The season of darkness has fallen, and the beige walls of the living room are creeping ever so slowly closer together with each passing day. God will faithfully draw the curtains and usher in robins and Daylight Savings Time before suffocation overcomes us in March, but until then, I’m wondering if this might be the year that does us in.
I sit on the recliner in the 4 p.m. twilight, and I read these words:
As Pharaoh drew near, the sons of Israel looked, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they became very frightened; so the sons of Israel cried out to the Lord. Then they said to Moses, “Is it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you dealt with us in this way, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” Exodus 14:10-13
At first sight, the plight of the Israelites fleeing Pharaoh’s armies seems to have little to do with my life in twenty-first century America. But then I get to thinking. Moses has just led God’s people away from the bondage of slavery, out of a life of toil and struggle, and into a wide open space of promise. The people have no way of knowing it just yet, but God is about to split a sea in two so that they can cross on dry ground to safety.
What if the enemies that seek to destroy us are just a few steps from drowning in the depths of the sea, but we’re too full of grumbling to step away?
What if the old enticements that threaten to enslave us – things like hurry, perfectionism, lust, escapist behaviors, and laziness – are just inches from meeting their final demise, but we’re too tired of the fight?
Sometimes going back to what we once knew feels right, even when what we once knew was never God’s best for our lives.
I face this temptation when the days grow short and nights grow long. I’m not tempted to fall to some socially unacceptable vice, but I’m tempted to give in to complaint and discouragement. I’m tempted to stop looking for the good that surrounds me and dwell on the walls closing in.
What if this isn’t God’s best? What if the next breakthrough for our lives is just two steps away? What if the sea is about to open wide, if we’ll just quit complaining, adjust our attitudes, and fix our eyes on him?
We each face areas where it’s tempting to go back to the slavery of Egypt. It might be subtle – something no one will notice, or it might be an overt behavior that could lead to ruin and enslavement. Here are a few ways to overcome the temptation to turn back:
Refuse to Complain
The Israelites wandered in the desert for four decades because they refused to give thanks for their freedom and insisted on complaining. The avenue of complaint leads in a frustrating circle. If we want to stop circling the same old mountain, we ought to cast aside complaint.
Give Thanks for What Is Good
No longer forced to labor long hours and make bricks from straw and mud, wandering through the desert seems like a ticket to freedom. Instead of thanking God for setting them free, God’s people complained again and again. They complained about the food he provided. They complained about the lack of water. The complained about Moses’ leadership. I wonder how the journey might have changed if they’d given thanks for the blessings instead of cursing what seemed lacking.
Keep the Past in Perspective
It’s easy to look back on the old days and remember past seasons through rose-colored glasses. God’s people forgot that slavery was grueling and harsh. In the same way, we need to remember the parts of our past ways that led to destruction. The party might last for the night, but the regrets leave a lasting sting the next day. We’re wise to remember the regrets instead of only the fun of the night.
I’m not sure whether the sun has set or the drab sky is simply darkening with thicker clouds when I finish reading. One thing I know is this: I choose my mindset every day. Today I can choose defeat and discouragement, or I can choose hope and life. I choose the latter.