Today’s guest post is by Pastor Kip McCormick. Kip is the campus pastor for Cornwall Church Skagit Valley in Mount Vernon, Washington—a satellite campus of Cornwall Church in Bellingham, Washington. Kip earned his Master of Divinity degree while running a youth ministry in Seoul, South Korea. Upon retiring from 28 years of service as an active duty colonel in the Army in 2009, Kip continued pastoring youth and men in the United States. He has a passion for God’s Word and recently completed his PhD in biblical studies. Kip combines his experience as a senior officer in the military, former U.S. Military Academy (West Point) instructor, and intelligence professional with his desire to equip and encourage others in their walk with Christ.
Sometimes the greatest life lessons come in the form of failure.
Many cultures see failure as something to be avoided—but it’s often one of life’s best teachers. I’ve been blessed to have failed at a lot of things in life.
Rewind thirty years.
I was a new lieutenant in the Army, going through the Military Intelligence Officer Basic Course. I was one of the few officers who had an enlisted background, so I thought I was a little better than the rest. Isn’t it funny how God will often humble you in the most profound ways when you’re proudest?
On a cool April morning he did just that.
I was in the “hot seat,” leading a patrol of fifteen soldiers who would take turns being graded as the patrol leader. Things had gone well. We had maneuvered around obstacles in rough terrain, gone from one navigational point to another under the cover of darkness with no major issues. I thought for sure I would receive the coveted “go” for my patrol, meaning I would pass the test as the patrol leader.
My instructor thought otherwise.
Just before sunrise we approached an asphalt road, which led to what seemed like a good place to set up a perimeter and bed down after several sleep-deprived days. When I came to that spot on the road it became a major decision point for me as a patrol leader.
I could get my unit across the road quickly, set them up in a perimeter and get some rest. That shorter route was full of risk and a likely place for an ambush. Or I could take us off course by about two miles, march parallel to the road through some rough terrain to a point where we could cross by means of a culvert that allowed safe passage under the road. After that we’d have a tough two-mile trek to a different point. Longer route, less risk.
My soldiers and I were tired. Four miles of marching over rough terrain didn’t sound appealing to us. So I chose the shorter, more dangerous route.
As we reached the other side of the road we walked into an ambush. My instructor, a good Army Ranger, looked at me and said, “Lieutenant, you are a no-go at this station. Better luck next time.”
He brought the unit together and reviewed my “performance.” His words became a life lesson for me when he said, “Sometimes what looks like the easiest thing ends up being the worst thing.”
Have you ever been at a point in your life in which it seemed like God was taking you down that longer path? That he deliberately was leading you away from the shorter (and seemingly easier) path, which was calling your name?
God’s got a lot to say about the paths we choose.
More than a thousand years before the birth of Jesus God chose a man named Moses to lead God’s people out of slavery and to the Promised Land. After God sent ten plagues to torment Egypt’s Pharaoh, the stubborn Egyptian king relented and allowed the Israelites to leave.
Moses writes in Exodus 13:17–18, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea.”
God had delivered his people in a miraculous way. They had suffered as slaves under the hands of Egypt’s leaders for hundreds of years. That season of slavery culminated with harsh treatment, causing sore backs and broken spirits. God showed himself as the one true God to his people and to the Egyptians as he led them out of Egypt.
Note that God led his people to their next destination.
To help his people navigate, he provided a pillar in the form of a cloud by day and one of fire by night. He took them on a longer path through the desert, instead of a shorter route which could have taken as little as a few days.
In other words, God didn’t let them take the shorter route.
Didn’t he care that the people were tired?
Didn’t he consider the fact that the longer route meant longer suffering?
What kind of God would send his people on a death march through the desert when the shorter, closer route would get them to Canaan faster?
The kind of God that loved his people.
The Israelites didn’t realize it at the time, but God knew that they couldn’t handle combat after their captivity. The longer route avoided a formidable foe—the Philistines.
Battle with the Philistines would’ve sent the Israelites running back to Egypt.
God knew that Pharaoh was in pursuit, and he needed to show Pharaoh (and the world) who was God and who was not—once and for all. The Israelites had no idea that their God had planned a head-to-head confrontation with their captor.
But there was more to this longer route than a showdown at the Red Sea Corral.
God would use the longer route to refine the Israelites’ character. He would give them civil, moral, and ceremonial laws during that prolonged time in the desert so that they could become a godly society rather than a motley mob. God would remind them that his way was the right way, even though it was the longer way.
God delivered them. God led them. God took them to their next destination via the longer route.
When God delivers you from a difficult situation, let him lead you to the next destination—whether that route is short or long.
While those words are easy to type, they’re tougher to live out, especially when God takes you on the longer route instead of the shorter, more direct one. When he does, the words of the great theologian Tom Petty come to mind, “The waiting is the hardest part.”
The longer route involves waiting. The kind of waiting that cries from your soul as you wait for that answered prayer in the darkest hours of the night. The kind which makes you scream, “How long, God, how long?”
It’s the kind of waiting in which God does his best work on your faith and character.
Sometimes God will lead you directly and swiftly to your next destination. But more often than not God will take you on the longer one. The one that tries your patience but develops your faith. It shakes your peace but solidifies your character. It requires you to wait on God to open the next door instead of you making your own way.
Maybe you haven’t been delivered from a tough situation and led down a long path like the Israelites. But most likely you have had a wait-on-God period in your life in which God was asking you to trust him for the long haul rather than the quick fix.
If you find yourself on a longer route, God could be taking you down that path to avoid the combat you can’t handle yet. He could be sparing you difficulties which could lead you back to the calamity from which you came. He might be preparing your faith and character for greater responsibilities in his kingdom.
I don’t know about you, but too many times in life I’ve forced God’s hand, taking the shorter route rather than the longer one. Every time I’ve done that I’ve had regrets. I know I’m not the only one who’s made that mistake.
As a pastor, I’ve seen many others do the same:
- The abused spouse who runs into the arms of another person immediately after having the courage to leave her abuser. She takes the shorter relationship route only to find this person more difficult than the first. By avoiding the longer, more difficult route, she doesn’t receive the counseling needed along with the time required to heal a battered heart and a beaten spirit.
- The man who leaves his job because of the toxic work environment, taking the first job that comes along immediately after his exit. He takes the shorter employment route not realizing that this new company, too, is full of snakes and back biters. By avoiding the longer, more difficult route, he neglects to invest in further education and creating better opportunities.
- The couple who God delivers from years of financial debt. With room for cream in their financial cup, they make a quick financial decision that places them back into the same mess from which they were delivered. By avoiding the longer, more difficult route, they never receive the financial counseling they need to develop healthy spending habits and teach them to be good stewards of God’s resources.
- The CEO who hastily hires someone who looks good on paper to fill a hole in the company. Instead of prayerfully and carefully seeking the most qualified candidate, he/she avoids the longer, more difficult route of a thorough selection process and hires early and quickly.
The list can go on and on. And again, the words of my good Army Ranger instructor ring true:
“Sometimes what looks like the easiest thing ends up being the worst thing.”
When God delivers you from a difficult situation, you have to let him lead you to the next thing.
When you find yourself on the longer route, consider doing four things to help you walk that road:
1. Praise God continuously
It took the Israelites a matter of days after their deliverance before they started grumbling, causing a ripple effect of pain in their lives. Praise God for his deliverance, his sovereignty, his love, and his direction. Praising him in the waiting leads to heartfelt peace and is a tangible evidence of your trust in him (Lamentations 3:24-25).
2. Pray with frequency and faith
Prayer draws you closer to God and reminds you that he is God and you are not. Humble prayer places you in the position of follower, not leader, as you surrender your good desires to God’s greater desires. Know that God hears your prayers and will answer them in his way and in his time (Psalm 116:1-2).
3. Spend time in Scripture daily
God’s Word is timeless. Through Scripture you hear God’s voice, not the voice of an imposter. He will provide comfort and guide you as you read and reflect on scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
4. Surround yourself with godly men and women
Find people who will encourage you, spur you on, and even admonish you so that you avoid those potholes along the route God’s leading you. They can help you identify those circumstances that, when interpreted incorrectly, can pull you off the godly path and into the land of the Philistines (Galatians 6:2; Ephesians 4:25; 1 Thessalonians 5:11).
When you find yourself in the position to choose which path to take, wait on God to lead you. As hard as it may be, avoid kicking down your own doors and making your own path. God has given you a pillar to follow in Jesus Christ. Let Jesus be the leader of your life in all situations. As you surrender your desires and wait on God to lead you day by day, he will take you to the next destination in his time.
Life is full of ambushes. Sometimes what looks like the easiest thing ends up being the worst thing.
For more insight on following God’s leading, Pastor Kip recommends Where Is God When It Hurts? by Philip Yancey.