Have you ever found yourself in a position where you have no control and it feels like everything in your life is crumbling around you? Welcome to the club, and welcome to my week. In the story of the great Exodus in God’s word, there is a place called “Pihahiroth” where the people ended up at a dead end with no way out. (Exodus 14:1-30) It seems that Pihahiroth has once again become all too real in my life. Most people are familiar with the story of the God’s deliverance of the Israelites from Pharaoh by the parting of the Red Sea. It was a truly miraculous event where the people had been told by God to follow a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, but in doing so, God led them to Pihahiroth where they found themselves with absolutely no way out. There they stood with Pharaoh and his army closing in behind to slaughter them. To the right and left of them was impassible terrain, and in front of them was a sea they could not cross. They had nowhere to go and could do nothing but sit and wait. They knew what was coming. They knew the end was inevitable. What they didn’t know was there was something amazing just around the corner.
Life can really get us down sometimes. We spend our days trying to do the right thing, for the right reasons, only to find ourselves feeling as though it doesn’t matter. For me, I’ve always tried to do what I believed God was leading me to do. I have not always been successful in that endeavor, as my humanity has sometimes gotten in the way, but since the age of about 17, I have been “all in” with my commitment to living a life of love and service – not just to God, but to others. I have served the professional organizations of which I have been a part, whether as a career or volunteer work. I have tried to love and serve others, to build them up and to create bridges instead of walls. I have sought to take the high road when others wanted to drag me into the mud or when it would have been easier for me to retaliate against injustice. Am I a great person? No. Do I always do the right thing? No. I don’t think anyone ever really does, but that doesn’t mean your heart can’t continually be turned toward the things that are right and just.
When times are going well, it is easy to say you are a “person of faith” but what exactly does that mean? God’s word defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen “ (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is NOT easy. Faith is believing God is in control even when the circumstances around you are spinning and crumbling. Faith is knowing that God is a “rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). Even Galatians 6:9 tells us, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” But it is hard not to faint when you’ve been so let down by friends or family, churches or companies. There is scripture after scripture that mentions these elements of faith, but how do you hold onto faith when you find yourself in situations for which there is no recognizable way out? How do you stay calm and maintain your peace and joy when everywhere you look, you see nothing but impending doom or destruction? What do you do when you are faced with the very real circumstances of Pihahiroth?
As I pondered these and other questions, I went back to the story in Exodus. I thought of how all these people had been slaves in Egypt and how incredible it must have felt when they were freed. I thought of how God led them in a way that was absolutely unmistakable. It wouldn’t have taken a brilliant person to follow a pillar of fire or a pillar of cloud. Today we sometimes struggle with discerning which way God would have us to go or what decision He would have us to make. We pray and ask for guidance but then we have to listen to that still, small voice within that actually confirms we are in the will of God. It isn’t always easy. It would be much easier if God said, “I’m going to put a pillar of fire in front of you and all you need to do is follow it because it will lead you EXACTLY where you need to be.” Following a physical sign that magnificent would not require any interpretation or planning on your part. Your only decision would be whether or not to follow. There would be no question which direction it was going. So I think about Israel and how it would have been impossible for them to doubt they were going the right way or doing the right thing. IT WAS RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM AND VISIBLE. So they did exactly what God asked of them and then ended up in the worst place possible – a place in which they had no control and all hope was shattered. I truly believe at that point that even the smartest and most faithful among the people would have begun to doubt. I can see someone scratching his/her head and thinking, “I don’t understand. It was perfectly clear where God was leading and there was no question about what was right. So how did we end up HERE? I must have missed something somewhere or we wouldn’t be trapped.” How confusing it would have been to have seen God work in such amazing ways to bring you out of slavery but then PURPOSELY lead you to a place from which you could not escape. Did He make a mistake? Did you make a mistake in following? The things the Israelites must have been thinking are questions we still ask ourselves today. Did I do the right thing for nothing? Did I follow where God was leading only to end up in a situation from which there is no escape? Is my situation hopeless? I can tell you the answer to all of these questions is a resounding “NO,” because the story doesn’t end there.
God had a miraculous plan for Israel just like He has a plan for you and me. It was an amazing plan but no one knew the outcome except Him. All He needed for them to do was to trust and follow the obvious direction in which He was leading. He wasn’t leading them to a boxed canyon of death; He was leading them to the place where they would finally see there was nothing He was incapable of fixing or changing. He led them to a place where the only resolution to the hopeless situation was the magnificence, power, and love of God. He led them to a place where when deliverance did come, there would be no doubt whatsoever that it was ALL God and not anything else.
A number of years ago I left a situation that had been very difficult for quite some time. When I made that change, it felt much like I was leaving my own Egypt. It had gotten to a point where I felt enslaved and then seemingly out of nowhere God brought me out of it. Things transpired in a way that it left no doubt it was Him moving in my life. I look back now and think it looks a lot like Israel. God said, “I’m going to deliver you out of this situation, and I’m going to promise you some amazing things. All you have to do is follow.” I believed that was true and that he had great things in store. I believed strongly in the path in which God was taking me, and have continued to believed it all these years. I have been focused on doing what I believe God has called me to do, and to do the right things for the right reasons. His leading has been as unmistakable as a literal pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, yet I am now standing here in my very own Pihahiroth. It doesn’t feel good. It feels hopeless. I feel like that Israelite standing there thinking, “I was doing the right thing, but I must have been wrong because look where I am now. I’ve got an ocean in front of me and an army closing in behind me. I look to the right and left and there is nothing but impassible terrain. I’ve got nothing, no control. I can’t make anything happen and I’m stuck.” A few nights ago, as I couldn’t sleep, I literally cried out to God through my tears, “There is no way out of this! Too much has already happened and it can’t be fixed. It is impossible!” And as I heard myself in my despair, I remembered Pihahiroth. It really isn’t just pretty lyrics to say “God will make a way,” or that Pihahiroth is the place of freedom. This actually IS Pihahiroth, where God can and will provide a way. As a matter of fact, He has already made the way. The question is: Am I willing to follow even when He has not revealed it yet?
We’ve all had Pihahiroth experiences in our lives. These experiences that are so painful and difficult when you are at a total loss, are the same experiences that build your faith at the deepest level. We know what God can do because we’ve seen in our lives and the lives of those around us. We’ve seen it in the things we’ve experienced and lived. We should remember them but we often don’t. We should remember the times we stood at the sea crying, “There is no way out,” only to watch the sea just open up before us. We need to remember the path it creates is not filled with mud that we have to trudge through, but one of dry, easily walkable ground. When God freed Israel from slavery in Egypt he then basically said, “I’m going to lead you. Just follow me because I have great things in store for you, and I’m going to make it really simple for you to know the way. It’s not going to be complicated. All you have to do is follow that big pillar because I’ve got your back. You don’t need to worry about anything as long as you follow.” When God makes it that clear, it does no good whatsoever to sit back and say to yourself, “Maybe that wasn’t the right direction.” Because the truth is, it wasn’t a mistake then and neither is the situation in which I find myself in today. It was purposeful for Israel and it is purposeful for me today.
I know if my situation changes, it will be only at the hand of God. It will be a result of prayer and letting GOD do the heavy lifting. In my faith, I know I did not simply wander into this place by accident or mistake, and when I am finally walking through on dry ground, I will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it could only happen because God did it. In my humanity I am confused, hurt and discouraged. In my humanity I want to just sit down and give up, but then I catch my breath and remember that God can fix what cannot be fixed. He can heal what cannot be healed and change what cannot be changed. That pillar of cloud and fire does not mislead or confuse; It clarifies.
So as we all live through times of difficulty that appear hopeless, remember the truth of Pihahiroth and the ultimate freedom it brings. Wait and let God move, no matter how futile it may seem sometimes. Then follow where He leads and do what He is calling you to do. Do not give in to your sight, but hold to your faith for we “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Do the right thing even when it hurts, but take heart in knowing nothing escapes the eyes of Heaven, and God has promised to reward those who are faithful. There really is something amazing right around the corner. He has promised to always make a way, even when that way seems impossible when you find yourself staring at the sea. .