Monday, December 8, 2008

God Doesn't Take Short Cuts

I was not a patient child. The classic “baby” of the family, I wanted 100% of the attention 100% of the time. One of the many embarrassing home videos of me is our family at Christmas the month before I turned three. With so many new toys, (not to mention all of the bubble wrap, bows, and boxes), I was making one breakthrough after another. I announced each discovery loudly, right into the camera.

I have to give my parents credit for their incredible patience with me, as I made sure they saw the new teddybear I unwrapped, all of my favorite candy in my stocking (each individual piece, I might add), and my first pair of “big girl” jeans. My sister tore into her present, having each gift unwrapped in about 2.5 seconds. Not me. I savored as much “screen time” as possible. Christmas must have lasted for six hours that year.

When my sister and I were finally done, my parents began to open their gifts. My dad got my mom a beautiful crystal candleholder set that year. As he helped her unwrap the individual pieces and match each candle to its appropriate holder, I grew restless. In the corner of the screen, you can see me desperately trying to find something that I hadn’t debuted to the camera yet.

Finally, I found something. I took off for my sister’s gift pile and lifted her new hairdryer in the air in victory. “You see, Mom?” I asked. No response. I tried again. “Mom, you see?”

It’s hard for me not to laugh as I watch my younger self’s patience wearing thin quickly. I called again, louder this time. “Mommy, you see this?” Nothing.

In a desperate final attempt, I stomped the ground, took a deep breath, and said, “Do you see, MARY RUTH?”
My mom’s mouth dropped at the sound of her first name from her two year old’s mouth. She and my dad immediately burst into laughter. “Yes, Miss Michelle,” my mom said, between giggles. “I see.” Satisfied, I placed the hairdryer down and went back to playing with my toys.

I’ve gotten older. It no longer tests my patience if my mom is unimpressed that I can lift a hairdryer. However, I still consistently battle responding impatiently toward those who love me most…especially my God.

In high school, I was impatient with God when he moved my family from Memphis to Knoxville. By the end of my senior year, I loved Knoxville so much that I stayed there for college. In college, my friends were surrounded with boyfriends while I remained unattached. Now, I am so grateful that I never gave my heart away before I met James. Why do I never learn that God’s plan is better than one I could ever imagine?

God’s people have a history of impatience with their Creator. After God delivered the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, Exodus 13:17-18 says, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’ But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle.”

I’ve read over this passage dozens of times in my life, and I’ve always missed the depth of the meaning here. God didn’t take them to the nearest land. He didn’t want the quick fix to their problem. He wanted the best solution.

Naturally, the Israelites did not understand why they had to go through the wilderness. Numbers 14:1-4 says, “Then all the congregation raised a loud cry, and the people wept that night. And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, "Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the LORD bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?" And they said to one another, ‘Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.’”

I admit it. I’m not exactly a fan of sleeping on the ground and traveling on foot all day. But I can’t imagine a camping trip so bad that I would want to go back being a slave. The Israelites had some growing up to do, and God knew it. Remember, the passage in Exodus said that God led them around by the way of the wilderness. He never left them. But He wasn't just concerned with their final destination. He was intentional about experiences they would encounter who would determine the people they were to become along the way.

Over Exodus 14-17, God provides the Israelites with one miracle after another. He divides the Red Sea to let the Israelites cross safely, and lets the waters crash back into the middle to drown the Egyptians' chariots and horsemen. (I hope heaven has HD DVR - I really want to see that!) He provides water, manna, and meat. He promises to protect them from disease if they obey His commands.

But how quickly the Israelites forget. After they affirm a covenant with God in Exodus 24, they turn right around in Exodus 32 to build a golden calf to worship instead of God. This is the point where the Israelites make me want to call them, "The Boneheads of the Bible." Seriously. How do you walk across dry land on the bottom of the sea with water held up on either side of you by an invisible force and days later, turn to doubt God?

It's the same way I can become impatient with where I am in life - even though God has proven Himself to me over and over again. At different times, I've wished life had a "Fast Forward" button. "God, can I just blink and be done with school? I mean, can't I just write a book and get it published without a degree?"

Imagine falling asleep in the car as someone else drove you to a party. You arrive and begin talking to people. Apparently, there was a huge construction project that caused massive delays on the Interstate. Everyone has a story about what they heard, and what they saw. You cannot relate, and you have nothing to contribute.

My experiences in life, though I may not have understood them at the time, have always prepared me for the next step God guided me to take. It is along life's journey that He teaches us truth, molds us to be more like Him, and gives us time to grow. I may not have made the Bible, but I'm just as much of a bonehead as any of the Israelites.

The prophet Nehemiah offers some explanation of the amazing and patient God we serve. Nehemiah 9:17,They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.”

He didn't forsake them. He had a plan.

Sometimes, it may seem like God isn't paying attention. He doesn't notice that you can lift a hairdryer by yourself, and you think that justifies your ability for a better assignment than where He has you and His undivided attention. Don't let yourself grow so impatient that you miss it when God parts a Red Sea in your life. He is always at work. Expect delays, and learn from them.

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