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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Safety in the Wilderness

Something took my mind back to a family vacation through west Texas several years back. As I recall, we got to Pecos, Texas, and even though we had most of a tank of gasoline, my family decided to stop at the gas station on the edge of town to top off the tank and check our car gauges and fluid levels. Why? Well, we were about to drive through a stretch of desert that is almost completely unpopulated. If our car broke down, there would be no cell phone service and very little traffic to flag down for help.

Going into it, I hadn't comprehended how big a stretch of desert my parents were talking about. We set out on the road, and after about thirty minutes, I realized there were no signs of human life on either horizon, except for the road beneath our car. It was so vast and flat that I could see an oncoming car almost a minute before it passed us (there were very few cars on that road, too; I think I only counted 14 the whole trip).

Yuccas and cacti became landmarks, and the broken yellow line down the middle of the road became almost the only way I knew we were still moving forward.

There was no radio service out there, so Mom played a music CD in our car stereo to break up the monotony. I'm sorry if the analogy offends anyone who lives there, but my mind could only compare it to a giant abandoned parking lot, where the stripes had worn off and the occasional weed had sprouted up through a crack in the blacktop.

We'd driven on for quite awhile when a barbed-wire fence finally appeared. I don't know who owned it, but someone had built a fence along the road. Then a second, unpaved road branched off to our right, and guessing by the markings, it was some sort of military installation. Later on, a fence appeared on the other side, and another mysterious driveway branched the other way. These were the only signs of human "civilization" in the area.

The Civilization Crutch

At some point during that trek through the desert, I realized just how much I'd come to depend on "civilization" for my sense of security. Out there, besides my own family, there were no people to help me if I got hurt or lost, no people to keep me from feeling lonely or bored. We were pretty much exposed to the elements if our car (the only product of "civilization" nearby) had decided to break down.

When you're all alone like that (I mean truly alone), the veil of security rolls back, and suddenly you are confronted with the reality of how small and frail you really are. You really can't save yourself from anything.

I think a lot of people think they don't need Jesus because they haven't really faced that reality. As long as "civilization" exists, people feel safety and purpose in numbers. After awhile, we come to believe the presence of others is our safety. We judge ourselves safer, the more friends and witnesses we are able to gather together to join with us. We judge the success or failure of a decision by how many people are willing to agree with it or pitch in to accomplish it. It was just this short-sightedness that made the Israelites lose faith that God could deliver them into the Holy Land as He had promised. You can brush up on that story in Numbers Chapter 14.

God is the only way any of us are ever really successful or secure--even if we choose not to consult Him in our decisions. Because He is merciful, He even allows people who reject Him to succeed; however, I've seen better end results for those who choose to involve Him. The adults in Israel (except for Caleb and Joshua) did not see the Promised Land, but God was still merciful and their children did see it.

The Bible gives us ample warning against this limited human perspective.
"Make plans by seeking advice; if you wage war, obtain guidance" (Proverbs 20: 18).

And again, to clarify who you should consult for guidance:
"Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat—-for he grants sleep to those he loves" (Psalms 127: 1, 2).

And one more time, this time to remind you to trust God with your future, the Bible says:
"Many are the plans of a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails" (Proverbs 19: 21).