When I was twelve years old I caught a bird that had an injured wing. I still remember its heart, beating like a tiny trip hammer in my hand. I suppose I’d seen too many kids’ matinees. I wanted to be the boy who finds a wounded critter and nurses it back to health, establishing some lifelong bond with it.
It would have been cooler if I had found an alligator, but that Robin was all I had. Maybe if I made friends with it, it would return year after year to visit me.
Like I said, too many Disney flicks.
Anyway, I took the bird home and made a nest for it in a cardboard box of shredded newspaper and old rags. After a few hours, I figured it had gotten used to me. But when I left the room and came back, it went crazy, flapping out of the box and tearing around the room.
It occurred to me that a deep fear overlays the heart of every creature. You can’t educate it out. At the most primitive level, it’s the fear of death. Smarter creatures like humans, who have full-color imaginations, fear suffering, loss, and inconvenience. That’s not all. Fear is so pervasive, it can even take specialized forms, like fear of crowds, heights, dogs, and germs.
Even if you’re not afraid of the number thirteen or the sight of blood, you’ve lost sleep over some things. Maybe it was your kids, as you agonized over how certain ones of them were going to turn out. You’ve lost your appetite over jobs because of how they can dematerialize following a little bout of office politics. Relationships can drive anxiety levels through the roof as you handle toxic relatives, painful romances, rocky marriages, or loneliness. Oh, and never forget health scares that can come from discoveries made in the bathroom.
These things are not the exclusive domain of unbelievers. The people of God regularly find themselves floored by worry, if not full-out fear. How do we handle it?
That’s something Exodus chapter 14 addresses—not only the “how” of dealing with high-stress but “why” it happens as well. In fact, the situation in that chapter portrays the kind of anxiety that slowly develops while the poor troubled observers overflow with dread.
This is where Exodus 14 takes us. The people of Israel had just previously been released from Egypt. It was an exhilarating moment, almost too good to be true. The credit cards are all paid off, the weather is great, and it’s time for a tail-gate party.
And then God tells them to “turn back” and “encamp” (v.1). The location stunk. It would make an observer think “the wilderness has shut them in” (v. 3). Or in our lingo, that they had been cornered.
Yet the choice of camp site wasn’t the result of their poor decision-making. God told them to go there. His reasoning: “I will get glory over Pharaoh” (v. 4).
Glory. What does it mean? God defines it in the next phrase by saying, “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” Glory is God being known, God expressed in some excellent, particular sense.
God leads us for His glory, not merely to fix things. This is probably the first and biggest issue when it comes to dealing with fear.
Everything revolves around the glory of God. The large reason why for everything is glory—God seeking to make Himself known to you in ways you’ve never known Him before. You and the people around you and the world. God wants to be known.
He will sometimes lead you into apparently difficult situations for that reason.
At one point Martha tearfully rebuked Jesus, saying, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:32). Jesus later responded, “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40).
Martha had adored her brother. Then Jesus let him die. It was hard to get past that point. Emotionally impossible. Yet she had come to this hour precisely to see Christ in a way she had failed to know Him in the past.
The moment came when he spoke to the grave, “Lazarus come forth!” (John 11:43) and her brother rose. The glory of God in that moment demonstrated Jesus as the resurrection and the life (c.f. John 11:25).
God engineers or at least allows seasons of hardship to manifest Himself to us. And yet for all the wonder and awe that these moments can produce, we sometimes find the thought of that glory not consoling. The reason is simple. I would prefer the dot-to-dot pattern I’ve created for my life.
Everybody has one, but the typical popular version looks like this:
1. High school. 2. College and program of your choice. 3. Great job. 4. Storybook spouse. 5. Child (athletically gifted with no problems). 6. Another child (intellectually gifted with no problems). 7. Job promotion (more money). 8. Job promotion (way more money). 9. Job promotion (more money than you know what to do with). 10. Grandchildren. 11. Retirement. 12. A peaceful, painless death. 13. Heaven.|
God should connect the dots. Laid out this way, it’s so easy even a cave man could follow it. But God doesn’t. Instead, He told the Israelites to “turn back and encamp” in a place where they looked like sitting ducks.
Worse, right around that time, Pharaoh changed his mind and decided he didn’t want to let the Hebrews go after all. “He made ready His chariot and took His army with Him, and took six hundred chosen chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt” (14:6-7). They pursued and overtook the people (v. 9).
Things weren’t shaping up the way the Israelites expected. In the midst of the crisis the Bible tells us that “God hardened the heart of Pharaoh” (v. 8). In some sense He enabled the problem to occur. This was not just His failure to follow the dot-to-dot; it was His throwing a pipe wrench into it.
Something big was about to go down, so big that people would talk about it for thousands of years to come. Glory was due to break out—an incredible, awesome self-revelation of God. The pity is what little appetite the people of God have for it.
I’d rather not be inconvenienced. As long as God doesn’t color outside the lines I’ve drawn for myself, I’m okay with a lackluster spiritual life. Most of us are. Control issues and addiction to comfort doom us to a life of perpetual smallness.
Once we’re on track for a major glory event, it’s easy to feel we’re descending into tragedy. Harder still not to cry and claw the ground on the way there.
God is determined for us to know Him. That sounds great on tee-shirts, in books, in church, and on Facebook posts.
But glory requires a willing heart…and trust.
Sometimes crash helmets, too.
(To be continued)