Sometimes following Jesus is a struggle.
The Bible, prayer, and church all can feel a drag. It feels like you’re wading through treacle. If you’re feeling like this now, then I may have some encouragement for all of us.
This morning I was reading Exodus 13:17-14:31, where the Israelites (God’s chosen people) cross the Red Sea. If you don’t know the story, check it out – it’s fantastic. In short, the Israelites are escaping from Egypt. Pharaoh’s armies are in hot pursuit, and the sea blocks their route to freedom. There’s no way out, and they’re terrified. But that's where God steps in.
God instructs Moses to stretch his hand over the sea to divide the water, so the Israelites can cross the sea safely. Moses takes God at his word and obeys. The sea divides, the Israelites cross. The Egyptians follow after them, but are engulfed by the waters of the sea. None survive. God's has rescued his people. Their enemies and oppressors have been vanquished. They’re free!
It's a brilliant story, one I've read many times. But this morning I noticed something new. Between God's command to Moses to stretch out his hand and the part where they cross the sea, we read about God’s angel and the pillar of cloud and the part they play in the drama (check out Exodus 14:19-20).
Until this point, God's angel and the pillar of cloud led the way forward, showing the Israelites where they needed to go. But when the enemy was at its most threatening, when the Israelites were probably most frightened and exhausted, God stepped in. The angel and the pillar of cloud moved between the Israelites and their pursuers, protecting them. This wasn’t the sort of angel you find in Nativity plays; this was probably the sort of angel that guarded the Garden of Eden - huge, scary, and armed with a big, flaming sword. The pillar of cloud protected the Israelites by making them invisible to their enemies through the night, while giving them light. They had the chance to rest before attempting to cross the Red Sea.
When I read this bit, I sensed God saying that when we fight for him and seek to follow him, there will be times when it seems like when we're wading through treacle, when the enemy seems to be closing in on us and we feel like throwing it all in. But God is right there with us, standing in the gap for us. His angels are on hand to protect us (armed with big, flaming swords), when we most need protection - even if we're not aware of their presence. God has got your back. He will not let you be vanquished. Keep going. Fight the good fight. You are not alone – because God is fighting with you.
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:8)