I love efficiency. I love when things are streamlined with as little resistance as possible. I love when things fall into place with very little effort. Really, we all do. If there’s an easier way, we’ll take it. If there’s a way we can cut down the time it takes to get something done, we’ll try it. Our culture celebrates efficiency. In fact, we tend to grow irritated when someone asks us to slow down or to take the long way.
So what happens when our values for efficiency rub up against God’s plans?
Well, if you’re like me, it probably leads to frustration and maybe even anger. But as I read through Scripture, I’m reminded that I’m in pretty good company.
A couple of weeks ago we shared our story here in Atlanta with some new friends. We shared how we had moved from Tacoma to San Diego so that we could prepare to help launch a ministry in Spain. It was a pretty straight forward plan as far as we could tell. God however, had other plans. Support raising didn’t go as we thought it would. We ended up doing much more ministry in San Diego than we had originally planned. Our timelines didn’t line up the way we thought they would. And to top it all off, God shifted our family and ministry toward Italy instead of Spain.
As we shared our story, our friends looked at us, sensing our weariness and confusion as to what the past few years had been and simply said, “sounds like what God did to the Israelites when they left Egypt. They had a pretty straightforward road to the ‘promised land’ and God took them the long way – on purpose – for their own good.”
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle. (Exodus 13:17-18)
Over the past year, many people have said to us, “God wastes nothing.” In our heads, we know that’s true. And yet, for some reason, on that day with our friends, it hit us differently. God knew if the Israelites had gone the “efficient way,” that the first sign of trouble would have put them on the express train back to Egypt. God purposefully took them on an epic journey of preparation to build His people’s trust and faith in Him.
If you look on a map, the distance between the two paths is pretty dramatic. Clearly God’s not in the business of efficiency. If he were, he’d have taken the Israelites as quickly as possible to the promised land. But, what we see throughout Scripture is that God is actually all about intentionally developing His people’s hearts for the long haul.
When you look at the Israelites journey, you see that God did some pretty incredible things while they were going the “long way.”
God fed them with manna from heaven every day they were in the wilderness.
God provided water for them out of a rock.
God protected them from the heat of day and the cold of night.
God kept their clothing, shoes and tents from wearing out.
God gave them victory over enemy after enemy.
God did these incredible things along the way to grow and develop His people and their trust in Him. It was far from easy. It was anything but efficient. But it was entirely on purpose. In fact, “the long way” would serve as the back drop by which generation after generation would reflect on and point back to God’s faithfulness.
As we ourselves continue to step forward toward Italy, we have seen God’s intentionality in so much of what we’ve encountered. If I’m honest, some days I’m grateful for God’s process in taking us the long way, other days not so much. One thing is for sure, we are grateful to have already been able to see God’s faithfulness throughout our journey. God has been using the long way to intentionally grow our faith and trust in Him and prepare us for what lies ahead in Italy. It’s our prayer that when we look back on the “long way,” we’ll be overwhelmed with gratitude for all God’s done, and our whole family will be able to point back to God’s faithfulness for generations to come.