December 7, 2020
By Stacy Mallard
I’ve recently started riding on a mountain bike trail near my house that is rated “expert.” It is 10 miles of challenging hill climbs, rooted and rocky downhills and sandy spots that can pull your tires right out from under you on a turn. After cycling most of my life, I am gradually transitioning from paved and gravel road riding to mountain biking. This trail has been my nemesis, and rightly so, as I have fallen there twice in past years, both times resulting in stitches. This year I did a lot of indoor training in the winter and spring and have been building skills and strength on easier trails. On the hard trail, I think of every ride as practice and try not to think about my speed (slow!) or kick myself when I stop to breathe halfway up the dreaded two-mile hill. I am learning to give myself grace when I walk down the steep rocky section that intimidates me into pushing instead of pedaling. I remind myself I am finishing a little faster and stronger each time. I have learned there are no shortcuts to improving, it just requires spending more time on the trails.
“When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, ‘If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’ So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea.”Exodus 13:17-18 NLT
I love these verses from Exodus about the route God used to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He could have sent them on a direct route, the “main road” that was the “shortest route” right through enemy territory. Instead, he took them on the “roundabout way” because He loved them and knew they weren’t ready for battle. One translation adds, “around by the desert road.” He knew that when they faced the enemy, they might turn and go back—to Egypt, to slavery, to their old lives. He wanted them to be prepared to fight for the dream of the Promised Land.
How many times does God give us a goal, vision, or dream for our lives and we head out thinking, “God’s calling me to this, and He will make it happen!” Months or even years later we may find our goal still seems distant. Discouragement begins to whisper that we must have heard wrong, that God has abandoned us, or that we should simply give up and turn back. That is the time we need to stop and consider all that God has been teaching us along the way. We are so often not ready for battle. We may still need the spiritual training required to get to the place God has called us. He knows our weaknesses and sees what might send us back to the comfort of our familiar Egypt. He graciously gives us time to practice, persevere and push through the deserts. In doing so, we build our spiritual muscles and become ready to battle the enemy who wants nothing more than to keep us from God’s plans for us.
There are two spots on the bike trail that are marked with arrow signs pointing left and right. One direction is marked “hard” and the other “easy.” I take the “easy” direction every time because I know that the “hard” routes are much more technical and I’m just not ready for them. What I quickly discovered is that the “easy” routes are still difficult. One is a hard climb that leaves me gasping and the other runs over roots that bounce me around right before a quick curve. I chose to give them my all though, knowing from experience that each time I’m getting a little stronger and more confident.
Someday I’ll be ready for the “hard” sections, but until then I’ll focus on my goal and keep persevering through the roundabout way. In the same way, I’m doing my best to trust God when I feel like I’m on a “desert road,” knowing He is preparing me for battles He knows I will face on the way to all that He has promised me.