The Roundabout Way
The Pillars of Cloud and Fire1
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, “God will surely take notice of you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” They set out from Succoth, and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.
Love One Another2
For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
In the early 1700’s, John Wesley set out to be a missionary to the Native Americans around the Georgia Territory. It did not work out for him. Because of fighting that broke out between tribes and colonists, John was really only able to meet with them once. However, he did not give up and continued work as a missionary to the various colonies instead.
In those days, there were no highways, and often no real roads to speak of. In order to get from one village to the next, you had to trek through miles of swamp and woodlands. Most people had to hire guides to lead them from place to place. If you read John’s diary of his time here in America, you will discover that those guides did not always get them from place to place the most efficient way. In fact, by John’s accounts, they got lost every time.
That must have been how the Hebrew people felt following Moses. They probably had that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach causing them to wonder…
“Haven’t we been by here before?”
“There has to be a shorter way to the Promised Land!”
“Does Moses even know where he’s going?”
“Can we trust that big glowing cloud in front of us?”
Curiously, the scripture says that Moses did it on purpose, so that the people would not grow faint of heart, pull a 180 on them, and march right back to Egypt. Moses got them so lost in God’s wilderness that they would not even know how to go back to the valley of sin from which they came.
John, the Apostle wrote about God’s love like that. It doesn’t take us the shortest route… it takes the roundabout way. It is long, frustrating, and we very quickly get to a place where we don’t know where we are, where we are going, or where we came from. Perhaps God does that on purpose with us as well. Maybe God wants to get us so lost in love that we cannot remember the way back from where we came.
John Wesley wandered in the wilderness of America for several years before giving up and going back to England. It was only there, back at home, that he began to get lost in God’s love, and when he did, it changed his life forever.
When do you most often feel lost?
Where have you experienced God’s love in a way that makes you forget where you are and where you’ve come from?
How can you invite others to that experience as well?