One of my habits is to get up early in the morning, usually while it is still slightly dark outside and the rest of the family is enjoying their final hour or so of sleep. With a fresh cup of coffee in hand, I spend some quiet time in prayer and some reading in God’s Word. I like to think of this as my spiritual breakfast, kind of like getting some spiritual nutrition for a spiritually healthy start to the day. Many times this is also when I get some inspirational direction for the day ahead of me.
This morning something new jumped out at me while reading the story of Moses and his first request that Pharaoh let the Israelites go. Pharaoh responded harshly, calling the people “lazy,” and he added to their daily quota of mud bricks the impossible task of gathering their own straw. Their predictable failure caused the Israelite foremen to be beaten. They appealed to Pharaoh for leniency but the record says, “The Israelite foremen realized they were in trouble…” when Pharaoh rebuffed them and provided no relief for them from his demands (Exod. 5:19).
I’ve read this story many times, but today I saw it in a different light. What stood out for me this time was that although God had promised to free the Hebrews, their obedience to His directions actually resulted in a time of trial, pain, and suffering for them. I am not saying that God caused their pain or suffering, because I don’t believe He did, but what is clear is that they actually did suffer when they obeyed His instructions. He told them to go to Pharaoh and ask for their release, and when they obeyed their hard lives got even harder, and the Israelite foremen even suffered beatings.
But wait!—I thought walking with God would make life easier
For years I labored under a false understanding of the “abundant life” that Jesus spoke of John 10:10. In essence, my leaders had taught me that Jesus promised a life free from sickness and full of financial abundance for those who accepted him and had faith in him. However, a fuller understanding of God’s Word and the realities of life have taught me that this was not the “abundant life” that Jesus was speaking of. The truth was that life for me, just like life for the men and women in the Bible, had in many ways gotten more difficult, not easier, when I committed myself to obeying God.
God promised that He would free Israel from their captivity, and that He would lead the Israelites to “a land flowing with milk and honey,” but He never promised that this was going to come about easily. On the contrary, He told them Pharaoh was going to be so hardhearted that, even after seeing the miracles and plagues, it would require the death of Egypt’s firstborn sons for the Israelites to be freed. The Israelites failed to see that there were going to be some tough times ahead and that Pharaoh would “not let the people go.”
(21) The LORD said to Moses, “When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.
(22) Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son,
(23) and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.’ “
Like the Israelites, we too have some great promises in our future, but we must be careful to be realistic in our thinking, seeing things as they really are both in the present and the future.
“Reality thinking” helps make life easier
Despite life being very difficult at times, there are a few practical things we can do with our thinking that will help to make life easier. First, while thinking about the present, we want to make sure that we see things as they really are, not as we wish them to be. And second, having a clear vision for the future will inspire us and give us the energy to carry on, despite how tough things are now.
Failure to see the present as it really is causes us to live in denial. This is a delusional state of mind and can be very harmful. I learned this lesson very clearly when my daughter had breast cancer. For months she denied that the disease was as bad as it really was, but her intense denial did nothing to stop the slow and steady advancement of the killer in her body. The day came when she was lying in her hospital bed telling her older sister that she “just did not believe she was as sick as the doctors were saying.” Within hours she was dead. Her failure to have “reality thinking”, accepting the present as it really was, led directly to her death. Denial is a powerful force and we must work to avoid it.
Abraham did not deny his age or the reality that his body “was as good as dead.” By facing the facts, he was able to place his complete trust in God and His promise of a son. Like Abraham, it is when we face the facts that we can then move past them.
Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead–since he was about a hundred years old–and that Sarah’s womb was also dead.
We want to see things in the present as they are but not keep our focus there. That tends to only make things worse.
False expectations lead to false hope
There had to be great joy in the settlements of the Israelites when Aaron and Moses first announced how God was moving to bring about their deliverance from slavery. Merely knowing that Yahweh had seen their plight would have brought great encouragement to their hearts, and the promise of freedom must have been exhilarating. Sadly, their joy would quickly turn to disappointment and sorrow as Pharaoh’s obstinance grew.
As we briefly covered above, Pharaoh harshly responded to the request for the Israelites’ release, increasing their tasks while demanding the same brick quota. The Israelite foremen, after being beaten for failing to meet the brick production quota, sought leniency from Pharaoh, but instead of relief they were treated even more harshly. Leaving Pharaoh’s presence, the foremen confronted Moses and Aaron, blaming them for the way they had been treated by the Egyptians.
“May the Lord look upon you [Moses and Aaron] and judge you! You have made us a stench to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”
The Israelites’ unrealistic expectation of a quick and pain-free release, despite God’s warning that it wasn’t going to be easy, caused them to lose sight of the deliverance. Their faulty thinking about their emancipation was a false hope, and any hope that is unrealized will cause heartache.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
Unrealized expectations cause frustration, but a false expectation is especially harmful because it can never be fulfilled. In the case of the Israelites, their false expectation of easy release led them into the wilderness of self-pity, anger, and finger-pointing.
False thinking can also lead to a state of delusion where we substitute a lie for reality. Even after having experienced the mighty hand of God on their behalf, after seeing the great signs of the plagues, and the fantastic miracle of the parting of the Red Sea, the Israelites still grumbled against Moses and Aaron. They were so greatly deceived that they began to imagine their past life in Egypt as wonderful, and they completely abandoned the vision of life in the Promised Land.
Keep a clear vision
Keeping the goal clearly in sight is something I was reminded of recently as I moved my family 2,500 miles from Indiana to the west coast. Moving always provides ample opportunities to break things, including your peace, especially when you do it with three small children and a fifty-pound dog. There were weeks spent sorting, packing, hauling, and lifting as we prepared for the big day when the movers would finally arrive. Finally that day came and I took off across the vast plains of America driving a moving truck with my grandson and my dog at my side. As I drove mile after boring mile, for hour after boring hour, I had lots of time to reflect on what I was doing. There were a number of times when I thought to myself… “Are you NUTS?!—You just left behind all your dear friends and co-workers.” I also reflected on my home and many of the details of the past eight years of my life.
My wife and I drew our energy from our clear vision of what lay ahead of us. We were real in our thinking about the pain of the move. We did not deceive ourselves; the move was going to be very hard, which it was—and it was going to take a lot of work and time to get resettled, which it did. But we also knew that the pain would give way to a better life for our family—and it has. Having a vision anchored in the reality of what was ahead of us helped get us through the pain.
Trial can be a great testing ground to see if “the vision” really lives in us
When we lose sight of the goal, we run the risk of wandering in the wasteland of discouragement and victimhood. Rather than expecting a pain-free life, we should realize that the obstacles that lie between us and the fulfillment of the promise are a way of testing us to see if the vision is really alive in our hearts.
The record of God’s Word is very clear: there will be times of trouble for all those who try to live uprightly. We are told to expect life to be tough and we have the examples of what other godly men and women had to endure. But the lesson of Scripture is also clear that when those times of distress come, we are to keep our eyes on the promise and the Promise Keeper.
The writer of Psalm 77 speaks of a time when he was in such great distress that he could not even muster the strength to speak.
(2) When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted.
(3) I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint.
(4) You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak.
The psalm goes on to describe how he questioned God’s love and mercy for him. He was “real” before God about what he was thinking and relief came when he turned his thoughts to the truth of God’s mighty works and deeds and how God had come through in times past.
(10) Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.”
(11) I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
(12) I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.
(13) Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God?
(14) You are.
The psalmist’s sorrow and pain turned to joy when he recounted the mighty works of God. In our times of trouble, we too need to turn to God and remember that He is “the God who performs miracles; [He] displays [His] power among the peoples” (Psalm 77:14).
For the joy set before him
Jesus faced the most difficult challenge and trial that any man has ever had to endure. The torture and crucifixion that was ahead of him was so great that he prayed intensely for his Heavenly Father for an alternate way (Matt. 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:40-46). He knew full well all the Old Testament prophecies about him as the Suffering Servant, but he was also clear about the glory that lay beyond that. And it was on the glory and the joy that he fixed his eyes, which is what got him through the hellacious ordeal. Jesus fixed his eyes on the glory of being seated at the right hand of God.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Just as Jesus fixed his eyes on the goal, we are to fix our eyes on Jesus, which includes everything he did and our life with him in the Millennial Kingdom, and even beyond. Keeping a clear focus on the future will help us when we grow weary and begin to lose heart.
Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
We have no promise from God that life now will be easy, but there is a promise that there is a great future in store for us if we live in obedience to the Gospel. When difficult times come, when we face hardships and trials of our faith, we need to recognize them for what they are. The answer is to go to God with complete confidence and trust that He will do everything He can for us, while we draw encouragement from the joy that is set before us.