A few days ago, my husband had a dentist appointment in the next town. The usual route takes us over a busy railway bridge. However, some huge roadworks had shut the road, so we were diverted. The whole area was just about gridlocked as a result, so we were trying to find another way through, but I think the whole town was being dug up, as we hit diversion after diversion. Why do you get into these situations when you are tight for time???
Road works were not so much the problem for the Israelites on the way out of Egypt (Exodus 13:20-22), but there was a serious lack of signposts. Ever feel like that? In a desert situation, with no sense of direction, and every way looks pretty hostile? How do you make a decision in that sort of situation?
For the Israelites, God showed the way. He himself went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud by day, and fire by night. Not only was cloud clearly visible against a bright blue sky, it would also have offered some shelter against the glaring desert sun. The fire would have shone out brightly against the night sky, giving some warmth too in the bitter cold of the desert nights. Giving them direction and protection, he never left them once, and enabled them to keep going, whatever time of day or night, increasing the distance between them and Egypt as fast as they could possibly travel. God was truly with them.
“Emmanuel,” we sing at Christmas, “God with us.” I love that. But it gets even better. At Pentecost, Jesus sent Holy Spirit, not just to be with us, but to be in us. God within us. Our guide inside. And the more we practise listening to his still, small voice in the ordinary events and decisions of everyday life, the more we will be able to discern and follow his guidance when the decisions are more difficult and far-reaching.
When we have a direction problem, I think we can trust that he will guide us, and the decision we make will be our response to his gentle steering. When things don’t seem to work out right, it is easy to draw the conclusion that we heard wrong, made a bad decision, screwed up. But you know, God doesn’t always guide in a straight A to B. For the Israelites, it was not the direct route, but the way they needed. Often he takes us by the ‘scenic’ route because there are lessons we need to pick up on the way. And just because we haven’t ‘arrived’ yet at the thing he called us to, oh, ages ago, doesn’t mean we never will. We were a bit late arriving at the dentist, but we’d phoned, and they were happy to fit us in when we could get there. In spite of the diversions, the appointment took place just the same. God has it all in hand. We just have to trust him.