When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, 'Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.'” (Exodus 13:17)God has just miraculously set His people free from 430 years of slavery in Egypt. They no longer would be owned by the Egyptians. They would be given their own land.
But God knows fallen human nature. He knows how habituated we can become, even to slavery. He knows that sometimes human beings opt for the horrors that are known over the risks of the unknown.
He also knows how readily we can forget God's past faithfulness, how easily are brains can be fogged over by nostalgia.
And God knows how easily we can change our minds when we face adversity or change in our lives.
God had answered His people's prayers: They were now free from the Egyptians, free to go to the land God had promised to Abraham's descendants centuries before.
When God has been faithful to us in the past it should encourage us to believe that He will keep being faithful in the present and in the future.
But that's not how the fallen human mind works.
When we're confronted with present risks, dangers, or terrors, we lose our memory. We forget God's past faithfulness and think that we're on our own, facing insurmountable difficulties.
Then we get nostalgic for days we falsely remember as idyllic.
That's what happened to God's people later in their wanderings toward the land God promised them. They forgot about how tough things had been in Egypt or how God had sustained them in slavery and then set them free. Instead, they pined for the past: "We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic." (Numbers 11:5)
God knows that if the people immediately faced adversities in claiming the land He had designated for them, they would turn tail and run, back to the known certainties of slavery. So, God decides to lead them by a more circuitous route, one which won't give the people an early reason for discouragement and one by which they will learn the importance of trusting in Him, even in situations in which they may have felt more in control.
There are things for which I have prayed for years. There have been times in those years when I felt like giving up on praying. But I've learned to keep praying because of my experiences with God answering those prayers in ways I never would have imagined. Or God has worked with me to show me that I needed to change what I was praying for.
There are still things I'm praying for and have been for a long time, things for which I may need to pray a long time still. In praying for them, I also need to ask God to help me pray not for the easy paths, but the faithful paths.
I need to ask Him to prevent me from looking on the past with nostalgia--which is fake history, but to instead see the past with clarity, including the times in which God sustained me through tough times, inspired me to believe, and fulfilled the promise that He gives to all who follow Jesus: "I will never leave you nor forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5)
One way I try to remember God's past faithfulness as a way of sustaining my faith through the uncertainties of the present and the future is to keep a prayer journal. It has two columns.
In the left-hand-column is the date of the prayer and the prayer itself. I
n the right-hand-column is where things are at on any given date, including the final disposition of the prayer.
Often, I edit my requests as I sense God is leading me.
When a prayer request has been fulfilled, I highlight it with yellow.
If it seems that God has told me no (no is also a legitimate answer from God to our praying, incidentally), I highlight it with caramel.
Those yellow-highlighted prayer requests are reminders of God's power to do what I can't do.
Those requests colored in caramel invite me to learn what it means to truly pray, "Thy will be done."
(By the way, I also have items that are lilac-colored. Lilac is how I designate prayer requests I've sensed God calling me to make, often for people I've never met. I'm having this experience more often lately. I'll be getting ready for bed when the name of someone flashes into my mind, someone I don't know personally and know nothing about, someone I haven't seen anything about in years. I take that as God calling me to pray for that person. I don't need to know what their need may be; all I know is that God wants to be invited into that person's circumstances and that He wants me--and probably others to whom He communicates because God is always communicating with us if we'll just listen--to issue the invitation.)
In steering the Israelites away from immediate adversity, God was helping the people develop a deeper memory of His faithfulness, power, and grace.
The Israelites would subsequently by inspired to continued trust in God by telling the stories of God's past faithfulness.
We can be similarly inspired when we read God's Word, which records the promises God has kept and made, including the greatest promise ever made, that of the Savior Jesus, Who died and rose to give everlasting life to all who repent and believe in Him.
But we can further do this by keeping prayer journals, records of the prayers we've offered in Jesus' name and how God has answered those prayers. Such journals, over time, become personal records of God's faithfulness to us.
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]