Bernice and I will be going to North America next week. This was a ministry trip planned some time ago, before the recent outbreak of the H1N1 virus epidemic. A friend asked: “Are you still going?” He is a good friend and he was concerned for my safety. Well, my spiritual rule of thumb about safety is that the safest place to be, is to be in the centre of God’s will, and we have not received any fresh instructions from the Lord.
Some years ago, a family living in fear of nuclear war decided to move to the Falkland Islands and almost lost their lives in the Falklands war of 1982. I am sure most of us can share similar stories taken from our own lives or from the lives of people we know. We often take steps to do what we think will take us out of danger only to find that the obvious decisions didn’t quite work out the way we thought they would. Sooner or later, we learn that the safest placer to be, is to be where God wants us to be.
Jeremiah 41 records the treacherous murder of Gedaliah, Babylon’s appointed governor over Judea (vv.1-3), by Ishmael. Johanan, a guerrilla leader supported Gedaliah but was unable to stop his murder or capture his murderer. Fearful of reprisals from Nebuchadnezzar, Johanan and his party wanted to escape to Egypt (v. 16-18). This was the logical choice. J. Andrew Dearman writes:
It is worth noting here that a decision to flee to Egypt likely seems the safer of the two choices, at least in appearance. Nebuchadnezzar would not take too kindly to the assassination of his hand-picked governor, and there is every reason to expect reprisals of some form. Furthermore, Egypt is not (yet!) under the control of the Babylonians, so if Johanan and the group make it safely there, they may have some expectation of continued security from the Babylonians. (Jeremiah/Lamentations, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002, 360.)
But before they fled to Egypt, Johanan asked Jeremiah to consult the Lord as to whether they should go. This was the Lord’s reply:
He (Jeremiah) said to them, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, to whom you sent me to present your petition, says: ‘If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you, for I have relented concerning the disaster I have inflicted on you. Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you now fear. Do not be afraid of him, declares the LORD, for I am with you and will save you and deliver you from his hands. I will show you compassion so that he will have compassion on you and restore you to your land.’
“However, if you say, ‘We will not stay in this land,’ and so disobey the LORD your God, and if you say, ‘No, we will go and live in Egypt, where we will not see war or hear the trumpet or be hungry for bread,’ then hear the word of the LORD, you remnant of Judah. This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘If you are determined to go to Egypt and you do go to settle there, then the sword you fear will overtake you there, and the famine you dread will follow you into Egypt, and there you will die. Indeed, all who are determined to go to Egypt to settle there will die by the sword, famine and plague; not one of them will survive or escape the disaster I will bring on them.’ (Jeremiah 42:9-17 TNIV)
The logical thing to do was for Johanan and his group to run to Egypt. But the Lord had told them clearly that they should remain in Judah. There was a choice to be made. They chose to pursue a course which they thought was the safest, in direct disobedience to the will of God. They would eventually discover that God is a God who keeps His word. Egypt would prove to be no protection from Babylon, and the remnant in Egypt came under God’s judgment with the rest of Egypt (Jeremiah 43-44).
We must be clear as to what the spiritual principle is here. We are not being taught to make illogical, rash decisions. Indeed the book of Proverbs gives us lots of sensible wisdom as to how we ought to live our lives. The point is that whatever we do, we should first inquire of the Lord. Often His will is the obvious thing to do. But we must first inquire of Him. We are to live wisely but the fear of the Lord, is the beginning of wisdom.
It must also be noted that doing what the Lord wants sometimes lead us into danger. In Luke 8:22-25, the disciples obeyed Jesus’s direction to cross over to the other side of the lake only to get into a storm that almost killed them! Jesus’ obedience to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane led Him to the Cross. But do note that the disciples did survive the storm, and received a new perspective about the person of Jesus. And Jesus rose again from the dead, to glory, effecting the salvation of the world.
God’s will is the safest place to be but it is no guarantee of ease. The ultimate resolution of all things awaits the new heaven and the new earth. As we journey towards our ultimate destination, there will be parts of the journey that will be dangerous and painful. But the safest place to be, is still the road of obedience, with our eyes on the Lord and on our ultimate home.
Frankly I am a coward. I am not in the market for pain and suffering. I do not want to get infected by flu viruses of whatever alphanumeric combination. But this remains my principle for life — by the strength that God gives, I want to do what He wants me to do. And that means, for now, I am packing for Vancouver and Seattle.