Detours {A Meditation from Exodus}

Have you ever been redirected on a detour that seemed to lead to nowhere?  On a recent drive home to Los Angeles from Seattle, we exited the I-5 for gas only to discover that the connecting onramp was under construction.  Little orange signs that for all apparent purposes were taking us through every twist and turn this little Never-Heard-Of town possessed directed our return back to the freeway.  The GPS system in the car was freaking out.  The road-weary husband behind the wheel was, should I say, {visibly & audibly annoyed}.  Our quick stop for refueling had become a journey of its own through a wandering wilderness of confusion.

To me the detour felt like a metaphor for life.

Twists.  Turns.  Unknowns.  Wandering around.  Discombobulated.  Disoriented.  Off-balance.  All signs of a wilderness experience.

According to Merriam-Webster,

Wilderness::noun

1

a (1) : a tract or region uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings (2) : an area essentially undisturbed by human activity together with its naturally developed life community

b : an empty or pathless area or region

c : a part of a garden devoted to wild growth

2

obsolete : wild or uncultivated state

3

a : a confusing multitude or mass : an indefinitely great number or quantity

b : a bewildering situation

None of us enjoy being detoured into the wilderness, yet it’s an unavoidable lot.  There are seasons in life when nothing in life seems predictable or easy.  Instead, it is filled with uncertainty and the inevitable question, “why?”

As a person of faith, wilderness experiences can be doubly confusing.  “Why would God send me this way when He has said that He will direct my steps?”

So we journey along in the wilderness gathering weeds of abandonment, forsakenness, disillusionment, and fear.  Fear that we missed a sign.  Fear that this wilderness path will never lead back to the main road. 

Into this fear, God tells a story of encouragement. 

Now when Pharaoh had let the people go, God did not lead them by the way of the land of the Philistines, even though it was near; for God said, ‘The might change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.’  Hence God led the people around by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea.”  (Exodus 13:17-18)

The truth of the matter is that God appoints the wilderness for our protection.  Life in the wilderness is hard.  It requires resolve and resiliency.  The young at heart are matured in the wilderness by its tough demands and its uncompromising requirement to trust God beyond their understanding.   The near route may be the most direct route, but it does not mean it is the safest.  God knows there are times when we need some growing up, buffing up, and filling out before we will be ready for the giants we will face.  {If you remember, Goliath was a Philistine.}

Here is how I am encouraged by this:

  1. Detours can and should be thankfully welcomed.  They are not the end of the road, only a pause from the progressive journey.  These detours are sovereignly appointed and guided by God’s loving and all-wise purposes.  Ultimately, detours through the wilderness are preparation for times and purposes that we cannot know, but God does.  The children of Israel grumbled in the wilderness, but if only they could have seen the giants they had avoided they may have whistled a different tune.
  2. I can choose what I will gather in the wilderness.  There will be plenty of briar and bramble there to fill up my basket to over-flowing with bitterness and discontentment, if I so choose.  Yet the other option is to grow wise and strong and thankful on a path, that while uncultivated, is the ordained and appointed path to the promise land of my sanctification.
  3. The wilderness provides opportunity to focus on what God has done or what He is not doing.  It’s my choice.  By this time, the children of Israel had already seen God’s mighty hand at work–Moses was sent to them, nine plagues against the Egyptians, and a bounty of treasures given for them to take along.  Yet in the wilderness they forgot God’s mighty deeds.  They chose to focus on their own needs, rather than God’s greatness.  Pretty easy for us all to do.
  4. A wilderness experience is a wonderful litmus test to see if we’re really working off the same map as the Lord.  God is committed to the perfection of our salvation (Phil. 1:6).  He is committed to our knowing the power of Christ’s resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings (Phil. 3:10).  When the elements of the wilderness press in, I am forced to ask myself, “Am I too committed to these things?”    Oh how quickly the wilderness brings into focus the destination to which are hearts are devoted (Phil 3:20-21).

Are you in the wilderness?  Does your marriage seem frustrated?  Your children disappointing?  Your contribution unvalued or discarded?   Your friends absent?  Your sickness prevailing?   Your plans failing?  Are you confused?  Does tomorrow seem blinded by the pain of today?  Take heart.  Even in the wilderness God is near and He is at work.  

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