In trying to process my current traveling/living abroad situation, I’ve noticed how very often God leads people out of what’s familiar and comfortable in the Bible. People travel around a lot in Bible stories, in both the Old and New Testaments, and these stories have been encouraging and convicting in both my literal travels this year and in the way I trust God with my plans for the future.
So I’ve decided to start a regular series here on the blog that, at least for now, I will be calling “Travelin’ Tuesdays”. We’ll look at someone’s Biblical travels and think about how this relates to our journeys as well. I’m looking forward to seeing where this “goes”. And I’ll try to keep the travel-related puns to a minimum.
I love flying. I do. I love airline peanuts and napping on airplanes and watching the houses get smaller and smaller and how clear it is above the clouds. I especially love flying when I’m going somewhere I love, or to see someone I love, and especially when the weather is great and I don’t have to worry about a fast connection.
But throw any little complication or worry into my air-bound travel plans, and the whole process is ruined. Instead of a sweet nap, I sit and fret, checking my watch and worrying about time and distance and safety. I get to the airport hours early because I’m not in control of how long the security line is and I don’t want to risk being late. If I’m going somewhere I’ve never been before, I’ll spend the flight worrying about how I will find my way around and if there will be a Dunkin Donuts in the airport.
When I flew down to Mexico at the beginning of this year, I was pretty well terrified. I had committed to two long years in a country I’d hardly been to before with no one I had ever met. I knew this was where I was supposed to be going, after talking to people I really trust and respect and praying about it, I fully believed I was following God’s will by coming here. But I didn’t know what “here” looked like and, a few months in, I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay.
The first time flying into Mexico was actually easier than the second. The first time I was excited/nervous, with images in my mind of opportunities and relationships that might happen in the next two years. The second time, I knew where I was going and I knew what it was not. I was neither excited nor nervous, and I wanted to go back home. I knew what was missing from my new home and I wanted out.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
I can imagine how very frightened Abraham must have been, how doubtful and embarrassed. How do you explain to the neighbors? How do you explain to your wife? But his faith was such that he went out, even in the fear, even in the unknown. He started walking. Literally.
And God rewarded his faith, at first… by having him live in a tent with his family in a foreign land. This is not a pleasant reward. Living as a migrant in a foreign land is hard. Every day not knowing how to communicate, how to provide, where to go and what to do. But Abraham didn’t leave. By now, he knew that this was a hard choice and would continue to be a hard choice, but he also knew without a doubt that even in the hard this was where God was leading.
I think God leads travelers through hard places (and sometimes to hard places) because he wants us to come to the realization that the writer of Hebrews says that Abraham did: He was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.
When I sit on the airplane imagining all of the worst case scenarios, I am effectively laying my own weak foundations in my own ability and trying to start laying bricks. It feels like death and exhaustion, and it takes away from the place that God has promised me.
Perhaps Abraham lived in a tent to be continually reminded that he had no foundations. Abraham’s best effort was a small tent that could be blown over in a gust of wind, and so he needed to keep moving it, to keep going to the place he did not know where God had made a city with foundations, a city that would last.
I have known nothing like living in a foreign land to bulldoze any small city I have tried to build on my own and to leave me no choice but to keep journeying in my tiny tent towards a city my best efforts cannot build. And so I will continue to follow, because I believe that there is a city that will last at the end of this road, and I believe we’re all invited.
Where is God asking you to follow him today? How can we work together to lay our own abilities and plans at the feet of Jesus and go to a land we don’t know?