I know what it is to be poor or to have plenty, and I have lived under all kinds of conditions. I know what it means to be full or to be hungry, to have too much or too little.
-- Philippians 4:12
The Old Testament book of Exodus is where we read about God's plan for leading the Israelites to the Promised Land after freeing them from slavery in Egypt. But instead of taking them on the shortest route to their destination, God made His people wander in the desert wilderness for 40 years.
Have you noticed that God takes us on detours rather than the most direct path in our walk of faith? That's because He's more concerned with who we're becoming than where we're going. But when we can't see what's over the hilltop or around the bend, things don't make much sense to us. In fact, we might think that our situation is unfair. However, what would our journey be like if the road of life were always wide and smooth? And what would happen if we never had to work for anything worthwhile? For example, would it mean anything if we got straight A's in school without ever having to study? Or what if we were given a high-paying job with an impressive title...but had no real responsibilities to go with it?
Receiving everything on a silver platter might be nice for a while. But without experiencing challenges, responsibilities and even tragedies, we would quickly become lazy, self-centered and ultimately fail to reap some of life's greatest rewards. Just ask anyone who has worked their way through college or taken a second or third job to pay the mortgage--or send their child to a better school. It can be a real struggle. But it can also pay off in the long run.
The Apostle Paul knew a thing or two about enduring tough times along the journey:
"Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea," he wrote in 2 Corinthians. "I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers."
If anyone had something to complain to God about, it was Paul. Yet his heart was full of thanksgiving and joy. But this wasn't a reaction to something external--like landing a dream job or tickets to the Super Bowl. Instead, Paul could see the true picture though the most difficult of circumstances.
Looking back now to Exodus, we read that the Israelites grumbled constantly about many things, even after God had freed them from their back-breaking existence in Egypt. Thousands of years later, not much has changed for modern-day believers of the same loving Creator. After all, complaining--justified or otherwise--seems to be part of the human experience. But Christ-followers should know better. We can give thanks that all of our wrongdoings in life have been wiped clean through our faith in Jesus Christ. God remembers them no more. And a blessed future as literal sons and daughters of The King awaits us at the finish line!
The road of life is often narrow, winding and difficult. But regardless of the detours we face along the way, let's never forget to give thanks.