We long for God’s direction in our lives. We stumble along the narrow, winding path that is the Christian walk, searching endlessly for those elusive road signs telling us which way to turn, what lies ahead, when to stop, go, yield and most of all, how much farther we have to go.
We long for God to just hand us the roadmap with destinations, drive times and directions spelled out—a biblical Mapquest that removes the mystery and uncertainty from our journey.
Imagine having clear communication from God, mystical but unmistakable signs of His presence to constantly remind us that we are His people and He is in control. Imagine that these signs provide protection, guidance, communication and—when necessary—discipline. And most significantly, imagine that they clearly tell us when and where to walk in our journey with Jesus.
Wouldn’t this make our travels easier? Surely if we had such constant reminders of God’s existence, sovereignty and will, we would have no trouble following His commandments, living with inward peace and outward harmony and finding His divine purpose for our lives.
We would avoid those frustrating wrong turns that lead us down blind alleys. We would never run a stop sign. We would know precisely when to yield to His will or go forward in His name. And we would certainly never whine, “How much farther, God? Are we there yet?”
The Israelites had such a sign: Bible scholars refer to it as the “pillar of cloud and fire.” Yet despite this constant reminder of God’s nearness, His people frequently rebelled, attempting to impose their own will upon His.
The pillar of cloud and fire guided Israel during the wilderness journey. This embodiment of God’s presence first appeared to the Israelites as they embarked on their journey out of Egypt.
Exodus 13:21 tells us that “the Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on a way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and night.” This pillar both guided and protected God’s people as they prepared to cross the Red Sea with the Egyptian army closing in. The Book of Exodus ends with the pillar miraculously appearing upon completion of the tabernacle that God told the Israelites to build.
For the Israelites, the pillar of cloud and fire hovering over God’s tabernacle was a constant reminder of His presence in their lives. They didn’t have to strategize or worry about where they would go or what they would do; all they needed to do was trust in God to guide them. Yet even with this concrete symbol of His faithfulness ceaselessly in their midst, they rebelled, not just once but repeatedly.
Although it may not be as obvious as a pillar of cloud and fire, today’s Christians also have a constant reminder from God. He’s called the Holy Spirit, and He’s even closer to us than that pillar of cloud and fire was to the Israelites. We can’t see Him with our eyes, but we can sense Him with our hearts. We can feel God’s call and hear His voice directing our lives through His Spirit within us.
Yet, like the Israelites, we rebel. We continually battle God’s will, purpose and direction for our lives.
We get impatient when God says, “Stay put,” when we would rather walk—so we try to make our own way. We don’t always want to yield to His will for our lives, stubbornly believing that we somehow know better. So we make wrong turns and get into fender-benders that we could have avoided, had we only listened the first time. And when God says, “Move,” we often don’t like the direction He’s pointing us, so we take endless detours to get where He wants us to go. (And in these cases, women are no better than men at stopping and asking for directions.)
Our relationship and obedience to God should be based on the model provided by the Israelites and their pillars of cloud and fire. God is sovereign and transcendent; why do we question Him? Heeding and immediately responding to His word as whispered—or sometimes shouted—by the Holy Spirit should be the guiding force in our lives. We shouldn’t need to know where we are going or when we’re going to get there. We should rest assured that God knows what’s best; He will guide and protect us from anything we encounter on our journey, and He will deliver us into the Promised Land when we are good and ready. We need only listen to our own personal “pillar of cloud and fire.”
Eventually we, like the Israelites, will get to the Promised Land. But just like God’s original chosen ones, we will arrive battle-fatigued and travel-weary, via a long and winding road.[Wende Lance is both a high school English teacher and a seminary student. She and her family live in the country near Ashland, Ohio, where Wende is a volunteer leader at Park Street Brethren Church.]
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