The Israelites have escaped Pharaoh and now they’re wandering in the desert. They’re excited and happy. They sing songs of praise to God and to Moses. In Chapter 15 of Exodus, they’re full of praise. They’re singing. They’re dancing. They’re shouting for joy.
2 The Lord is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
And I totally understand what they’re feeling. I’ve been there myself. It’s easy to sing God’s praises when things are going your way, when God has performed a miracle in your life and has led you through something difficult. Praising God is easy at this point. The trouble is, the moment fades all too quickly and pretty soon we’re murmuring again, just as the Israelites did.
Before we even get to the end of Chapter 15 things aren’t looking so rosy. They’ve reached Marah, but there’s no water. Let the murmuring commence.
And I totally understand what they’re feeling. I’ve been there too. I’ve flipped and flopped in my own walk with God just like this. Am I proud of it? Of course not. But I’ve done it, and I suspect most of us have. We are, after all, human. It’s our natural and most basic instinct not to trust. That’s what gives power to our choice to put our trust in God.
By Chapter 16 there’s no food, and the murmuring continues. It would have been better to stay in Egypt, they say. At least there we had food to eat and water to drink. Things were better there.
But things weren’t better there. It’s just so easy to forget.
As I read this story, I can’t help but compare it to my own life. This is what the Bible is for, after all. The stories that are included in the Bible are there because they’re applicable to our own lives. Maybe none of us have been sold into slavery by our brothers or been rescued from slavery, but we’ve been led into jobs we’ve hated only to realize later that they served a purpose. Or we’ve been relocated by a job, or we’ve had to endure a lengthy separation from a loved one. Or we’ve been prompted by the Spirit to pack up everything we own and move to a strange land, only to find ourselves in what seems to be a much worse situation than the one we left. And sometimes we cry out, wanting God to explain Himself. Why did you lead me here to this?
Having faith and trusting that things will work out isn’t easy. The answers don’t come immediately, but I’ve lived long enough to know, in my more rational moments anyway, that the answers eventually do come.
Years ago, I was dating a guy who was a professional musician. One day he heard me singing harmony to a song on the stereo while we played a game of pool. He decided I should join his band and I thought that sounded like a great idea . . . right up until the night I found myself on stage with a synthesizer and a microphone in front of a crowd. My mind went blank and I was overwhelmed by stage fright. I stood on that stage and cried for four solid hours while I tried to croak out a few notes and remember what I was supposed to be doing with the keyboard in front of me.
Eventually the stage fright faded and I ended up playing keyboards and singing in that band for nine years. It wasn’t an easy experience by any means. It involved sin and abuse and a lot of heartache, but I also learned a lot from it. Looking back, I can say that those nine years were a sort of personal wandering in the wilderness experience for me. I was lost. I was miserable. And I spent a lot of time asking God why things had to be so awful.
Eventually, God led me out of that wilderness and a few years later, I sold my first book. Not long after that, I found myself being invited to speak in front of various writer’s groups and being interviewed for TV. I soon realized that my band experience had made it so I wasn’t nervous speaking in front of smallish crowds, and even the camera wasn’t so bad after I got used to it.
When a workshop presenter lost her son just days before Romance Writers of America’s national conference one year, I stepped in at the last minute and presented a workshop to 200 people without batting an eye. A few years later, as president of Romance Writers of America, I stood on a stage in front of more than 2,000 people, twice or three times a day for almost a week, with my face plastered on two big screens on either end of a huge ballroom. Yeah, I was nervous, but not so nervous I couldn’t do it. Actually, I only felt nervous until the first time I got up in front of the microphone. After that, it was easy.
If I hadn’t walked through that personal wilderness until God decided it was time for me to leave it, I wouldn’t have been prepared for the experiences that came my way later. Nor would I be prepared for the experiences I know are waiting for me next. One of these days, God is going to move me out of my current wilderness and into something new and different. I’m preparing for it now. I know that. The way is long and hard and painful. Sometimes I cry out and ask Him why He brought he here to this. Why can’t it be easy? Why does it have to hurt?
I have no answers to those questions right now. I don’t know why it has to hurt, I just know that this experience is a step in the journey. I can refuse to endure it if I want. The choice is mine. I can throw up my hands, blame God, and veer off this path any time I want to. Or I can put my hand in His and hang on tight. In my experience, hanging on is the only solution that makes any sense at all.