illogical, inefficient, but incredibly sovereign

The journey God has each of us on does not always make sense logistically. His plan does not typically seem like the most efficient way to get us from point A to point B, but for some reason, it’s the right way.

Two years ago, Eric and I began to pray and fast and seek God’s voice on a major decision: whether or not to join staff with Cru, a college ministry organization. Not only would this mean a job change, but it would also entail raising support for all of our expenses. It meant a major lifestyle change, from the 8-5 world to the more fluid world of a college student’s schedule. A change from the world of work’s measurable success in goals completed and numbers achieved to the world of all results of life change and Gospel acceptance being in God’s hands and not necessarily related to the hours put in each week.

So for five months we prayed and asked the Lord if this was where He was leading us, if we were supposed to turn off our current path of marketplace jobs and follow a new trail through the woods. And, very clearly, He told us to take this new course for our lives.

I quit my job. Eric worked 50+ hours each week in his marketing position, then came home to work his second job of raising support with me. We spent our evenings in meetings with various people, traveled out of town some, and prayed a lot. We continually found ourselves taking steps of faith and trusting God with the results. And He was continually faithful, in one way or another. Sometimes financially as relating to support. Sometimes financially as relating to our now decreased income. Sometimes relationally as restoring old friendships and providing new ones. Always spiritually as His presence daily being our sufficiency.

Yet the story doesn’t end with both of us being on staff with Cru. It took an unexpected turn when we felt like we needed to step away from that path to stop raising full support, allowing me to start on campus not-quite-full-time with Cru but Eric to stay at his corporate job.

Why didn’t God tell us that in the first place? Why did we walk through so many sacrifices and stressful days and dreams to end up somewhere other than where we originally saw God taking us?

I feel like the Israelites had to be asking themselves similar questions in Exodus 1, as Pharaoh begins to oppress them and force them into slavery in Egypt. But to really understand their story – and mine, and maybe even your own – allow me to briefly recap their story and how they ended up in Egypt.

Scene One: God’s covenant with Abram, specifically the promise that He will give Abram’s descendants a land of their own

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3, ESV)

Scene Two: God specifically tells Abram what land He will give them

On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” (Genesis 15:18-21, ESV)

Scene Three: Jacob, Abram’s grandson, was living in Canaan, the future Promised Land, with his family – but it was not theirs yet. Joseph is sold by his brothers into slavery and taken to Egypt.

Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan… Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt. (Genesis 37:1, 26-28, ESV)

Scene Four: Joseph forgives his brothers for what they did to him and invites them to come live in Egypt, under his care, so that they may not be wiped out by the famine

So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ ” (Genesis 45:4-11, ESV)

Egypt became God’s source of provision for His people, a means of survival in the midst of a famine. Living in Goshen was a result of His sovereign hand. He led (through Joseph’s rise to a powerful position), and they followed.

Yet what once was a place of blessing was now a place of persecution. 

Now there arose a new king over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens. They built for Pharaoh store cities, Pithom and Raamses. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel. So they ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves and made their lives bitter with hard service, in mortar and brick, and in all kinds of work in the field. In all their work they ruthlessly made them work as slaves. (Exodus 1:8-14, ESV)

I often assume that Egypt was a place of disobedience, and slavery must have been a consequence to something or another. The mention of Egypt often relates to the concept of “sin” in the Bible, and Israel was often in bondage as a result of not trusting God. But their distance from the Promised Land here wasn’t a result of them not following God. God had planned for them to go to Egypt. He blessed that move out of Canaan during Joseph’s season of power. Yet it wasn’t where they were supposed to stay. They were still destined to possess the land of Canaan, and God must wanted them to desire to move on to where He has promised them.

Now, geographically, this doesn’t quite make sense. (These maps were not drawn by me…)

Notice, Jericho and the entrance to the Promised Land looks to be just north of Hebron. Yet God brought his people west to Egypt for a season before taking them southeast and north to return to the land He had chosen for them.

God’s provision for us on the journey to Cru was not necessarily to take us to the destination we believed we were traveling towards. We are still walking through this journey, so I don’t know that I have all of the answers yet, but I can see ways that God used that season for our good. It challenged us in our view of God and what He was capable of. It challenged me in my identity and my willingness to release it all to God for His purposes, not my security. It brought new friendships and deeper conversations with others, which we are still enjoying today. We saw prayers answered in the ways we hoped and in ways we didn’t expect. God was so present during that time, but it wasn’t where we were meant to stay – at least not at this time.

God’s provision in your location right now (literally or metaphorically) is not necessarily your destination. It could be, but more often than not, we find ourselves getting comfortable and settling in just as God is planning a new transition. Our decisions up to that point haven’t necessarily been wrong – I don’t think we were wrong to take a step of faith, join staff with Cru, and start raising support – but it can very easily become wrong when our security and our identity is wrapped up in a self-confidence in our trail instead of a God-confidence no matter what new paths He asks us to follow.

Maybe you will be forced to move out of your situation because of a change in circumstances. Israel no longer found Egypt a place of refuge; it became a place of bondage. Or maybe it will simply be a heart conviction, telling you it’s time to move on.

But in the midst of the pain that eventually seems to come, no matter how great a change is, God is in it. I love how it is expressed at the end of Exodus 2: “And God heard their groaning, and God remember his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel –– and God knew.” (Exodus 2:24-25, ESV)

God sees you, no matter where you are on your journey, and He knows. He is sovereign over our journey and faithful to care for us, even when our rest turns to ruthless oppression, or our provision turns to pressure to make a change. God sees, and God knows.

In case you want to make this more personal for you…

  • Where in your life have you seen a similar story – what seemed like God changing the plans He originally had, or where His provision seemed to turn sour? {key word: seemed}
  • What part of the journey are you on right now?
  • How can you make a habit of taking a perspective above your current circumstances to examine what God could be doing, even if things don’t logistically make sense?
  • What truth about God do you need to cling to as you continue on your current path? What Scripture passage clearly states this?
  • What securities do you need to surrender to allow Him to be your one sufficiency?

accepting the wilderness

Have you ever wished that, if God wasn’t planning to remove you from a trial anytime soon, that He would at least tell you how long it was going to last?

I used to ask that when I was single. Lord, I am okay with not having a boyfriend right now, but can you just give me a hint of when I will meet him so that I can be content now?

Or when I was miserable in my job but couldn’t find another job. Father, please just give me some sort of “finish line” so that I can make it through all of this.

Or even now, while raising support, I find myself making this request. I just need to know when we will make it to the other side.

Living in a time-bound world, we want to know how to plan and what to expect. We think that if we can just understand God’s time frame, we will be able to endure where we are now. You can convince yourself when running a marathon or riding in a bike race to “keep going – just x-number more miles!” and you get to see your progress as the miles fall behind you.

But as Eric and I were talking about desiring to know more of how much longer the road ahead is, I heard a still small voice prompt me to research the Israelites.

Side note: God knows how much the Old Testament speaks to my heart – especially the Genesis through Judges portion. I am a wandering Israelite, but for some reason I can’t see my own sin until I point it out in those fickle people, and the Holy Spirit convicts me to turn and point to myself just the same way Nathan the prophet told David a story then said, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7)

So as I am processing timing and wishing I at least knew what to expect for this season, I turned back and looked at Numbers 14, when the Israelites rebelled and refused to enter Canaan due to the report from the spies.

And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? … I have pardoned according to {Moses’ plea for forgiveness of the people}. But truly, as I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord, none of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it. (Numbers 14: 11, 20-23)

I can’t say that they didn’t deserve this.  For the love.

Yet I can’t be quick to judge, since my heart fears and doubts with the best (or worst?) of them. And can you imagine being told that you were going to have travelled all this way only to die in the desert, just like you were dramatically complaining about a few verses earlier?

Then imagine being their children. Those under 20 years old were not held responsible and knew they would get to see the Promised Land. However, God also explained that their journey would continue until all of the older generation had passed – and He wasn’t going to send a plague or something to accomplish that. There would be a punishment for their disobedience.

But as for you, your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness. And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure. (Numbers 14:32-34)

The Israelites were told in the beginning how long they would wander. The adults had to walk through the wilderness daily, knowing that they really weren’t going anywhere. Knowing that they wouldn’t arrive at the destination, and knowing that it could take up to forty years of aimlessly traveling, depending on when they died. Forty years of kids probably asking, “Are we there yet?” and being reminded that you would never get there.

Then imagine being one of the children in the generation who was still going to get to experience the fulfillment of this age-old promise. They knew they would get there eventually. But they also knew that it wouldn’t be for a long time. Even the oldest – the nineteen year olds – would be almost sixty before they arrived at their destination.

We still see rebellions and complaining and doubts throughout their journey, even though they know how much longer it is going to be. They are unhappy with the day they are living, even with the ability to count down the days until things are different. That finish line doesn’t help because they are still unhappy with the present.

So maybe knowing God’s timing isn’t the solution to surviving a tough season. Knowing the details of God’s plan won’t provide contentment in your current situation. It might even make it harder to live in the present, knowing exactly what awaits you.

I want to change the desire of my heart. Instead of desiring what’s a few miles down the road, I want to rest in the walk the Lord has for me today. To not “wrestle, just nestle” (a la Corrie Ten Boom). To claim the name for myself “Acceptance-with-Joy” (reference this blog post I wrote sophomore year of college, then read Hinds’ Feet on High Places because it’s the best).

I’m not sure I know exactly what that looks like, though. It’s going to take some work on my heart, I think, and eyes to see the gift of today.

Do you have any advice for how to live with joy in the present? What are you seeking to “accept with joy”? 

the way God uses red seas, pharaohs, and even high school formals

most people seem to have some sort of story from high school that stands out in their mind as a low point. whether there was drama, or your most embarrassing moment, or extreme disappointment, things seemed to be the “end of the world” in high school.

i thought i had reached the lowest point of my life during my senior year of high school. 

since i attended a fairly conservative christian school, we did not have school dances but rather formal banquets each year. this involved everything a prom does – fancy dresses, hair up-dos, corsages, limos, and dates – just swap the dance for the dinner. people started planning for this january event in september, since it was the only event of the year where people brought dates and therefore a big deal.

as a senior in high school, i had been going to the banquet since seventh grade, but had never had a date. my close friends told me that they were sure i would have a date for senior year, since a lot of people in our class were going together even just as friends, but they were wrong. i was still date-less.

determined to make the most of it, i invested in what is today still one of my favorite dresses i have ever worn (other than my wedding dress, that is). one of my friends did my hair, and i showed up to the banquet driving my ford bronco (which high school me thought was pretty sweet, even if it was somewhat difficult to get in and out of with heels on). of course, when i walked in, i realized that all of the tables seated even-numbers of people (aka couples), so most of the tables with my friends at them were already full. i ended up sitting next to my high school crush and his date (definitely not ideal) and having to get my own drink instead of having a date bring it to me.

just for fun – we were the four "originals" of our class, having been at CCS since preschool
{just for fun}
we were the four “originals” of our class, having been at CCS since preschool

after the event, most people were going out to a fancier restaurant to get dessert before going to a student-organized dance (let the record show that it was not school-sponsored). i watched my friends all hop into a limo the boys had rented. their parents had shown up to take pictures of them getting in, since it was a surprise, and i stood with them. of course it was raining, and of course i didn’t have an umbrella, so i shouted to them that i would meet them at the restaurant then ran to my car.

however, i felt so left-out and lonely that i couldn’t bring myself to endure any more of being the only one without a date. so i just drove home. i kicked off my heels, put on pajamas, and cried while watching beauty and the beast. none of my friends even called to ask where i was and why i hadn’t shown up.

that was the low point of my life at the time. and i didn’t understand why God couldn’t have changed things for me. did He even care about 18-year old girls and high school?

looking back,  i am grateful for my years of singleness. i am even grateful for the way high school played out.

God used it to protect and prepare me for my relationship with eric. it changed the way i viewed relationships and changed what i expected in a significant other. loneliness deepened my personal walk with the Lord. it even provided me with a platform to relate to some of my girls through camp ministry and college ministry.

God was intentional in the way He wove that part of my life together. i couldn’t see it at the time, though.

i can laugh about it now, especially since i would have a pretty easy life if that is the hardest thing i ever have to go through.

but i didn’t see the full picture, though high school sure felt like it was the only thing that would matter at the time.

the israelites were the same way, except change the long dresses and limos into sweat and brick-making. 

moses came into egypt probably on the same kind of high you experience after summer camp or a college ministry conference. he had just experienced God through a burning bush, and he was ready to bring his people out of slavery. the people believed what God was going to do, and they were on moses’ side (exodus 4:31). however, after moses visited pharaoh and pharaoh refused his request, pharaoh significantly increased the workload on the israelites, who in turn got mad at moses.

Then Moses turned to the Lord and said, “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever sent 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. (Exodus 5:22-23, emphasis mine)

neither he nor the israelites saw the full picture.

God spoke to moses and told him the end result (exodus 6:6-8), but He did not explain the “how” or the “when.”

it’s scary to not be able to see the next steps. we can know and even believe the promises in Scripture that God is with us, He will never forsake us, He works all things together for good, He will carry out to completion the good work He began in you, etc. etc.  but without knowing the “how” or the “when” – without understanding what He is up to – it can seem like He has forgotten us or He has made a mistake.

God did the same thing right after the israelites were released from egypt.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall encamp facing it, by the sea. For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, ‘They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” And they did so. (14:1-4)

do you see how intentional that was? God told them to camp right in front of the red sea. where He knew they would be boxed in by the wilderness and the sea when the egyptians came pursuing them. He even told them why – that it was for His glory – but when the israelites saw the egyptians pursuing them, they freaked out.

They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? (14:11)

and i can’t tell you how often i have the same reaction with the Lord when i don’t understand.

but the israelites didn’t see the full picture. and neither can we.

the Lord prompted me to make a list reflecting times in my life where things haven’t gone my way or it hasn’t made sense, then to look at it from the perspective i have now. whether it is silly issues (such as high school formals) or serious issues (such as the path i took after graduating from college that didn’t seem like where i wanted to go), God was at work. He was intentional in each of those circumstances, showing me that i can trust Him with the full picture. 

obedience precedes understanding, and that can be difficult to embrace in the moment, but after recognizing ways God has shown up, i can take courage in moving forward, trusting that He will do the same.

or at least, i should. i have a feeling i will be like the israelites and continually question what God is doing. but He isn’t done with me yet, and i know He will be patient and continue to work this trust-thing out in me.

you should make a list, too. remind yourself that God knows the full picture and we just see a little sliver of the now.

journey through exodus {1}

In the Bible study I lead, we are going through the book of Exodus together. I chose to study this for multiple reasons:

  1. I think the Old Testament is wonderful, and so many people know so little about it.
  2. I see myself in the Israelite nation. A lot. And as convicting as this is, it also means that I see grace in action and a beautiful picture of the Gospel played out.
  3. I wanted to study the Word, not just read it, and I want to instill in my girls a desire to do that as well.

I am taking the “inductive” approach to studying the Bible: observation, interpretation, application. And, honestly, I rarely follow through with this method. But, as I have started this, I am keeping myself accountable to do it, and it has been really neat over the past few days to see what I have learned and what I have discovered from other sources.

In Exodus 1, I think one of the neatest things is seeing the Lord’s provision, even as the Israelite nation is just forming. This is where it all began: God gave Jacob the name “Israel,” and he had twelve sons. Those twelve sons formed the twelve tribes of Israel, and I knew all of this prior to reading Exodus 1, but it hit me that, before Jacob, the Patriarchs and their families weren’t “Israelites.” NOW is when they first became Israelites.

You can see the Lord’s provision starting in verses six and seven:

Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.

Joseph was their “in” into this foreign land. He had earned the Pharaoh’s favor, and thereby secured Goshen for his family. Once Joseph died, though, and his brothers along with him, a new king arose “who did not know Joseph” (8). God gave the Israelites security in their numbers, as the Egyptians began to fear them. And God continued to take care of them; even when the Pharaoh tried to kill off the baby boys, God protected them by allowing the Israelites to multiply even more.

In the midst of adversity, we don’t always see the Lord’s provision. We just see the way things are hard, and we think that God has abandoned us. However, God’s hand of protection was over the Israelites even in the midst of slavery, and His hand of protection is over us, even in the midst of our trials.