Following the cloud and pillar of fire.

November 4, 2014.

“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.”
(Exodus 40:34-38)

i apologize for posting so late today. I have a really busy week with two tests, one that I took yesterday and one that I will take on Thursday, so I have been at UAMS all day in class, lab and a study group. Do you ever hit those points in your life where everything just seems to be happening and you get to where you aren’t looking at the big picture any more but only trying to get through everything one (or two or three) thing(s) at a time? I’m sure you do, as I’m sure this happens to just about everyone. Honestly, that’s how I like it (on some level at least), else I wouldn’t continue to pile on extra things to do. But the problem that comes with this situation is that we don’t get a chance too often to stop and think about the true big picture.

When we are busy, our spirituality tends to be put on the back burner. It is not put there consciously, for I don’t think any one of us who are spiritual thinks “I need to prioritize things in my life right now to get everything done when it should, so God is just going to have to go down on the list.” We don’t mean to push our spirituality to the side, it kind of just happens. This is not a excuse for pushing the one aspect of our lives that should always be at the forefront, but rather just an observation. This happens a lot to me with my prayer life. I just forget to pray. Granted, I’m not the best “pray-er,” so to speak, in the first place, but I have worked on it in the past and gotten better. But when things start to pile up and I’m just running from place to place, things just tend to be lost in the meantime.

When we are too busy for God, I think it is a fair statement to say that we are no longer allowing Him to guide our lives, or to lead us where He wants us to go. We have taken the wheel and are feverishly working to get to where we want to go. We might say a prayer for help, strength or comfort from time to time, but not one that specifically asks Him to guide us or one asking where He wants us to go. We tend to not take the time to step back before a major decision and ask “what does God want me to do in this situation?” Again, I don’t think this is our intent, but rather something that just happens.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Exodus from Egypt when the children of Israel when out from Pharaoh when God sent the plagues is the way they traveled. God was tangibly with them as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. I can only imagine how it would have felt to witness such glory and to tangibly feel the presence of God with you, leading you where He would. In the passage above, we see how the Israelites choose to move. When God moved, they move. When God stayed, they stayed. They followed the cloud and pillar of fire, never deviating from the path that God laid out for them. Sure, they had some bumps in the road as we have seen over the past week or so, but they still followed the cloud when God was present.

I think the obvious lesson from this story is that God should be leading our life. We should be following the cloud each day, only moving when God wants us too. The hard thing about this for us today is that we don’t really have the tangible presence of the Almighty to physically see when to move. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be allowing God to guide our lives. So how do we go about looking to God to lead instead of taking charge ourselves and pushing God to the side?

I think the first thing that we need to do is to take a moment from our busy schedule and focus on the true big picture. I’m not talking about your five or ten year plan, but the overall plan. Why are we here, ultimately? In the end, what is going to matter? What are we really working towards? I think most Christians would answer these questions simply and directly, without much thought even, but putting the answers into practice is a different story.

I think I’ve asked this before, but what would you really do if you had the tangible, physical evidence, a direct interaction with the Almighty, so that you knew that all of this was for real? Answer that question honestly, even though the answer might have deeper implications. These implications might just be true, unfortunately. As people of faith, we should have this assurance that this whole Christianity thing is real, without any doubt. But would our lives be different? How much stress would be involved in work or school when something didn’t go right? When life threw everything at us at once, how much would we worry? These are not questions that we like, or at least I don’t like them. But the reason that I don’t like them is because of the implications they draw.

I believe Paul had broken through to this like of thinking. Granted, Paul really did have a tangible experience with the Lord on the road to Damascus. Perhaps that’s why he could pen the words of encouragement to the Philippians:

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
(Philippians 4:10-13)

Paul knew what this life was about, and he knew what he was striving for. He knew what would matter in the end, and because of this knowledge, he could truly be content in any situation that he found himself in on this earth. He could do all things through Christ. Is this concept not from Christ Himself?

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
(Matthew 6:31-33)

The first step: look at the big picture. The trials in this world will not even come close to comparison to the glory beyond (ref. Rom. 8:18). Don’t sweat the small things in life, and really, most everything is the small things. Focus on what matters. Your soul, and the souls around you.

Secondly, we need to pause and allow God to take the lead. When we get busy, we forget to ask God what He wants us to do as opposed to what we want to do. I guess I can’t speak for everyone here, but I can speak for myself. This is where prayer needs to be incorporated heavily into our lives. I will be the first to admit that I struggle with this. And then sometimes I pray, but then just go and do what I was going to do anyway. We need to pray, and then listen for the answer. The answer can come through different ways, and I really can’t give you the specifics on how God will communicate with you, but you do need to be looking, perhaps not for a physical direct answer, but an answer nonetheless.

The hard thing comes when what God wants us to do isn’t necessarily what we want to do. I’m sure some of the Israelites wanted to move when the cloud didn’t move, or want to rest when the cloud moved. But they didn’t, because that was not the plan of God. In the same way, our will needs to be aligned with His will. I remember when I was applying for graduate schools, there was one school that I really wanted to get into. I prayed, and I prayed hard that I would be accepted. I had other people pray. I even prayed that it would be His will that I got into that school. But it wasn’t His will, and I didn’t get in. There was a second school that I would have chosen without thinking twice had I been accepted. I guess God had to be pretty blunt with me because I really wasn’t asking Him where He wanted me to go, but rather telling Him where I wanted to go. And He said no, via application decisions. And so I am in Arkansas, as God made it a pretty clear that this is where I should go. I’m not exactly sure why yet, but I will likely find out in the future.

The children of Israel weren’t really told much besides they were going to be brought out of the land of Egypt and into the promised land. They weren’t given many more details than that, and then they had some problems that would keep the first generation from seeing the promised land even. But they moved with the cloud. We too must follow the cloud, wherever He will lead us.

Take a moment to step back. Understand the big picture. Pray. And then move with the cloud. May the Lord lead you into His will.

Suggested Daily Reading: Exodus 40, Matthew 5-7.

Follow the Pillar of fire who is our God.

-Walter

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