I felt the call into ministry when I was a mere fourteen years old. I can’t say I was thrilled when I heard it. I was raised in a pastor’s home, so I knew the ups and downs of full-time ministry. But for a couple years I rolled with the punches. At about sixteen, though, I decided to try my own way. I began to walk a path that didn’t lead me to God. In fact, it led me the opposite direction. I walked into rebellion. I frequented the party scene through my high school years, and ran headfirst into a relationship that was not healthy by any means. In the midst of my rebellion I graduated. Then I had to decide which college to attend. I knew I was supposed to attend Lee University, a Christian college in Cleveland, Tennessee, but I tried to get into the local college in my hometown. Thankfully God averted that potential disaster, and I found myself leaving Michigan and unpacking my bags in Tennessee (sounds like a good country song).
Although I landed in Tennessee, I wasn’t following God’s path by any means my freshman year. I had hoped getting away from my hometown would enable me to begin living for God instead of myself. But in only a few weeks I was living out the same sins in Tennessee that I had lived out in Michigan. The dilemma was not my external surroundings; it was an internal dilemma. Changing my situation was not the answer—I needed a change of heart. Even as I tried to follow God’s path physically, I was still totally lost spiritually. I had technically followed God but was living for myself.
Dad, God, and the Israelites
The Israelites had a similar experience in the book of Exodus. They were outwardly following God’s path as they wandered through the wilderness, but inwardly they were living for themselves. I’ve heard the Promised Land they were looking for was only a two week’s journey away, but somehow—miraculously—they managed to squeeze the trip into just a shade under forty years. I’m not so sure my dad wasn’t leading this troop.
Dad had a knack for making a daylong trip into a weeklong “sight-seeing tour,” as he so fondly referred to it. My family once took a trip from Michigan to Tennessee to visit me at college. At the most it’s a fourteen-hour drive. And that’s with traffic, bathroom breaks, construction, and a llama in the road. If you can avoid the traffic and the llama, you might even make it in less than twelve. But Dad never could avoid the llama. He managed to make the twelve-hour trip into a twenty-four hour marathon.
Interstate 75 runs all the way from Tennessee to Michigan—a straight, seventy miles per hour—eighty if you’re gutsy—shot. But for some reason Dad decided to take the “scenic route.” My family ended up hugging the side of a mountain on what looked like an old logger’s trail. It was scenic, all right. They particularly enjoyed the scenery of their lives flashing before their eyes.
They did eventually make it to their destination to meet me at my dorm room. But the fear that had been instilled from dad’s “scenic route” took a few years from their lives, I’m sure of it.
I always knew Dad was a godly man, but I never realized just how godly he was until putting together the pieces of this story together. Apparently Dad had the same mind-set as God when it came to traveling—they both preferred the scenic route. The Israelites also eventually made it to their destination, even though it took, let’s see . . . doing the math . . . carry the one . . . add the two—a total of thirty-nine years and fifty weeks longer than it should have (and that’s without leap years). Apparently they couldn’t avoid the llama in the road, either.
There’s a verse in Exodus that makes this abundantly clear. Eugene Peterson put it this way in The Message:
It so happened that after Pharaoh released the people, God didn’t lead them by the road through the land of the Philistines, which was the shortest route, for God thought, ‘If the people encounter war, they’ll change their minds and go back to Egypt.’ So God led the people on the wilderness road, looping around to the Red Sea (Exodus 13:17, 18).
Yep, the Israelites were led down the scenic route, all right. God didn’t let them take the easiest road, the shortest road, or the road of least resistance. He gave them the exact opposite: the hardest, longest, most dangerous road where they encountered war, drought, famine, and despair. In fact, every one of the adults that felt the cool mist of the Red Sea hitting their faces as they marched between those two giant walls of parted water died without ever reaching the Promised Land. They never gave up wishing for the easy road they felt was somewhere back in Egypt. And they fought God all the way down the treacherous road He’d laid out for them. They physically followed God but never really got on board spiritually. For that reason God never let them find the true easy road—the Promised Land.
Eventually, though, God managed to get the younger generation of Israelites to the exact place He wanted them to be: the place of total dependence on Him. When they finally reached the Promised Land after their scenic tour, they won their first battle in a ridiculous fashion. God told them to march—just march—around the city of Jericho. Nothing else. And do it for seven days. Then shout. Then watch the great walls fall and that mighty city of war collapse.
Had God asked the Israelites to do such a thing thirty-nine years and fifty weeks earlier (minus leap years), they’d have laughed in His face and taken the war into their own hands.
And they would have lost.
It turns out the destination of their scenic route was much greater than the physical place of the Promised Land. God had deeper plans and even better destinations in store for them. The destination of their forty-year-long scenic route was a spiritual place more than a physical place, and the battle of Jericho proved both destinations had finally been reached.
Taken from the book Dear God, We Need To Talk (Passio/Charisma House Publishers). Used by permission.
Connect with Darren on his website Darren’s Chalk.