God led Israel the long way out of Egypt, and there are times in our own lives where He leads us into the wilderness. It is not because we have sinned in some grievous way or because we have grumbled; sometimes, God simply understands that the road we are on will take us through dangerous territory and engage us in a battle we are not prepared to fight.
The question we must answer, then, is this: are we willing to be faithfully led astray?
It is not an easy proposition. To the onlooking world, it looks like a wrong turn. It looks like we messed up. Even Egypt thought this about the Israelites. Look! They're lost! Those fools, just wandering around in the wilderness! Don't they know they have backed themselves up to the sea?
But the only way to see God part the waters is to stand on the shore.
Last year, I found myself in one of these seasons, so this is not just some theory or some pretty theology; it's real life. I entered a season in which I was not getting out of it without becoming that which I so deeply believed I had been called to be. There were, at one time, five open doors right in front of me. All that I had to do was to prayerfully, faithfully, figure out which one to walk through. (To not walk through any would have been profound disobedience; of this much, I am sure.) So through prayer and discernment, I figured out which way God would have me to go.
And it was kind of a disaster from day one. It was the beginning of a very difficult season in my life, which ended up encompassing not only the things directly related to the path I had taken but a bunch of other, completely unrelated things, as well. It is almost comical how disastrous this whole thing was, and I understood the cries of Israel that there wasn't even good water to drink around here.
I was wandering, and I was wondering, and yet, there was a very real understanding in my heart that this was the very place to which God had led me, the path He had willed me to take. Now, I probably stayed on that path a bit longer than He thought I would because I did not understand the wilderness and was thus doing all that I could to make this road work. But increasingly, I understood that I was backed up against the sea with the enemy (in this case, failure, disappointment, confusion, concern, etc.) closing in.
Then, the most amazing thing happened: the waters parted. I turned around to look at what had once been a raging sea, and I saw it not only calm, but pulled back. I looked back at the enemy approaching and declared, you know what? I don't have to stay here. Then I stepped through the place of provision and closed that once-open door behind me.
On the other side, there lies the Promised Land. There lies the place where my story started to come back into focus. There lied the opportunity to embrace something new that God had for my life, something to which He had been trying to lead me all along, but something I would not have possibly understood without taking the long way there.
I think the same is true for the Israelites. They were living pretty well in Goshen, which was the choicest region in all of Egypt. Their pastures were lush, their livestock abundant; it was a land of favor, really. And they all seemed to have this image in their heads that they would leave Goshen, travel just a short way, and arrive at a land flowing with milk and honey. But when you already live in Goshen, there's not a lot special about a land of milk and honey. You've already got them right where you're at. It's like moving from one mansion to another, carrying your stuff down streets of gold.
But wander in the wilderness for just a little bit, take the long way, and things change. Experience a bit of a dry season. Wonder where you're going to get water. Run out of food. Learn to depend on God. All of a sudden, milk and honey sounds once again like the blessing and the promise that it truly is. It's not just one more stop of abundance on your journey; it is a stark contrast to your wandering.
It's why we all ought to wander.
So the question, again, is this: are you willing to wander? Are you willing to follow God when He calls you, faithfully, astray? Will you long for a land of milk and honey in a place where you must get water from the rocks? Will you walk into the desert and back yourself up to the sea? Will you stand on the shores where you can see His power and His grace? And will you walk through place of provision and close, gently, once-open doors behind you?
Are you willing to say, yes, I am taking the long way, but it is only by the grace of God?