October 25, 2014.
Have you ever wondered why certain things were not going as well as you would like them too, even after you have prayed about it? Have you ever wondered why obstacles arise even when it seems like you are trying to do the will of God? Why something hasn’t happened yet? Or maybe you even know your calling in the kingdom, but the path that you are taking to get there has had a lot of bumps in the road. If you answered yes to any of those questions, let me assure you that you are not alone. It can seem very counter productive at first thought that doing the will of God, or even simply trying our best to walk in the Spirit, would have obstacles that it would seem God could easily take out of the way. Why doesn’t He?
Sure, we could quote verses like James 1:2-4 and show that trials and tribulations work to produce character in us and strengthen our faith, and that is absolutely true, but what I’m specifically addressing here are the obstacles that arise even when we are doing the right things and making the right decisions. I don’t mean to imply that we are looking for a life of ease, but rather we are asking why God seems to close doors on the path that He has set before us (“seems” being the key word here). There are two (I’m sure there are more) prime examples in the bible that fit this situation well, both leading to the ultimate completion of God’s will. Though they finished in His will being done, during the process it is not hard to imagine why the people involved might question what God is doing along the way. Let us begin in the Old Testament.
If you know anything about the Old Testament, you probably know the story of the Exodus from Egypt as this even is plays a pivotal role in both Jewish and Christian thought. The story begins as Jacob and his sons move to the land of Goshen in Egypt after Joseph, Jacob’s son, had become second in command under Pharaoh by the power and providence of God. From there, the children of Israel (Jacob’s new name) multiply through many generations up to a point where there is a new Pharaoh years later who did not know Joseph and what he had done for Egypt, but rather saw the Israelites as a threat. He made them slaves in the land and inflicted burdens upon them that were hard to bear. When the cry of the Israelites went up before the Lord, He rose up a leader that was to lead the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage and into the land that had been promised to Abraham’s descendants. Although it took some persuasion from God to get Moses on board, Moses finally took on the call and went before Pharaoh with the power of God to ask him to let the children of Israel go. God had given Moses three different miraculous signs to prove that he was sent from the Almighty. Things were looking up, as Moses was doing exactly what the Lord had told him to do. But then something unexpected happened.
“Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.” But the king of Egypt said to them, “Moses and Aaron, why do you take the people away from their work? Get back to your burdens.” And Pharaoh said, “Behold, the people of the land are now many, and you make them rest from their burdens!” The same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters of the people and their foremen, “You shall no longer give the people straw to make bricks, as in the past; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the number of bricks that they made in the past you shall impose on them, you shall by no means reduce it, for they are idle. Therefore they cry, ‘Let us go and offer sacrifice to our God.’ Let heavier work be laid on the men that they may labor at it and pay no regard to lying words.””
Moses goes to Pharaoh asking him to let the children of Israel take a leave to worship their God. I suppose he should have expected him to say no because God told Moses that Pharaoh would not let the children go easily. But what he didn’t expect was for Pharaoh to turn around and make the burden on the Israelites even harder. When the Israelites found out why they were being worked even harder than usual, they blamed Moses and Aaron and cried out against them. Moses was at a loss for words, so to speak. Here he was, doing what God had told him to do, and now even the people that he is supposed to be helping are against him. It is not too surprising then what he cries to God.
“Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.”
As a human race, we sure are good at passing the blame. From the first sin, Adam blamed Eve who then turned around and blamed the serpent. Here the people blamed Moses who basically blamed God for sending him, or at the very least he questioned the Almighty. I’m afraid we are not immune to this characteristic, especially when it comes to asking God why we are in certain situations or why He doesn’t seem to care about what is going on. Moses did not want to go to Pharaoh. He tried to make many excuses as to why he was inadequate to carry out the task that God had set before him, but God pressed on and Moses decided to obey. Then it doesn’t work! In fact, it seems the opposite of what was supposed to happen occurs. The people were not released, but rather their burden was made heavier, which made them dislike the notion of leaving in the first place. Now if he were to carry on, Moses would have to convince both Pharaoh and the people to leave. What was God doing?
Fortunately we have the blessing of retrospect. We know the full story and how God was going to work everything to His glory. But Moses did not have the full story at the time. He did not know that God was going to send the plagues and eventually completely bring the children of Israel out from Egyptian bondage without even a physical fight (though Pharaoh would try). All he knew was what was happening in the moment, and what was happening in the moment wasn’t good. I think this can easily apply to us today as we too only typically see things in the moment they are happening. We often can’t see why some doors are closed or why some things are doing the opposite of what they should to our overall plan, even when that plan is to live righteously. Though this can be rather difficult to accept, we need to remember that we, just like Moses, do not know the full story yet. In fact, the full story might surprise us. I don’t think that if you told Moses before he went back to Egypt about everything he was going to accomplish through the hand of the Lord that he would have believed you in the slightest. Moses went on to be a great leader, doing many great things that were unimaginable to him before he began. It is always hard to imagine the things you will accomplish through the Lord before they happen. We must keep this in mind as we press along.
Anther thing we need to remember when we are following along the path that we think is our calling is that God’s plan and man’s plan are not the same. The way God chooses to accomplish a certain work is not always the way we would choose to accomplish it. Again, this partially stems from us not knowing the overall picture whereas God does. The second story in the bible in which unexpected “bumps” in the path seem to be part of God’s plan is the story of Paul’s journey to Rome. Luke records in the book of Acts that Paul resolved in the spirit that he would go to Rome (Acts 19:21). Later, after a violent dissension involving Paul and some people who wanted to kill him, the Spirit told him not to fear because he must also testify in Rome:
“And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks. The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”
The pressure was off, right? Now Paul knew things would be smooth sailing (ironically) since the Spirit told him he was going to testify in Rome, right? This actually couldn’t have been more wrong. If you know the story, you know that Paul went through a series of trials, each of which found nothing that he had done wrong, and yet he was still held prisoner for one reason or another. When Paul appeals to Caesar, his wish is granted (though it would not be in a timely fashion). Finally, when he sets sail as a prisoner headed for Rome, there comes a massive storm and they are all involved in a massive shipwreck. Talk about bumps in the road (or waves in the sea…)! God had told Paul that he was to go to Rome, but He didn’t tell Paul how He was going to get him there. I don’t think any of us would have chosen this path if it were up to us. Yet this is how God decided to carry out His will, and through all of it He was glorified. Paul, while in prison, was able to minister to people in prison. While on the ship, he was able to glorify God by prophecy of the shipwreck, saving the lives of all on board through the hand of God. On the island where they were stranded for a while, the natives saw that Paul was from God as he glorified Him though miracles. When Paul got to Rome, the Jews in Rome had never heard about the charges against Paul and he was granted a semi-public life where he spent two full years welcoming people and proclaiming the gospel to all who would listen. In the end, the will of God was accomplished. But in the moment, Paul might have been confused about what God was doing.
Perhaps the reason that we are not granted the full story is because we would not choose to do the things that are set before us if we knew what was going to happen. Sure, we ultimately want to do the will of God and we want all things to work out for good (Rom. 8:28), and they will, but the path to get there may not be an easy path. Moses’ path was not easy. It was filled with set backs and trials. Paul’s path was likewise not easy, filled with persecution and imprisonment. Our paths will likely be fill with trials and things that seem to be working counter to the will of God, but in the end we know that all things will indeed work out for the good. Let us strive to remember this when we hit our lows, when we can’t see the light and when we think that all hope is lost. God is still present. He is still working on us. We must be patient and enduring, however hard it may be. The victory has been won, but they battles are still ongoing. Keep fighting, Christian solider, until we see the day of our Lord. Things will work out in the end. Let this be your mantra.
Suggested Daily Reading: Exodus 3-5, Acts 27-28.
Trust in the Lord.