When life turns to chaos and our joy turns to sorrow, does it mean we are no longer in the centre of God’s will?
A few years ago, I moved from Christchurch to Auckland leaving my son, Daniel, behind. Although I hoped he was adequately prepared for adulthood, in reality there were significant life skills I had failed to teach him—including how to drive a car. During my final year in Christchurch, we were both busy students—relentless assignment deadlines meant we only ever managed a couple of driving lessons around the local school carpark before I left town.
Daniel required a driver’s licence for the practical component of his degree, so was forced to find someone else to teach him to drive. Eventually, he plucked up enough courage to ask his Salvation Army officer (minister) for lessons. This officer later confessed he hadn’t realised just how inexperienced Daniel was behind the wheel! Daniel’s spiritual leader risked both his life and vehicle to equip him with the skills he needed.
The Bible describes an Israelite leader named Moses, who also risked a great deal. From the day he was born, God was preparing him for the risky role of leading his nation out of slavery in Egypt. Rescued from the Nile River as a baby, Moses grew up in the Pharaoh’s royal household. As a young adult he ventured out of his privileged environment and was confronted with how badly the Egyptians were mistreating his people. Moses’ initial, very human response to the abuse was so intense he murdered the bloke he saw beating an Israelite.
Fearing for his life, Moses fled the country. Over the years, Moses grew in humility and maturity. Eventually, God caught his attention and revealed he had been chosen to approach Pharaoh with a very bold request: let the Israelites go on a three-day religious festival. Pharaoh was furious. Rather than grant the request, he increased the workload of the slaves. Beaten and bullied, their initial, very human response was to project blame onto Moses.
Moses was deeply wounded by this attack, but during his time in the wilderness had learnt how to process initial, very human responses. He now knew to take distress straight to God in prayer. God reassured his heart, before returning him to his mission of regularly pleading with Pharaoh. With each encounter, Moses announced a disaster that would happen if Pharaoh refused to let the slaves go to worship God. Pharaoh always refused, and God always delivered. Finally, God sent a disaster which killed all first-born Egyptian sons, and all their first-born cattle. Immediately, Pharaoh begged the Israelites to leave Egypt.
With every disaster, the Israelites observed God’s power and progressed from their initial, very human response, to faith. Moses could now lead their escape from Egypt to the Red Sea with God guiding as a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night.
So when God had them back-track and set up camp near the Red Sea, the nation did what they had done from the moment they escaped—they did exactly as God asked. They totally trusted God. Until they didn’t.
The minute the Egyptian Army was spotted hurtling towards them, they panicked. Trapped between the mighty Egyptian Army on one side, and the Red Sea on the other, they feared the worst and resorted to an initial, very human response. They lurched from faith to fear. They clothed their anxiety in anger and projected it onto Moses. How could life unravel when God had guided them so clearly? How could everything go wrong when they had followed God so faithfully? Hadn’t God led them there?
By the time I eventually returned to Christchurch, Daniel had acquired his Restricted Licence. So he got to drive me around town for the very first time. It was an uncomfortable ride. I wished he had been taught to slow down sooner as he approached intersections and corners. Mostly, I sat in silence with my feet pressed firmly against the floorboards, willing him to brake.
Until, one day, Daniel swung into his short, narrow driveway far too fast and I couldn’t help myself. The words ‘Brake! Brake!’ hissed through my lips, like steam from a piston. With resolute certainty, Daniel turned to me and quietly claimed, ‘Mum, I’ve got this’.
My fearful demand of Daniel reminded me of the Israelites trapped at the Red Sea. Like me, they desperately wanted their distress and fear to stop. The Bible records that the Israelites ‘were terrified and cried out to the Lord’. They accused Moses of sending them to their deaths. They even said that they would rather be slaves, than die in the desert!
Essentially they yelled at God, ‘Brake! Brake!’
Although life appeared to have gone horribly wrong, God offered reassurance through Moses: ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today ... The Lord will fight for you. You need only to be still,’ (Exodus 14:13, 14). God clearly stated, ‘I’ve got this.’
Yet, it did not look like God ‘had this’. They could see no way out of their predicament. Death seemed inevitable, and they projected their very human fear onto Moses.
This was at the very beginning of the Israelites’ 40 year journey from slavery to freedom. Although they oscillated between faith and fear during these years, at the stage of the journey between escaping from Egypt until they camped at the Red Sea, they had done everything right. They had actually followed God faithfully. Yet things still seemed to turn to custard.
However, God was indeed in control. Even though the Israelites lost their faith in God in this moment, God was actually doing something incredibly unexpected and miraculous: God brought the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire together. This plunged the Egyptians into total darkness, while the Israelites remained in the light. Next, God cleared a dry pathway through the Red Sea. Miraculously, the whole Israelite nation escaped to the other side. God declared again, ‘I’ve got this.’ Then, when the Egyptians pursued the Israelites into the Red Sea, the water flooded back into place drowning the entire Egyptian Army. God confirmed, ‘I’ve got this.’
When my faith journey gets tough, I often assume I’ve failed to be faithful, heard God incorrectly, or let God down. I equate feeling bad with no longer being in the centre of God’s will. The Israelites felt bad, even though they had not been bad. In fact, they were exactly where God wanted them.
This escape from Egypt helps me understand that even when we find ourselves in the midst of terrible circumstances, we may still be in the centre of God’s will. Though we might doubt God or the adequacy of our faith during tough times, the truth is, hardship can happen even when we are following God faithfully. Feeling bad does not necessarily mean we have been bad.
Like me, the Israelites reacted to hardship with fear and panic, which they covered with anger—and then projected as blame onto God or others. They remind us our initial response is just that—an initial, very human response. Initial responses are often less than ideal! Yet God offers reassurance rather than rebuke. Even as we yell, ‘Brake! Brake!’ God invites us to move from fear to faith; from blame to belief.
My son is actually an excellent driver! The more I travel with him the more I trust his skills! Similarly, with God, the more we journey through our initial, very human responses to faith, the more we grow in our confidence that God’s got this.
by Sue Hay (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 25 August 2018, p20 - You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.