Tag Archives: Difficulty

Road Trip

So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.
Exodus 13:18 (NRSVCE)

I find myself in the middle of an unexpected and impromptu road trip this morning. The past week has been ugly for me personally, and that is layered on top of the ugly that permeates our world on so many levels right now. I am broken. I am humbled. There are many moments in life’s journey when things don’t seem right with my world. At different waypoints of the journey I’ve experienced things not being right with my world of work, my world of relationships, my world of community, the world of my nation, the world of family, friends, faith, or finances. But usually when it happens it is an acute ugly with just one part of my world.

Right now, the ugly feels like it’s permeating every one of my worlds.

Even as I typed that last sentence, I know it’s not true. I’m a Enneagram Four, remember. If there was a profession in which pessimism and extreme emotional angst was a requisite, we’d dominate the field.

Nevertheless, the ugly has permeated several of my worlds in the last week. And so, I jumped at the chance for a road trip. Jesus went off to a mountainside by Himself to pray. I sequestered in the car driving down I-49. I meditated. I prayed. I talked a little. I tried to listen a lot.

In today’s chapter, God is leading His people out of slavery. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, children uprooting their lives and everything they’ve known and hitting the road to who knows where. Everything is changing. Nothing seems right with their worlds. There is fear of their oppressors coming after them. There is fear of what lies ahead. There is confusion about what is happening and what this all means.

And then, God leads them “by the roundabout way of the wilderness.” He didn’t lead them on straight-and-narrow way to the Promised Land, even though there was one. God led them on a difficult path fraught with obstacles and difficulties. It’s on the roundabout path through the wilderness that I am humbled and actually learn what faith means. It’s on the roundabout path through the wilderness that I find that I can’t do things on our own and that I need God and others. It’s on the roundabout path through the wilderness that I learn to forget what lies behind, press on, and persevere. It’s on the roundabout path through the wilderness that I learn the power of praising God in all circumstances and the chain reaction that follows: activated faith, powerful prayers, overcoming evil, and learning what it means to be part of the divine dance.

In the car yesterday I found myself myself meditating on this:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

The straight path is found at the end of the roundabout way through the wilderness because the straight path can only be found via trust, loss of self-reliance, and faith.

Road trips are good for the soul (in more ways than one).

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Detours and Déjà vu

But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.
Haggai 2:4 (NIV)

Along my life journey, I’ve come to understand that there are many stops and starts along the way. As a child, I had this (mis)perception that life had a simple linear path. High School, college, career, marriage, children, house, grandchildren, retirement, death. And, in some respects, it may have followed that general direction. The road, however, has definitely never been as straight, flat, and easy as I thought it would be.

A friend of ours once said she personally polled her family and friends with the question: “Has life turned out like you thought it would?” She reported to me that the almost universal answer was “No.” Somehow, I still find myself occasionally falling back into the delusion that when it comes to life not turning out like I had planned I am the exception, not the rule.

Life is full of unexpected twists, turns, dead ends, and detours. Tragedy strikes, houses burn, businesses fail, marriages fail, loved ones walk away, people do terrible things, jobs go away, et cetera, et cetera, and et cetera.

One of the things I’m learning as I’m meditating on the theme of exile is that is also not the exception, but the rule. The Biblical perspective is that exile is the very nature of life on this earth. Adam and Eve were at home in the Garden. The consequence of their sin was to be sent away. They became exiles. All of humanity to follow were/are born into exile. Paul wrote that we are citizens of Heaven. This entire life journey can be viewed through the spiritual understanding that we are all exiles making our way home.

What I’ve found, however, is that despite the road of life not always being easy, I find myself back in situations and circumstances that are eerily familiar. I’ve been disappointed before. I’ve faced similar adversity before. Life has felt like a grind before. What did I learn in those stretches of life’s road? What resources did I draw upon to get me through? What did or didn’t work back then that informs what I should do or not do now?

In today’s chapter, work on the Temple has stalled. It’s not going according to plan or expectations. But that had happened before. David’s plans to build the first temple had stalled, and his expectations for starting construction had been dashed. So David charged his son, Solomon, with doing it saying:

“Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished.”

1 Chronicles 28:20

Now, the prophet Haggai addresses Zerubbabel and Joshua who are tasked with rebuilding the temple just as Solomon had been tasked with it before. And he says to them:

“Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you until all the work for the service of the temple of the Lord is finished.”

Haggai 2:4

Sound familiar? Life’s road had circled back to a familiar place. God through Haggai draws upon the same encouragement, the same assurance of God’s presence and faithfulness, the same charge that had preceded Solomon’s successful building project.

In the quiet this morning I am standing on life’s road and looking back. I’ve had my share of tough stretches, but I like to think that I haven’t let it defeat me. Rather, I’ve let it instruct me, inform me, teach me, and strengthen me. As Paul wrote to the followers of Jesus in Rome:

There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!

Romans 5:3-5 (MSG)

I’m saying a prayer for any who read this, no matter where they find themselves in their own journey. Press on, my friend.

A note to readers: You are always welcome to share all or part of my chapter-a-day posts if you believe it may be beneficial for others. I only ask that you link to the original post and/or provide attribution for whatever you might use. Thanks for reading!

The Spiritual Barometer of Comfort

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.”
2 Chronicles 16:9 (NIV)

A friend dropped by for coffee yesterday and we enjoyed a long discussion. One of the slivers of conversation was around a class that is being offered in our community in the near future. The premise of the class is that some of history’s most influential people had their most productive and years after the age of 70. The class is intended to encourage adults in the back stretch of life’s journey to consider shunning the traditional view of retirement. Instead of moving somewhere warm and sitting by a pool, the class encourages people to consider how their final stretch of life’s journey might be their most productive and influential.

I thought about that this morning as I read today’s chapter and contemplated the story of King Asa. In yesterday’s post, the prophet Azariah encouraged Asa to “be strong and not give up” but the stretch of life journey that Asa was entering was not one of struggle. Asa’s major challenge and climactic fight was behind him. He was entering a time of extended peace. Thirty-five years of peace and rest. And that’s when he blew it.

Thirty-five years of relatively easy sledding finds King Asa has changed, but not in a good way. He forgot the lesson he learned in his war with the Cushites. He forgot how his faith had led to good things. He forgot Azariah’s admonishment. Thirty-five years of peace and comfort turned Asa into a hard-hearted, self-centric old man. It was the good times and life of relative ease that revealed the true nature of Asa’s heart. A seer named Hanani confronts Asa, but it only confirms and seals Asa’s bitterness (and lands Hanani in the stocks).

This morning I’m thinking about my current waypoint on this life journey. I often think that it’s the tough stretches of pain, tragedy, and difficulty that reveal the true nature of our hearts. Perhaps it is the stretches of comfort and ease that are a better barometer of my spirit.

Don’t Walk Out in the Middle of the Movie

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch….”
Jeremiah 23:5 (NIV)

I have a vivid memory from about the age of 13. My mother sat me down at our family’s dining room table and explained to me that, financially, things were not looking good for our family. My father was in a business  that was not doing well and my father had decided to walk away from the partnership in order for it to survive. There was a possibility, my mother explained, that we would lose our house and have to move. She wanted me to understand that things were tight and there would be no money for extras. We all had to “tighten our belts.”

As is typical with children, I’d never given much consideration to our family’s socio-economic status. Our needs were met. We had a loving family. My parents were hard workers and things were always status quo. This message of doom was a shock for me.

I do remember a few lean years as my dad switched to a couple of different jobs and ended up commuting an hour each day to work. My folks plugged away to make ends meet. It was the years of the farm crisis of the late 70s and early 80s and, while we weren’t farmers, there were plenty of people struggling. As a teenager, I learned some important life lessons in those years about perseverance, hard work and simple faith. In fact it was during those years that I found my faith in Christ.

It is common, I have found, for casual readers to wade into the ancient messages of the prophets and find only doom and gloom. And, to be honest, there’s plenty to be had. There is a lot of violence from a very violent period of history. It’s easy to get weighed down by the negativity. But, if you’re not careful you’ll miss the larger story.

In today’s chapter, amidst a terrible siege and Jeremiah’s prophecies of destruction, death and exile, the message takes an abrupt u-turn. From the royal line of David, Jeremiah predicts, God is going to raise up a “Righteous Branch” to shepherd His people. From a macro-view, it appears that God is pruning back the royal line which has been bearing bad fruit for a long time. There will be lean years. Things look pretty gloomy. That’s what happens when you prune things back. But from that royal line a new Branch will spring which  will become the Vine from which the fruit of the Spirit and new wine will be produced. Matthew and Luke were careful to record Jesus’ family tree in their respective Gospels. They wanted everyone to know that Jesus’ sprung from David’s tree. The “Righteous Branch” had bloomed.

This morning  the chapter has me thinking about the doom and gloom of the prophets. Every great story includes conflict and a period of time in which everything looks bleak. The hero is a “goner” and it’s all going to fall apart. Then comes the eucatastrophy and the climactic moment when it all comes together and works out.

I’ve discovered that giving up on the prophets in the middle of the doom and gloom is like giving up all hope because dad’s job changed and things are going to be tight financially. It’s like walking out of the movie when the hero is tied up next to a bomb and the countdown timer is at two minutes. Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet” reminds me today to “wait for it.” There is hope, light, and redemption at the end of the tunnel, but I have to press on and persevere.

Consider it Joy

“My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy….”
James 1:2

Sometimes a verse becomes more than a verse. You take it in. You ingest it as a morsel to one who is starving. It is not about sweetness or delectability. It is about survival. The words are broken down within you. The truth of their meaning courses through your veins and brings essential spiritual nourishment to unseen corners within. The experience is not a random, unexpected inspirational event. Rather, it is the practical choosing of life. As Jesus said to our enemy in a moment of battle between flesh and spirit: “One does not live on bread alone, but on every word the proceeds from the mouth of God.”

James 1:2 is one of these verses for Wendy and me. It is a waypoint of our journey, when in the depths of the valley of death we ingested the truth of it. It was not an inspired mountaintop moment, but a desperate hanging on. We learned in that valley that joy is not the by-product of affluent blessing, but a choice amidst suffering.

Consider it…”

Consideration is a choice. It is a willful task. It requires time and mental effort. Joy comes out of our deliberate consideration amidst difficult circumstances, when hope and faith are on life support. We consider, again and again…

If God is good, and we believe He is.
If God knows what is best for us, and we believe He does.
Then we can be joyful, even as the tears stream down our cheeks.
Out of our consideration, again and again, we choose into joy.

Eventually there follows endurance, maturity, and a whole-ness we had not known before.

The internal lesson was important enough for Wendy to indelibly print a reminder on her forearm.

Managing Life’s Little Storms

All your fortresses are like fig trees 
with their first ripe fruit; 
when they are shaken, 
the figs fall into the mouth of the eater.
Nahum 3:12 (NIV)
Wendy and I got to the lake late Tuesday. A storm blew in and the worst of it came right over us. Lightning, thunder, heavy rain and straight line winds that wreaked havoc in the area. This included a blackout that had Wendy and me scrambling in the dark for candles as well as where we put the flashlights. An equally blustery storm of circumstance followed me yesterday as I attempted to fly to Texas for work and ended up stranded all day in Minneapolis. I had to scuttle my trip and pray myself on a flight back to KC so I could get back to the lake.
Life sometimes shakes us. Storms rage, whether it is of the natural or metaphorical variety. The real question is how we build our faith and lives to handle the maelstrom. In today’s chapter, the prophet Nahum describes the Assyrian’s preparedness as metaphorical fig trees. When shaken, they lose all their fruit.
Today, I am still admittedly tired from the storms of the past couple of days. I need another good night’s sleep and the travel stress has me still feeling a bit frazzled on the emotional end. But, I’m no worse for wear. Shaken, but feeling no less fruitful in the larger sense. In the grand scheme of things, these little life storms are blips on the radar that will come and go. A healthy perspective with an eye to the larger story, and a wee bit of faith are strong walls against life’s little tempests.

Hope and Reality

What we hope life's road looks like (top) and what we sometimes find to be the reality (bottom).
What we hope life’s road looks like (top) and what we sometimes find to be the reality (bottom).

And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me.
Acts 20:22-23 (NRSV)

One of the things that Wendy and I found fascinating about our time in Edinburgh a few weeks ago was that there’s hardly a straight, level street in the entire city. There are steep inclines, winding roads, angled streets, narrow alleys, and stairs upon stairs. We felt like we were constantly going up a steep hill or down a sharp incline. Our calves were killing us.

That came to mind this morning as I read today’s chapter. I’m reminded that life’s path is not always easy, and the way does not always meander through pleasant, level places. The theme of Dr. Luke’s account of the first generation of Jesus followers if filled with difficulties, persecutions, executions, imprisonments, riots, shipwrecks, and floggings. And, time and time again Luke says that the Message flourished and daily the number of believers grew.

I found it interesting to bullet out Paul’s conversation with his fellow believers from Ephesus in today’s chapter:

  • I was a living example in my time with you. Follow it.
  • I’m going to Jerusalem and expect to be persecuted and imprisoned.
  • You’ll never see me again (I’m going to die before I can return)
  • Be on guard! Wolves are going to infiltrate your flock.
  • Give, and don’t expect anything in return.

The message was followed by weeping and grief.

It’s not exactly a Thomas Kinkade scene come to life. And, so it is with life’s journey. Sometimes the path leads through difficult terrain, but there is purpose in our pains and in the places God leads us. Paul wasn’t complaining about the road ahead. He may have felt fear and grief as he set out, but courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the willingness to press on in spite of fear.

Today, I’m thinking about the balance of hoping for the best while knowing that “the best” does not always look the way I want it to look.

He Went On

source: Keith Chastain via Flickr
source: Keith Chastain via Flickr

But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. Acts 14:19-20 (NRSV)

I had breakfast with a friend the other day. He is one of my inner circle of friends with whom I share the most intimate parts of my life journey. In the midst of our conversation he asked some very direct questions about life. He is keenly aware of some difficulties I have been facing over the past year and he was doing a spiritual check in. I needed it, and I left our time together re-freshed.

Life gets difficult. Our path sometimes leads through dark places. We face obstacles of many kinds. This shouldn’t surprise us, though I’ve observed that our natural human reaction is almost always to react with incredulity and shake our fists at God while asking, “Why me?”

The truth is that Jesus told His followers to expect difficulties. Time and time again God’s message tells us that the path of spiritual progress leads directly through painful places. It’s how it works. We are called to find joy in the midst, bring good companions for the sojourn, and to persevere.

I was amazed at Paul’s example in today’s chapter. He was stoned until incapacitated, his seemingly lifeless body drug outside the city, and he was left for dead. Talk about a bad day. Then his friends surrounded him, he picked himself up, and he went on.

Today, I’m reminded of this simple fact: He went on. Paul faced obstacles and difficulties that make my momentary stresses pale in comparison. And, he went on. So shall I.

Have a great day.

Choosing to Believe

source: pictoquotes via Flickr
source: pictoquotes via Flickr

You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
    Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me to know.
Job 42:3 (NIV)

Earlier in our walk through the book of Job I shared some of Wendy’s and my experience with infertility. Many of Job’s questions echoed our own questions during the darkest days of our striving to have a child together. The questions still arise from within us at times, but it happens less frequently the further we get in our journey.

The truth of the matter is that I still don’t understand. I have made peace with the fact that we will never understand on this side of eternity. Some things we will simply never know or comprehend. I can choose to let it eat away at my insides until my existence becomes enveloped in bitterness, madness, or both. That’s not a great way to live.

Wendy was the last of her close group of friends to get married. She was 33 when we wed nine years ago. She shared with me some of her struggles with singleness, and she finally found a place to rest in it. “If God is good,” she told me, “and I believe He is, if God has my best interests in mind, and I believe He does, then I have to trust that there is purpose and a plan for what I’m going through even if I don’t understand it.”

That same logic helped us through our struggles with infertility. I still find myself repeating it from time to time when the scabs on the soul wound begin to itch. As I read today’s epilogue from the story of Job, it seems to me that Job came to the same conclusion, though he used different words. Sometimes you have to choose to believe. That’s called faith. Not only is faith required to believe that God exists, but also to believe that God has a purpose and a plan for me despite my present circumstances.

The Thunder of His Voice on the Horizon

source: andyrs via Flickr
source: andyrs via Flickr

“At this my heart pounds
    and leaps from its place.
Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice,
    to the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven
    and sends it to the ends of the earth.
After that comes the sound of his roar;
    he thunders with his majestic voice.
When his voice resounds,
    he holds nothing back.”
Job 37:1-4 (NIV)

While I was in college I had a friend whose family owned a cabin on the southeastern shores of Lake Michigan. One evening we were visiting their cabin and parked along some cliffs that afforded an expansive view of the western horizon, the Great Lake, and the Chicago skyline in the distance. It was a gorgeous, calm evening but behind the skyscrapers of Chicago we saw black clouds rising. Over the next couple of hours we watched a massive midwestern thunderstorm develop before our eyes. The dark clouds rose like mighty pillars and giant tentacles of lighting spread out like a breath-taking fireworks display across the evening sky. As the storm enveloped the city and began to cross the lake, the wind rose and giant white caps began to break against the shore beneath us. The thunder was deafening.

God says that His eternal nature is evident in creation, in what He has made. That night looking out over Lake Michigan I remember thinking that we were witnessing a tour de force of God’s might. I’ve never forgotten that experience, and as I read the opening lines of Elihu’s conclusion in this morning’s chapter, my mind took me right back to that night.

Elihu’s final words regarding the thunder of God’s voice foreshadows the final chapters of Job’s epic poem. After 37 chapters of silence in response to Job’s questions and the long debate with his friends, God is about to open His mouth to speak.

As I write this post it is the morning of New Year’s Eve day. I look back on a strange and somewhat difficult year in 2014. I stand on the precipice of 2015 with more questions than answers. It’s perhaps apropos that the year had ended with a journey through Job’s epic poem, with questions, and with struggle. It is equally appropriate that the current year ends waiting to hear from the Almighty, and that the new year will begin with God’s voice. Whether God’s voice arrives in the thunder of a  midwest storm or the whisper of a still, small voice, I’m anxious to hear what God has to say. I’m looking forward to what the new year will bring.