, but should suffice for those not familiar with his work.  As Christian’s we tend to approach God with the same dissection of status.  If our needs are being met, we may very well be more casual and pray shorter less heartfelt prayers.

Try saying these out loud or in your head if you aren’t alone.  Say them the way you would in a real conversation with God as though they just happened to you.

“I just stumped my toe!”

“I just buried my best friend”.

Same emotion?  Similar tone and timbre?  No inflection changes of any kind?  I sure hope not.  Would anyone dare classify these two types of pain as equal?  I fully understand how epic a good toe stump can feel, but it’s short lived and non essential duration can’t compare on any level, scale, or index.

For some of us… most of us at times… we pray based on our experiences.  When life is good, we pray good, happy prayers.  We may pray in the car on the way to work.  We may pray lying in bed tonight.  When things get tough, we may phone a friend.  We may involve the church.

As issues grow in severity, so do our prayers.  And when life comes crashing down on us and utter desperation is taunting us, we grovel at the feet of our Savior.

The goal here is to think about how we pray.  If we want our friend healed of cancer, does God get one tenth of our attention while our car barrels down the freeway at 70+ MPH?  Is it wrong to pray in the car?  I wouldn’t say so.  Not all the time.  But there is a bigger issue.

If we aren’t careful, our circumstances can begin to dictate our prayer life.  And there is one thing that never changes.  No matter what happens, how big, or in what form… Jesus will have always died on the cross for us.  His sacrifice does not toss in the wind of possible life moments.

Every day, at every moment, during all emotions, God sent His Son.  And that deserves worn knees, moist eyes, and heads on the ground.  There is a reason so many testimonies begin at rock bottom.  That tends to be when we are most able to listen to God.  He doesn’t change His tone, but we begin to listen better when there is simply nothing else.

This is a reminder to think about how you pray.  How long, how often, how sincere, etc.  But more than that… it’s a reminder for those living in that top section of life’s pyramid.  Every single section comes with a Savior that bled for us… in our place.   We ALWAYS have a reason to be thankful deep down in our shaken core.  No matter how good or how bad life gets, the cross isn’t going anywhere… it’s mission is complete.  What is your response?

A Desert Full of Sand

Trying to ‘Find’ God is like making a trek through the desert in search of sand.  You just need to fall to your knees to find it.

The footprints we leave aren’t a way back and they aren’t meant as a path to us.  They are our best example of the Savior so that others can do the same.  We step and imprint intentionally.  Wisdom and experience are used to impress upon the earth what we know to be true.

The remaining footprints are meant to be used for God’s glory and then covered up and cleared away so that God receives the praise and not us.  When we walk correctly, we are like a tool.  When the refrigerator is working, no one thanks the screwdriver.  No one worships the hammer.  It’s always about the meal inside prepared for us.  Our marks are fleeting.  A single breeze can render our life’s work undone and gone forever.  It matters much that while we are here, others can see our steps… rightly placed… in remembrance of our King.

The enemy will lie and tempt us with mirages.  These are to distract us from our true goal.  If we can avoid the traps, we will find real living water.  Cold.  Refreshing.  Plentiful.  Thirst quenching.  Eternal.

Finding God isn’t much of a journey.  It’s not about miles or books or exercises.  It’s about our hearts.  Do we believe?  Do we accept His gifts?  Do we accept His calling?  Do we accept the cost?  He isn’t hiding.  He isn’t running.  He isn’t waiting for you to crack a riddle.  He is waiting for you to open your life to Him.

He is waiting for that final sandstorm, where all steps are wiped away and only his boy, Jesus, can vouch for who gets to drink.  Many people are dying of thirst.  Are we leading them to the water that surrounds and fills their lives?

 

 

Photo by Billy Pasco on Unsplash