If I were to chart my own course in life, there are a few qualities that I would prefer. Give me a path that is scenic, comfortable and not too difficult. I would prefer to get from one place to another quickly. Throw in some nice pitstops along the way, but keep me going. Let me go where I want to go. Let me get used to and appreciate routine. The journey would most likely consist of comfort and good things, but it would be a cross-less road. Being a follower of Jesus would be a meaningless title, for the god of comfort would be what I was truly following.
Fortunately, I am not the one who is charting the course of my life. There is one who cares more about my joy then my comfort. Not joy in some temporal sense, but a lasting joy that permeates the most difficult of circumstances. A joy that once it has suffered, shines even brighter. To avoid the suffering would be to miss out on a greater joy.
Suffering is a great furnace that burns off things that we have mistakenly attributed more meaning than we ought. It also is the means by which joy shines brighter because only faith in Jesus can withstand any degree of suffering. No amount of suffering can change what Jesus has accomplished. It cannot make the Gospel weaker, but rather proves its strength. Jesus is greater and the more we see him, the greater our joy. He has suffered in way that we will never have to and has overcome. That victory assures our hope through any trial we face. The greater the circumstance, the weaker we feel, the greater opportunity to experience the grace and strength of God.
In Psalm 136, the psalmist celebrates the unceasing love of God. The Creator, Provider, Conqueror and Rescuer is greatly to be praised. Some of these attributes are immediately praiseworthy at the time we perceive them. For instance, to desire something and receive it quickly leads to worship. However, there are those details that from a human perspective are harder to trace until time has passed. Like time lapse photography, we need a different process of determining change and movement. The psalmist proclaims on of those times in the following verse:
to him who led his people through the wilderness, for his steadfast love endures forever;
After the exodus from Egypt, God led his people through the difficulty of the wilderness. This became a forty year process. Why? Because he loved them. They short sightedly longed for the comforts of Egypt. Slavery was not simply a matter of being at the receiving end of a whip. There was a far more subtle slavery that involved enslavement to comforts and anything else other than God. Israel wanted to “keep up with the Jones’s” of Egypt. God did not simply want them to be free of Egypt, he wanted them to experience the treasure of himself. God loves us so much that he doesn’t simply give us what we want, but what we need. The wilderness was not the destination, it was the journey. It was the process by which God was using to reveal himself as being the only one who could satisfy. The only one who is worthy of our worship with no regrets. He was not simply leading a people, he was shaping and redeeming a people.
There is a great detail mentioned in this verse that we often miss out on in the “real time” of life. God was leading his people through the wilderness, not simply to it. The hope is ultimately not in the destination, but in the Person. The fear of the unknown is overcome when the leader is trusted. It is a reminder that we draw strength, not in our environment nor do we draw ultimate discouragement from our circumstance, but in the one who leads us. On this road, there is no use for cruise control. The twists and turns are deliberate. God’s nourishment for us doesn’t come through drive thru’s. Some portions of the road are slower than others. Learn from what you see in the rear view mirror, but your destination is not there. If you fear breaking down in the desert, take heart. The Gospel provides us all the power we need to get home. These truths have comforted this traveler lately and I pray it encourages you as well.