Judging by my Facebook feed, a lot of folks are really good at taking vacations. I mean, really good! They travel wide, go to cool (or beachy) places, and look thoroughly chill in their vacation pics—like they just KNOW how to pull off the perfect vacation, selfies, airmiles, and all.
Henry and I aren’t like that. We still laugh (and groan) over our lame weekend getaways (the closest we came to full vacations) over the years. This was our typical trip:
1. Decide to be spontaneous, rather than research or plan our destination.
2. Have a vague direction in mind and get in the car.
3. Drive and drive and drive, thinking a better place is just around the corner.
4. Stop out of sheer exhaustion, squeeze in a hike or some sightseeing, collapse in whatever last-minute lodgings we manage to find.
5. Realize we have to leave early to make it back from our long, long drive.
6. Promise to do better next time. Fail to do so.
At least our exhausting getaways were usually scenic—and gave the illusion of being epic road trips, even if that wasn’t our goal. But imagine setting off on a short journey and not getting there for FORTY YEARS.
That’s what happened to the Israelites who escaped Egypt with Moses. If all had gone well, their journey to the Promised Land should have taken two weeks. Two weeks! Instead, their lack of faith and subsequent rebellion left them wandering in circles until an entire generation had died. Only two men of the original adult generation were counted worthy to enter—Joshua and Caleb. The rest of them—an estimated million or more—died in the wilderness, because of unbelief.
We’re still in Hebrews 3, where this verse always catches me:
…do not harden your hearts, as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness…
What I expect to read next is a description of how GOD tested his PEOPLE during the that time. Instead, the verse says the opposite:
…where your forefathers tested and tried ME and for forty years saw what I did. (v.9 –emphasis mine)
Did you catch that? The Israelites sealed their own fate by constantly testing God.
And God was having none of it. He goes on:
That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest’. (Heb.3: 10-11)
If we’re cavalier about God’s expectations, we might sympathize a bit with the Hebrew refugees. “I’d grumble, too, if I had to eat the same food every day for 40 years!”
Or, “It must have been hell to wander the desert, living in tents, with two million other sad sacks.”
But it was never supposed to go that way. God promised to deliver his people from slavery and bring them to the Promised Land. He kept his end of the bargain. But it was the Hebrews’ unbelief that kept them captive, doomed to wander till every last unbelieving adult had died.
You might say, “Well, everything God was doing was brand new, so how could they trust what they hadn’t yet seen?”
Yet that’s exactly what faith is. Trusting in what we cannot see, simply because God has said it.
It’s true: they hadn’t seen how God would provide water. They’d never tasted manna, God’s heavenly food supply. They’d never fought before, or had to drive out foreign nations. They’d simply been slaves.
Yet think of what they HAD seen.
A series of dreadful, nation-wide plagues, most of which cursed the Egyptians but entirely bypassed the land of Goshen, where the Hebrews lived, all promised through Moses.
Even one of these events—witnessed in the flesh—should have been enough. But ten?
And if there was any question that God was protecting them, what could be more certain than the Plague on the First-Born, when obeying Moses’ instructions to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle its blood on their doorposts completely exempted them?
They would have heard the cries of the Egyptians that night, as family after family found their first-born sons—adults, children, babies—struck dead. They would have known, as they gathered their own first-borns to leave Egypt, that God was at the helm. And that seed of faith, planted with proof of God’s faithfulness, was enough to convict them, days, weeks, and months later, when they doubted, grumbled, complained, rebelled, were sexually immoral, and communally decided to worship a golden calf rather than their mighty Deliverer.
How would you have fared? How ARE you faring? Driving around, feeling free, choosing where we want to shop or vacation or eat, we can be just as guilty of unbelief. If we’re caught up in constant fear about our unseen future: that’s unbelief. If we question whether God is really looking out for us: that’s unbelief. If we live as if the pull of this world is stronger—and more important—than our unseen life-after-death: that’s unbelief. If we give God crumbs of our time and attention and think it doesn’t matter: that’s unbelief.
If the testimony of the Bible isn’t enough—account after account of rescue, deliverance, and God’s enduring love— why not look back at your own ‘missed plagues’? How many times have you ‘almost died’? Been in a harrowing, dangerous situation and got out, unscathed? Made a stupid decision that could have messed up your life for good, but found mercy? Been at the end of your emotional/psychological/spiritual rope, in full-blown despair—and yet here you are, well past your troubles?
Every one of those memories is a lesson from God, a reminder that he loves you. That HE brought the rescues, the answers, the good Samaritans who showed up just in time and kept you safe.
I wrote my first memoir, recounting tales of running away, hitchhiking, taking drugs, living homeless, depending on strangers; and, later, camping alone in a tent (not in campsites) while I rode all over Canada and the States without a bicycle helmet, a moral compass, or a can of bear spray. By the time I finished writing, I was in awe.
In awe of God’s protection and mercy, even—especially—in the years before I knew him. I can take credit for all my folly and risk-taking, but he gets all credit for getting me through them. And then, most graciously, leading me to his Word, and through it, to Jesus.
Can you see similar grace over your life, looking back? I hope so.
And I hope, whatever you’re good at, you’ll be BEST at trusting God.
‘Cause that’s what makes him smile. Not testing, but trusting.