There is a recurrent process I have witnessed in my life, and many of the lives around me. It is the process of leaving slavery. The slavery to sin in a larger sense, but also in very specific instances. We see this same process throughout scripture, and where the thread jumped out at me today was, fittingly, in Exodus.
The pattern is something like this: God stirs a heart to be free from a particular slavery (the slavery to greed, fear, legalistic religion, etc. etc.). Then God does the obviously logical thing and antagonizes the captor enforcing that slavery; I mean He really really pisses the captor off so that things get much much worse for the captive (that would be you and I). If you want a mental picture of this, just imagine God winging bucket upon bucket of manure at an active high-powered wind turbine. This is so that the captive might get a fresh glimpse of Christ. It was not just for the Egyptians that God brought the plagues in Exodus. I think it may have been more for the Israelites. They were a captive, defeated people, disconnected from their God and identity as His people. They needed to see those signs more than anyone. This can seem rather problematic when, for example, the debts mount and mount and you have no way out of that financial pit that has only worsened since God spoke of freedom from greed. In the midst of that time, when the bonds that enslave seem to tighten around your neck, you are left like Job to call upon the Lord in perplexed agony; and He will answer. But probably only after several well meaning and pretentious friends have come along to tell you how to fix the problem. (As a side note, if you wish to prolong your stay in hotel slavery, take your pretentious friend’s advice, which is usually some variant on working harder for God).
The next stage is a temporary relief from the issue. It is a mirage of sorts that in reality is only a harbinger of much worse things. Just as Pharaoh let the Hebrews go and then promptly changed his mind, so to with us. This is the point where you are trapped against the Red Sea with the Egyptians bearing down on you. It is when there appears to be only one way to freedom: death. It is for a very good reason Jesus told us we must lose our lives to find them. Death is indeed the passage to freedom in every case. God brought the Israelites out to the sea to face death, and, like every person who ever walked the earth, they whined; I believe it was something along the lines of: what, there weren’t enough graves back in Egypt so you brought us to the desert? And this is where it gets very, very interesting. Do you know what God said to His people in this situation?
13 Moses answered the people, “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. 14 The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:13,14 NIV (emphasis mine)
This is an agonizing death all in itself, isn’t it? Then again, maybe it is worse than death. Be still? Really? You mean now? Essentially the Psalmist echoes this when he says in Psalm 46, “Be still and know that I am God …” and it is in the place of stillness—rest—that God brings deliverance. You see, stillness is that place when we have finally given up trying to fix the issue ourselves, and begin surrendering the lies and fears around that bondage that have kept it so strong for so long; it is when death saps all the strength we had to keep our heart hard, and His love begins seeping into that secret broken place. And He will wait until the Egyptians are right on top of you if that’s what it takes to bring stillness to the part of your heart receiving freedom. I’ve found that He’ll even wait until you’ve been pierced with the Egyptian sword, perhaps even entirely slain, if that is what you need. But He will also be with you in the slaying, and carefully and tenderly bandage your wounds as you are resurrected into new freedom.
Inevitably, when I think on this repetitive process I am always left with the same question: Why would God allow such difficulty? I can’t answer that fully, but what I have learned is that God will go to any length to rescue His children from slavery, even to the Cross. And that’s the thing that most of us don’t realize, for in that stillness when we receive freedom, we are receiving Jesus; for Jesus embodies freedom, He literally is our freedom. And the only way to walk and live in freedom is to walk and live in Him. That is the power of stillness, that is the freedom of death: death to self, death to the demand for fairness, death to your rights.
Naturally, there is one final twist here. The freedom you find in Christ is not what you expected. It is not a freedom from crappy circumstances. It is not a glitzy life of money and perfect health. Peace is never really found in getting things as we want them. However, the freedom in Christ is that circumstances no longer rule you, no longer drive you, no longer impinge upon your relationship with God in the way they did previously. So let the world, or the Devil, or the Oprah, throw dump trucks worth of manure at the wind turbine, I will be still and know Him—or I will die trying, and then I will be still and know Him—or I will die trying, and then I will be still and know Him—or I will die trying, and then I will be still and know Him—or I will die trying, and then I will be still and know Him—or I will die trying…