As for our country, we were reminded this weekend that we go way back when it comes to freedom. As we know, our founders had the very idea to create new lives in the new world for one very reason, freedom.
Now let me disclaim here that I am no history buff, but I did take a history class. One of the few times I was listening and not staring out the window or doodling my monogram, I heard my professor describing the voyages to the “New World” which meant sailing across the Atlantic Ocean. He described Columbus’ voyage in great detail, as it is the voyage most noted. As you can imagine, sailing for an extended period of time with 15th century technology is extremely incomparable to a modern Carnival cruise. Stepping foot on this voyage took courage, adventure, and belief. Columbus’ crew sailed and sailed and finally (when they were actually almost to the Bahamas) the crew had all lost hope and told Columbus they were done and it was time to go back. Instead, as great leaders do, he refocused their vision from their current experience and reminded them of the mission at hand. So they continued and so they became the founders of the New World whose voyage is mentioned in every history book.
Later, once colonial America was formed, the colonists decided it was time to fight for their independence in the Revolutionary War. They began the conflict defiant and determined, but amidst the dead of winter in New England, those men were exhausted, cold, hungry, and ready to go home. On one night in particular, conditions were terrible and the American troops were beyond losing faith, but good old George Washington read Thomas Paine’s famous words “These are the times that try men’s souls” and charged them to cross the Delaware. Because of this strategic, sneaky attack on the British, not only were the tides turned in the war, but morale was boosted for all of the patriots.
These fights for freedom remind me of the Israelites, who found themselves enslaved to Egyptian rule. Finally, they were freed by the Lord and were fleeing. They came to a Sea they thought they could never cross. Moses was lost as to what to do and God says, “Why are you crying out to Me? Hold up your staff.” And the Sea was parted. Yet after this incredibly heroic act by the God of Israel, the people grumble and complain as they wander through the wilderness, despite the Promised Land that awaited them and the literal bread from Heaven God supplied them each day.
As I think about these stories I am tempted to have what C. S. Lewis calls “Chronological Snobbery”, because I look at their stories thinking, “You’re so close!” “Think about what’s ahead of you.” “Why would you even consider giving up?” And we often read the Bible the same way, but have overlooked one very important factor- time.
When we think of Jonah, yes we think of the fish that swallowed him, but ultimately we think about how Ninevah was saved. But when Jonah was literally in the gut of a fish having no clue where in the ocean he was, he had no clue that that was his end.
As I type this and think about those members of Columbus’s crew, those soldiers in the Revolutionary War, the Hebrew people in the wilderness, and Jonah, I think just how similar their stories are to my own as I find myself in many small fights that leave me feeling defeated at times amidst one very long journey toward freedom that can feel never ending.
Can I be honest with you and tell you I don’t have an answer? I don’t have 3 points to cling to or an acronym that you’ll remember forever, but I do know this.
I know that the small acts of bravery, of continuing to believe even when things seem hopeless, may seem insignificant in the moment. But when you look back, they will be everything.
I know that the hardest seasons to endure are the ones that we don’t have a defined end. They drive us insane. But I think that the Israelites wandering through the desert know the feeling. And I think that those confusing seasons lead us to the richest growth.
I know that when we’ve lost morale and our wandering seems endless, we focus on what we don’t have and overlook what we do. That’s why Columbus’ crew stopped appreciating the king’s funding of their voyage and just wanted to turn back. That’s why the Israelites built an idol to another god, despite the fact that God was literally giving them bread each day.
I know that sometimes we need other people who have vision for the purpose of the journey and can boost our morale when we have none.
I also know that sometimes we have to be that voice for others.
As for the small fights for freedom, they will always seem hopeless for a second. They also will always feel pointless for a second. But that is the farthest thing from the truth. We were created with eternity in our hearts. We are not satisfied to just be slaves in a foreign land repeating mundane tasks. We are destined for the Promised Land and even if it means crossing a Sea when you’re being chased or traveling one more mile through the wilderness when you’re exhausted, push through. Don’t lose sight of the freedom, beauty, and grandeur of what awaits us.
And as for our long journey, what some call a “Long obedience in the same direction” toward eternity, this path is really hard sometimes. But I heard recently, “For the believer, this is the closest to hell we will ever get.” May we keep our minds so fixed on the glory awaiting us that we can endure our present sufferings- not avoiding them or becoming numb, but truly experiencing and allowing Christ into them.
I think we can all look into the story of Columbus’ crew, those fighting for the freedom of America, the Israelites, and Jonah and say, “Hold on. Keep believing and keep fighting.” May we speak those some words over our own fights and journeys.