As we look back upon our Christian lives, we inevitably realize that the greatest times of growth and maturity came as we experienced trials and hardships. Yet, as true as this may be, I see in the church today an overwhelming trend to flee and escape trials at any cost. There seems to be an unwritten doctrine abounding that believes that the Christian life ought to be easy and without tribulation. However, in the midst of this teaching, the pervasive Word of God will always contradict such ideas. The Bible not only affirms the normalcy of trials in our lives, but also predicts it and surrounds it with the idea that with faithfulness comes trials, testings and persecution (Mt.5.11-12; 1 Pt. 4.12-19). It was the Lord who said to the Israelites, “Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands” (Deut. 8.2).
Though we are all familiar with the Exodus story and the parting of the Red Sea, we often fail to remember that it was the Lord himself who directed the Israelites to it’s shores. The Exodus account tells us, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter...so God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea” (Ex.13.17-18). God is not always interested in the path of least resistance, for often times, it is the path of struggle and longevity that produces the desired results. Recall Jesus’ reaction when hearing that his close friend Lazarus was on his death bed: “Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days” (Jn.11.6). Frequently, God will put us in situations so as to give opportunity to test us. Yet, we must understand that his testings are not capricious, for in them he desires to perfect our faith. Just as the pruning of a bush is the catalyst for growth, trials have the potential to purify and cultivate our faith. “These [trials] have come so that your faith, of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire, may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Pt.1.7).
By leading the Israelites to the Red Sea, the Lord was placing them in a position of testing. Not only did he lead them to the Red Sea, but he kept them there until Pharaoh and his mighty army had sufficient time to catch up with them; (Remember that the Israelites would only move camp as the pillars of fire and cloud led them). Just as soon as Pharaoh hardened his heart and contemplated a pursuit of the Israelites, God could have moved the pillar of fire and led Israel to a place of safety. Yet, he did not! We must come to terms with the understanding that the safest place is in the hands and will of Christ himself!
When the Israelites saw the pursuing Egyptians marching after them, “they were terrified and cried out to the Lord” (Ex.14.10). In the midst of their fear, they grumbled against their God-given leader and accused him of a suicide expedition. How do we respond to the fiery tests of our lives? Do we flee in the direction of logical deduction? Do we begin to slander and accuse those around us so as to dispel our personal responsibility to endure? Are we taken and driven by our emotions to a place of depression or anxiety? Moses had learned that God is the fighter of life’s battles. Though he tried to escape his commission to redeem the Hebrews from the land of Egypt, he quickly came to grips with the God who is “I AM THAT I AM” (Ex.3.11-14)! The Lord assured Moses that he would be whatever Moses needed at the pinnacle of his need. It was only with this revelation that Moses could faithfully face the most powerful nation on earth and confront Pharaoh with the command of the Lord to, “Let my people go!”
Surrounded by throngs of fearful and grumbling people, Moses made this most amazing declaration: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Ex.14.13- 14). What does it mean to “stand firm,” and “be still?” It certainly does not mean that we are to passively surrender or sit idly by, expecting the Lord to work apart from our faithful obedience. In the very next verse, the Lord commands Moses to tell the Israelites, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground” (v.15). Standing firm and being still speaks of faithful reliance on the character of God in the midst of trials. We are to stand firm on the promises of God and trust him to see us through our difficulties. We are to bring our emotions into stillness and take every thought and emotion into captivity and obedience to Jesus Christ.
This stillness of Moses stands in direct opposition to the succumbing fear of Saul as the Philistines assembled to fight Israel. As the Israelite army began running off in fear, Saul compromised the command of Samuel to wait for him and instead offered a sacrifice, which was only permitted by the priesthood (1 Sam. 13). This act of rebellion and faithlessness cost Saul his kingship.
We need not be a people who tremble at the sound of Pharaoh’s army. Our faith should not be dependent on circumstances, nor should our lives be governed by things that appeal to our senses. In our lives, we will find ourselves between the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army, but in the midst of this we can praise the name of Jesus as he Pain’s furnace heat within me quivers, God’s breath upon the flame doth blow; And all my heart in anguish shivers And trembles at the fiery glow; And yet I whisper, “As God will!” And in the hottest fire hold still. He comes and lays my heart, all heated, On the hard anvil, minded so Into His own fair shape to beat it With His great hammer, blow on blow; And yet I whisper, “As God will!” And at His heaviest blows hold still. He takes my softened heart and beats it; The sparks fly off at every blow; He turns it o’er and o’er and heats it, And lets it cool, and makes it glow; And yet I whisper, “As God will!” And in His mighty hand hold still. Why should I murmur? for the sorrow Thus only longer-lived would be; The end may come, and will tomorrow, When God has done His work in me; So I say trusting, “As God will!” And, trusting to the end, hold still. (emphasis mine) Julius Sturm promises that he will never leave us or forsake us. Directly after God led them through the Red Sea and swallowed up their pursuers, the Israelites broke out in songs of praise before the Lord. Psalm 106.12 states that after God delivered his children to the other side of the Red Sea, “Then they believed his promises and sang his praise.” Their faith was dependent on their natural senses and not upon the Word of the Lord. God desires that his children praise his name in the midst of trials, testings and persecution, for in this, we demonstrate our trust and security in Christ alone. It is when we come to the end of ourselves that Christ miraculously intervenes and opens the sea to victory. We must learn to stand firm and be still and see the salvation of our Lord. Before Israel knew there was a problem, God knew, and this is true in our lives. God knew, before you were given the diagnosis of cancer, or met a financial challenge and he will be faithful to bless you as you remain in him. The Lord richly bless you as you praise him in the stillness of your faith.
Pastor Ty Gulstrom
Pain’s furnace heat within me quivers,
God’s breath upon the flame doth blow;
And all my heart in anguish shivers
And trembles at the fiery glow;
And yet I whisper, “As God will!”
And in the hottest fire hold still.
He comes and lays my heart, all heated,
On the hard anvil, minded so
Into His own fair shape to beat it
With His great hammer, blow on blow;
And yet I whisper, “As God will!”
And at His heaviest blows hold still.
He takes my softened heart and beats it;
The sparks fly off at every blow;
He turns it o’er and o’er and heats it,
And lets it cool, and makes it glow;
And yet I whisper, “As God will!”
And in His mighty hand hold still.
Why should I murmur? for the sorrow
Thus only longer-lived would be;
The end may come, and will tomorrow,
When God has done His work in me;
So I say trusting, “As God will!”
And, trusting to the end, hold still.
(emphasis mine) Julius Sturm
© 2004 World Ministries International