When things get rough and disorienting, the predictability of the past starts looking pretty good.
I had recently quit my job because of chronic illness, and within a week, my husband found out his company was closing down. For months, I’d been struggling to get reimbursed for a bill that I had been overcharged on by a significant sum of money. Obviously, that money would have been really helpful with us both out of work. My health issues were escalating, and it seemed as if, at every turn, I encountered obstacle after obstacle, trial after trial, pain upon pain.
I found myself beginning to question whether God really is who He says He is, wondering whether He was really going to provide and come through, as He had for so many others as written in the pages of the Bible. Maybe I was allowing sin in my life and therefore He couldn’t hear my prayers. Maybe He had already sent the answer and I just hadn’t recognized it. Maybe my small (in comparison) problems were too petty for Him to waste His time on.
Or maybe, like Moses and the Israelites, I had lessons to learn that I couldn’t possibly see while still in the midst of my questions and confusion.
Moses had grown up, watching the Israelites and seeing their hard labor in slavery to Egypt. He felt their pain and had compassion for them. So did God:
The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
And so God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and out of slavery:
The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey…. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
Quite a calling! But Moses was obedient. It took a long time (possibly 20 years), but the Pharaoh of Egypt finally let the Israelites, who had been enslaved by the Egyptians for over 400 years, go. They set out with Moses, trudging across the desert, dreaming of the freedom that was finally theirs. The freedom they were searching for was not only freedom from slavery, but also freedom to truly worship their God, the God of the Israelites.
Their positive thoughts didn’t last long, though. After only a month and a half of traveling, the Israelites started to complain:
If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.
After only a month and a half in the desert, they were already complaining to the point of wishing they were dead! And as the Israelites continued to move toward the Promised Land, they kept looking back to Egypt with longing, wishing they had never left. The Israelites knew what Egypt had to offer them. They knew that if they went back to Egypt, they would once again be enslaved, but at least that was familiar, predictable, and even strangely comfortable in comparison to the unknown they were facing in the desert. Was God really carrying them to the Promised Land?
One day, as I was listening to some music by CCM artist Sara Groves, the lyrics of this song really struck me.
I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt,
leaving out what it lacked
The future seems so hard
and I want to go back
How often I have found myself in this position, looking back longingly at things I’ve left behind. How quick I am at times to forget all God has done for me, and how He delivered me from slavery — slavery to sin.
How had I so quickly descended from celebration for all God had done and for where He has promised to lead me into moaning and groaning about what it was taking to get there? God had heard my cry and delivered me from slavery — not just to my sinful nature, but also to various addictions and behaviors to which I had once been enslaved. But then gradually, as things didn’t seem to go my way and God wasn’t working according to my plan and my timing, I started looking back to my old ways, my old idols and ways of thinking.
Thankfully, I’d come too far to go back to most of those things, but it didn’t stop me from meditating on and even romanticizing them.
Just as God had to continually remind the Israelites of what He’d done for them and what He was going to do for them, I need to continually remind myself of the truth of who He is. I need to remind myself that my circumstances, or at least how I see things with my limited perspective, don’t define God’s character; His Word does.
Author David Kyle Foster implores us, “Make a conscious effort, that when things go wrong, to assume the best about God rather than the worst.” When I was struggling with so many questions about God, I remember saying, “God, You could fix this if You really wanted to — so why aren’t You?” God wasn’t coming through for me as quickly as I wanted Him to.
The truth of the matter is that God is not a vending machine. Often we view God this way, as if we should be able to put in our token prayer or request, and in a timely manner an answer should show up on our doorstep. Sometimes it does happen that quickly and to our satisfaction. And some of the time, the answer we get from God is silence. Instead of riding in like a knight in shining armor, He tells us to keep on asking, and asks us to wait in expectation for His answer. Other times, we’re so focused on receiving a specific answer that when the answer comes in a different manner than what we’re expecting we miss God’s response completely.
The Israelites had God with them day and night, yet they didn’t see Him for the Rescuer that He is. And so they looked back to Egypt, showing that their hearts were really still there.
The past is so tangible; I know it by heart
Familiar things are never easy to discard
I was dying for some freedom but now I hesitate to go
Caught between the promise and the things I know
The past is so predictable, the patterns so easy to fall back into. I was recently talking with a friend who was sharing how she’s so used to walking through one pain and trial after another that she’s afraid to be happy. Often when we grow up in the midst of chaos, the feelings that chaos brings are so much more comfortable than the feelings that accompany security, peace and joy. As I’ve looked back over my past, I’ve realized that at times I was actually causing chaos in my life through the choices I made because the pain that came with chaos was familiar; with chaos, I knew what to expect. Peace and joy were uncharted and frightening territory.
So as I began to really want something different for my life, as I started to truly desire to leave the chaos behind, I had to become comfortable with happiness and be careful not to purposely cause any more chaos in my life.
It’s not about losing faith
It’s not about trust
It’s all about comfortable
When you move so much
The place I was wasn’t perfect
But I had found a way to live
It wasn’t milk or honey
But then neither is this
Maybe that’s what was happening with the Israelites. It’s easy for us to look at them and judge them: “If I had God showing up in a cloud and a pillar of fire to guide me, I sure wouldn’t doubt Him like they did.” But can you really say that? All they had known was slavery, and over 400 years of it. Maybe in the beginning, the Israelites passed down stories of a heroic God who would soon come and save the day, but I imagine as the decades, even centuries, went by — if those stories were even being passed to the new generations at all — they probably seemed more like mythical legends than solid truth. Maybe in the desert, the Israelites were hesitantly waiting for God to prove to them that He really was going to come through.
During this trying time in my life — my job gone, health issues escalating, and so on — I had fallen into the very trap that the Israelites fell into. I was looking back longingly at my old life. I even found myself questioning whether my life was really any better since I had come to know God.
In that moment, I had lost sight of all the miracles He had done in my life — how He had delivered me from same-sex attraction and an eating disorder, how He had helped me overcome a struggle with self-injury, how, most of the time, I had a peace and a joy like I had never known before. I couldn’t see any of those things. All I could see, in that moment, were my current circumstances. All I knew was that it felt like God was not coming through.
Thankfully, I didn’t stay in that moment. As I began to come to the other side of my pain, confusion and frustration, I was able to put aside how I felt and see the reality of my situation and how God really was at work; how He was continuing to rescue me from the trials I was going through.
I now have things in place in my life — journals, e-mails, letters, etc. — things that when I encounter a new trial and question God’s character, I can look back at these things and easily see God’s provision.
We need that. We need to continually remind ourselves of how God has come through for us in the past — that He has always been faithful, and He will continue to be faithful. Like Joshua and the Israelites, having crossed the Jordan River, set up 12 stones as a reminder of God’s faithfulness to them, we too need our own “memorial stones”: reminders of who God is and how He always comes through — in His timing and His way, but always.
Copyright 2008 Brenna Kate Simonds. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Brenna Kate Simonds, her husband, their son and their cocker spaniel reside in Boston. Brenna Kate is a songwriter/worship leader at her church and director of Alive in Christ, an Exodus Member Ministry. She enjoys running, cooking, blogging and spending time with family.