Detours: Unexpected Lessons from Life's Twists & Turns
Each time I travel to Cambodia for a visit it seems God has a theme up his sleeve for what He wants to teach me, and this trip has been no different.
Very quickly, the team and I discovered that our theme for the two weeks here center on life's "detours," or the unexpected twists and turns that unfold in life. There is so much to learn by reflecting on the surprising - and sometimes painful - moments that we have all had in life, and to realize and rest in the fact that these twists were not a surprise to the Lord. Not only were they not a surprise, but they were a part of His perfectly orchestrated plan for each of our lives, and often are the very experiences which usher us into the learning of a great lesson, or the achievement of a great joy that we otherwise would not have attained.
God has given each of us a perfectly imperfect and unique story, and our team has enjoyed sharing these stories with each other and celebrating God's perfect plan over the past two weeks. And as I have been working my way through the book of Exodus in my personal devotions, I found that God gives us a unique birds eye view of one of the Bible's greatest "detours." The story of the Israelites in general contain a plentiful amount of surprising plot twists, but the story of Moses specifically contains a unique perspective of God's omnipotence in the midst of Him doing a great work on behalf of His followers.
When we talk about God's will, I feel there are two different aspects that we receive:
- God's Ultimate Will: His ultimate destination or calling for our lives.
- God's Daily Will: The small, daily revelations which take us (often unexpectedly) where He wants us in the end.
Often in life, I think we feel that we receive one of the two of these. Personally, I feel that I do not know the final, ultimate goal and calling in my life, but rather the Lord seems to lead me step by step, season by season, giving me what I need to know for each day, and confirming that I am still in His will as I step forward in an attempt to be obedient.
Others, however, may feel that they stand on the other side. Some feel that they have been given a clear and specific calling on their life, yet do not know how they will achieve the calling. The test of their faith is to rely on the Lord each day, trusting that He will guide them by His strength rather than trusting in their own human wisdom.
A perfect example of this is Savorn Ou, the Cambodia Country Director for Asia's Hope. He has always stated His bold calling from the Lord: to rescue 1,000 vulnerable children in Cambodia. Though His journey in doing the Lord's work has shifted, changed and taken unexpected turns over the years, this clear conviction has remained the same.
What we find in Exodus though - which I feel is so unique - is that God outlines both His ultimate will for the Israelites, and many of the steps that they will have to take to get there.
Moses' "big call" comes in Exodus 3:9,
"So because the Israelites' cry for help has come to me, and I have also seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them, therefore, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh so that you may lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt."
Then, in verses 18b-22 we are given a kind of "play-by-play" of how this whole thing will go down,
"Then you, along with the elders of Israel, must go to the king of Egypt and say to him: The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Now please let us go on a three-day trip into the wilderness so that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.
However, I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go, even under force from a strong hand. But when I stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all my miracles that I will perform in it, after that, he will let you go. And I will give these people such favor with the Egyptians that when you go, you will not go empty-handed. Each woman will ask her neighbor and any woman staying in her house for silver and gold jewelry, and clothing, and you will put them on your sons and daughters. So you will plunder the Egyptians."
How awesome would it be in life if this is the way God approached us before something big was about to happen! Yet even with a clear call, and such a precise outline, we see that walking it out was still challenging for Moses!
Though God told Moses that Pharaoh would not immediately respond to his demand of letting the Israelites leave, Moses was still incredibly disheartened. After initially approaching Pharaoh, the Israelites were treated more harshly than before.
Have you ever attempted to be obedient to the Lord, and been met with seeming failure or disappointment? Often times we second guess if we heard God correctly or not.
Moses goes before the Lord in Exodus 5:22-23 and cries out,
"Lord, why have you caused trouble for this people? And why did you ever send me? Ever since I went in to Pharaoh to speak in your name he has caused trouble for this people, and you haven't rescued your people at all."
The Lord responded by restating the promises He had made to his people, but their spirits were so crushed by the increased labor that they could not even entertain the hope of it being true.
We all know what is coming next in this famous Bible story, but catch this before you let your mind drift to the happy ending: before this mighty work of the Lord began, God allowed His people to be brought LOW. And I mean really low. They were crushed, broken and defeated.
Why would God work in this way? And when have you felt like this before? I believe as we flip through the whole of Scripture we find that this progression is pretty common. Often before God delivers justice and restoration, it is preceded by intense discouragement and trial.
As my team and I reflected on the theme of "detours" in life on this trip, we all attested that this was true in our lives as well. We have all been brought low, but what happened next? Almost always a lesson was learned, or a change was made, that resulted in something better than we could have ever manufactured or expected.
God always works for the good of those who love him, yes, but even more importantly, God works to display His ultimate glory.
God has the power to solve our problems in a single word, but is that the best way to display His glory and the depth of His power? Would delivering the Israelites on day one have laid to rest the doubts of the Egyptians of who the true God really was?
As the plagues began, God repeatedly stated why He was choosing to work in the way that He was.
"By now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague, and you would have been obliterated from the earth. However, I have let you live for this purpose: to show you my power and to make my name known on the whole earth." Ex. 9:15-16
"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Go to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may do these miraculous signs of mine among them, and so that you may tell your son and grandson how severely I dealt with the Egyptians and performed miraculous signs among them, and you will know that I am the Lord.'" Ex. 10:1-2
"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Pharaoh will not listen to you, so that my wonders may be multiplied in the land of Egypt.'" Ex. 11:9
We see His purposes explained even in Romans 9:17,
"For the Scripture tells Pharaoh, I raised you up for this reason so that I may display my power in you and that by name may be proclaimed in the whole earth."
What hardship may have been raised up in your life in order that God's name may be proclaimed?
While circumstances around the Israelites must have felt overrun by chaos, God's level of control was unparalleled. Similarly, the valleys we have all walked through have not been on accident, and have likely played a huge role in bringing you where you are today.
And when considering the hardships that mark most of our stories, one must reflect on the children we are surrounded by here in Cambodia. Though their smiles now speak of hope and healing, one cannot help but wonder why their lives had to begin with intense hardship.
And though the answer to "why does God allow bad things to happen?" is incredibly complicated - and not at all the topic of this blog post - when considering the hardships we endure in life I cannot help but think of this parable in Luke 7:41,
"'A creditor had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more?' Simon answered, 'I suppose the one he forgave more.'"
Whether you feel you have been forgiven of sins too shameful to talk about, or rescued from circumstances too hopeless to climb out of, God's intervention in the midst of dark times in our lives speaks LOUDLY of his power and displays His glory for all to see.
I know personally that it has only been in the past two years of my life that I feel I have become acquainted to God in this way. Though He has been my ultimate Savior since I was 6 years old, only after walking through an intensely difficult detour in life did I realize that He was my daily Savior as well.
Maybe you read this and give a knowing smile as you reflect on the places God has walked you through, and you find yourself standing on the other side thankful that you have had the opportunity to see God's glory, power, and perfect authorship firsthand.
But maybe you are reading this and feel that you currently are walking through a dark time, an unexpected turn, or haven't found your way out of the clutches and repercussions of a difficult past.
I encourage you to stay the course. As humans, we will always seek the first exit ramp that presents itself to us in a difficult time, and this was no different for Moses! As the plagues progressed, Pharaoh offered partial solutions several time to Moses. Once he offered to allow only the men to leave. Once he offered to let everyone go, but insisted that their cattle remain.
I don't know about you, but I would be pretty tempting to jump at an opportunity to exit an intense hardship with only a small compromise! But Moses knew these options did not contain the fullness of what God had promised His people, and he was committed to waiting patiently as God brought to completion the work He had begun!
Let us not cheapen God's grace and glory by allowing our impatience to outweigh His promise! Stay the course and be amazed at how much His plan will exceed our expectations!