Sometimes you just don’t know what to do or when to do it. Lately, it seems I keep finding myself in that position. My grandpa used to say, “If you don’t know which way to turn, don’t turn.” I know exactly what he meant. I personally do not believe we should make decisions just for the sake of change. I believe we need to have that pull from within and not be guided simply by emotion. We need to listen to that still, small voice that whispers to us which way we should turn. Waiting on direction is good, but this isn’t really about the act of waiting. This is about the way in which we wait, and in the way God brings us through (or out of) very difficult and distressing situations.
Life is just hard sometimes. We all go through stages where we don’t see a way out of situations that are draining us of our joy and peace. It might be a relationship, a job, financial difficulties, our health or a host of other things. No matter the source, we just can’t see a way out, and sometimes the “light at the end of the tunnel” really IS a train. As a person of faith, I truly believe that God can make a way through any circumstance, no matter how dire it may appear. After all, there is one account after another where He did exactly that for his people. Sometimes they were grand deliverances and sometimes they were quiet, but what came to mind for me today were two specific stories of God parting the literal waters for His people to cross over. Two miraculous times, and yet there is something very different about HOW He did it. This is where I find myself these days: wondering if I am standing at the Red Sea or the Jordan River.
Most of you have at least heard of the story in Exodus 14 of the people of Israel being trapped in front of the Red Sea with no way out. There was impassible terrain on both sides, they were being pursued from behind by Pharaoh’s army, and there was a sea in front of them. Death and destruction seemed certain, but God had actually led them there with a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. They didn’t end up there by accident; God purposely and unmistakably led them. They were exactly where He wanted them to be, with no options of escape by their own power. He did it because He wanted them to see HIS power and deliverance in a way they could not deny. They were scared. They were probably terrified when they looked up and saw the army charging toward them. Moses told them to stand still and they would see the salvation of the Lord. Then he reiterated that they just needed to be still because the Lord would fight for them. (Exodus 14:13-14) God told Moses to stretch out his staff over the sea, and the waters would divide. Moses did what he was told, and God divided the waters. The people crossed over on TOTALLY DRY ground! Amazing, right?! There was no way out, but then a way miraculously opened up before them to be delivered from certain death.
None of us want to be faced with situations that seem like they will destroy us. We don’t want to be in a place where we have to trust God to make a way. We don’t want to have to wait and trust Him to deliver us in those times. We just want out! So we complain and grumble (just like the Israelites) about how God doesn’t see what we are forced to endure or, even worse, that He sees our struggles and doesn’t care! I have experienced occasions where I had no way out, but God opened up a path for me that I couldn’t have opened for myself. When it happens, it is thrilling! It is a mind-blowing experience that restores and strengthens my faith. It reminds me that nothing is impossible, and that God will always provide direction and make a way, even when it isn’t on my timetable.
Lately, I have been feeling pretty defeated in some areas of my life. Sometimes I am discouraged, and sometimes I am downright overwhelmed and depressed. Like many of us, I try to wait until I finally see the ocean part so I can walk through on dry ground to the other side. I believe God will impress on my heart the direction(s) I am supposed to take, and I am convinced He will make a way. So I stand and watch. The wind blows and the waves churn, and I watch. I look behind me and see the enemies closing, but I hold to my faith and trust there will be a way. I watch, but I have learned something very valuable along the way: Sometimes God doesn’t part the sea; He parts the river. Let me explain…
I mentioned there were TWO times where God parted literal waters to make a way for His people. The first was the Red Sea, but the other was Jordan River. The people of Israel were still journeying along the path God was directing them, carrying the Ark of the Covenant (Joshua chpt 3). They arrived at the edge of the Jordan River, and there was no way for them to cross. This was the time of year the river ran so high and swiftly that it would overrun its banks. It was a rushing, flooding river! God instructed Joshua that when the people come to the brink of the flowing waters of the Jordan, the priests who were carrying the Ark were to “stand still IN the Jordan.” Joshua passed the message along, and they did as they were told. As a result, the waters parted, and the people passed across on DRY GROUND! Sound familiar? Wait until God tells you to do otherwise and He will make the way clear. There is a glaring similarity in these two events: God’s direction was to “stand still” and He would provide a way. On the other hand, there is also a glaring difference. At the Red Sea, the people were to stand still and watch God open the path ahead. The sea parted before anyone stepped into it. At the Jordan River, the men were told to stand still IN the Jordan first and then God would open the path. The waters didn’t part until AFTER they stepped in.
So back to my life (and probably some of yours). I look around me, and most of the time I think “when and how can I get out of this?” I am often exhausted, stressed and sometimes even afraid. Sometimes I am angry, not only that God hasn’t delivered me from my circumstances, but that He actually LED me to a place where I can’t see any way out on my own power. We all find ourselves in places like this where we are completely stuck. It wears on us. It wears on me, but then my faith kicks in, and I remember that God is always leading me. Sometimes He leads me to wait, and sometimes He leads me to walk forward. He IS leading. The question is: Am I actually following?
Many of us are “leaders” in one way or another. We have positions in our jobs, churches and homes that require us to step up and lead. Many people, however, do not see themselves as anything but a follower. They have no desire to lead (in the traditional sense) or be responsible for others. Neither of these types of people are better than the other, but for those who fall into the latter group, don’t fool yourself into thinking you don’t struggle with control issues. The reality is that the vast majority of humanity desires (and pursues) the ability to control their own lives and their own journeys. We may not want to lead others, but we do want to be able to direct our own paths. Let me put it this way: We want freedom. We want to choose what we do and when we do it. We don’t want to feel trapped or stuck in any area of our lives, and, too often, we view waiting as being stuck. Waiting goes against our nature when things aren’t going well. We are hard-wired to do something, or make something happen, and have come to view anything less as laziness. We overestimate our intelligence (no matter how high or low your IQ may be) and set off in a direction based on a list of pros and cons. We think through our options and make what we believe is the best decision. In those rare occasions that we find ourselves temporarily without options, we may wait, but we do not do it gracefully. As people of faith, we want to be delivered and for God to clear the path ahead the minute we face the ocean or the raging rivers of our lives. We want to walk through on dry ground, but we cannot do that unless we first stand still.
Standing still isn’t easy. Waiting for God to open doors and paths in our lives isn’t easy, but knowing where we are supposed to stand still is an even tougher dilemma for us. Are we (am I) standing at the edge of the sea or the raging river? How do I know if I am waiting on God to move, or if God is waiting on me to step into the water first? Are we at a standoff of faith? Am I misinterpreting my role in this journey? Questions flood our minds when we are struggling. We question why God isn’t opening the path before us or why He doesn’t seem to be moving. We strain our eyes for signs of where we are supposed to go or what we are supposed to do. Do we wait or do we leap? My friends, God is not the author of confusion! (1 Cor 14:33) He is continually leading us in all different ways – some are obvious and some are subtle, but all are powerful if we are willing to follow. God may drop a sign as obvious as a pillar of fire or cloud in front of you and say “follow that,” or you may have to rely simply on His words. You may be led to a dead end and told to stand still on the banks of the ocean and wait, or you may be told to step INTO the waters first and wait for them to part. I think most of us probably prefer waiting for the path to open before we embark upon it. We like to see it before we walk it. There are some, however, who actually prefer jumping into the river first and then seeing the path emerge.
I’ve been at the “Red Sea” before. The stress of looking around and seeing no way out, while an enemy is barreling down on you to destroy you, is overwhelming. There is an urgency and survival nature that kicks in and creates panic. “GET ME OUT, I’M GONNA DIE!” Standing still, feeling like a sitting duck, is terribly difficult in those moments. We are in fight or flight mode, and being still is contrary to everything in us because time is not on our side. That is precisely why God tells us to stand still at those moments. We need to stop and quit freaking out over what is happening. We need to stand still and remember God led us to this place for a reason, and if we will stand still at that point, we will see the “salvation of the Lord.” Take a breath. You followed unmistakable direction in good faith, and God just needs you to calm down and let Him do the heavy lifting. Be still and let Him show you the way.
The “Jordan River” brings a total different type of stress. I’ve been there too. There isn’t the same urgency of survival that happens at the “Red Sea.” You aren’t trapped and no one is actively pursuing you to destroy you. You are simply lacking direction. It isn’t hard for us to stand still in these times because the status quo can be an addictive drug. When there isn’t an urgent threat, it’s easy to just stick with what you know, but we find ourselves in situations where we are driven to fear, depression, and anxiety. We know God has the ability to deliver us, but we can see different options or paths for that to happen. As a result, we become paralyzed because we don’t want to give up what we have if God hasn’t shown us the path yet. We don’t make the leap because we fear we will be worse off than we are now. “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” right? So we give up joy, peace and contentment for the sake of stability and safety. The stress of the Jordan doesn’t come from having to calm yourself to be still in the face of a charging enemy; it comes from having to get the courage to let go of safety and stability FIRST and then wait for God to reveal the path. Let me add one other thought here. God told them to step into the raging flood waters and THEN to stand still. He didn’t tell them to step in and keep walking. Our tendency at the Jordan is to say, “I know God wants me to step into the river and He will show me the way.” What we forget is the very next step after leaving the safety of dry land, is to stand still in the unknown. The fear and anxiety that comes with the Jordan comes from letting go of a sure thing and seemingly risking everything. It comes in doing making the leap and then having to calm yourself as the flood waters rush around you. It comes in trying to stand while the force of your circumstances are trying to pull you under. Instead of asking God “Why did you bring me here to be destroyed,” we ask ourselves, “What was I thinking?!” We start questioning if we did the right thing, because destruction seems certain as a result of our decision. We experience the elation of courage, only to be hit with the panic of survival. We step in, but when the way isn’t immediately made clear, we step back out and wonder why we still don’t see a path. That isn’t God’s fault; it’s ours.
So the question remains – Am I, or are we, at the Red Sea or the Jordan River. To answer that question, you need to look at where you’ve been.
- Have you been following God’s direction with a certainty in your heart that it is Him, only to find yourself in a place where it seems there is no way out? Are you frantic and worried? If so, take a breath. Remind God of His promises to take care of you (Deut 31:6; Matt 6:26-34). Calm yourself and stand still and watch what God is about to do. You will be walking on dry ground soon, and the circumstances that were chasing you down to destroy you will be drowned in the sea behind you.
- On the other hand, have you been following God as he leads you to where He wants you to be, only to find yourself faced with a barrier or circumstance that confuses you? Is there something in your way that is causing you to look at other options, thinking you must have misinterpreted God’s leading up to this point? Are you stressed or anxious, but leaning instead on safety and stability, settling for less than what you know God has for you? If so, take heart! Remind yourself that God is not the author of confusion, and He is simply waiting for you to move forward and step into the water with confidence – even without knowing for sure the outcome at that point. Just because it’s scary doesn’t mean it isn’t where you are supposed to be. The waters may be pulling at you once you step in but stand still and watch what God is about to do. (2 Cor 4:8-9 – 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed) You, too, will soon be walking on dry ground, safely and with clear direction.
No matter where you find yourself today, standing at the Red Sea or the Jordan, don’t panic. God is with you, leading you forward. He isn’t holding His will behind His back and making you play a game to try and figure it out. If you truly want direction, and are in fellowship with your Father, then He will reveal it to you. You may still be asking, “But how do I know?” Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path.” Notice the little word in the middle – “all. That little word leaves no room for creating your own directions or forging your own path. Are you the master of your destiny? Yes, absolutely. You have complete freedom of choice to live your life how you choose. You can go it alone, bumping into walls, frustrated and always seeking direction, or you can acknowledge God in ALL your ways and He will provide the direction for which you are seeking. If you want to know which way to go, then get humble, surrender your will to His in every area, and then listen to that still, small voice within. He has promised He will lead us; we simply need to be willing to stand still first, and then follow where He leads.