Ilove to vacation- to “vacate” from my current situation, from my struggle, from my labor. A person who cannot relate to these sentiments would be rare indeed. Everyone wants to escape, to relax, to retire, but such breaks are uncommon for most of us. To vacate means to remove oneself from a place, to leave. Even when we do get the chance to leave for a season it is hard to find what we truly want.
What we truly want is a life without toil and pain. We want hope! We want a deliverer!
During my recent vacation, my wife and I went out on a date. This was a rare treat because we have three small children and our extended family all live out-of-state. Dates cost us a pretty penny by the time you include the cost of childcare, dinner, and a movie. On this particular vacation we were staying with family. I thought we had found deliverance in the form of dinner and free childcare. It was a great blessing to “vacate” to a movie theater with my beautiful bride. But while we were out our four-year-old little girl fell and hit her head on the hardwood floor at Nana’s house and the escape was brought to an abrupt end. The next 12 hours were filled with vomiting, urgent care, x-rays, and alarm clock wakefulness every hour. It was a lot of toil and pain for two parents and a little girl.
This vacation reminded me of the fragileness of life and one’s inability to avoid pain and suffering. Even if this accident had never occurred I would still have some type of pain or toil, some work to accomplish, some problem to solve. The theologian in me recognizes that both toil and pain are results of Adam and Eve’s disobedience (Gen.3:16-19). He might say that pain and suffering are now an inescapable part of our human experience or that suffering helps teach us and make us dependent upon God. It makes us look up and helps us to remember that we were made for a place where suffering is absent. The theologian in me commands, “Don’t waste this trial! Learn from every moment! Listen!” However, the father in me is not so rational or philosophical. The father in me cries out for deliverance. He hates to see his little girl in distress. His cry is “Deliver her from this pain!” When assurance of recovery finally comes, the father in me wants a break and some sleep. He cries, “Give me the pillow and a blanket! Let me sleep!” An internal conflict remains because of this discouraging truth. There is no vacation! We are bound to a fallen world until we die or Christ returns. But how we respond (and how God responds) to the toil and the pain is a different story.
In Exodus, we find the story of a people seemingly bound to toil and pain. The Hebrew people were made slaves and forced to labor making bricks for Pharaoh. Their lives were harsh. Most of us are unfamiliar with the hardship of slavery, an institution not seen in America for almost 150 years. But many of us understand the horrors of racism and discrimination. Under Egyptian bondage these horrors can be multiplied 100 fold. When the Hebrew people ask to worship their God, Pharaoh makes their lives even harsher and the people cry out for deliverance. They don’t care who will lead them. They plead with Pharaoh, they blame Moses, they wallow in self-pity and unbelief. But God speaks to His people. He calls them His very own. He remembers His promise and reminds them of their inheritance and who they are as His chosen people. But will they hear Him and find immediate relief?
Exodus 6:9 gives us the answer. The verse reads, “Moses told the Israelites, but they did not listen to him because of their broken spirit and hard labor.” Did you catch that? They did not listen to God’s chosen messenger. They were broken in spirit and tired. Toil and pain kept them from hearing the message of hope and encouragement. What they actually did was remove themselves from the reality of God’s love for them and His ability to save. They “vacated” the room of hope. May this not be our response to our earth bound predicament. May the toil and the suffering of life in a fallen world do the opposite in us through the redemptive power of the blood of Christ and our fellowship with the Holy Spirit! May God bring us to a place of faith and hope through His miraculous judgment and redemptive love!
Have you not heard the expression, “Life is hard. But God is good.” God is good because He is the Deliverer. Our vacations, when they come, are not true vacations. We can rest from business, but we cannot truly “vacate” from the inevitable toil and pain of life. Instead we can choose to allow God’s Spirit to fill us. We can choose to listen, and hear Him speak the message of hope and deliverance. Compared to Him the toil and pain of life are small things and our eternal reward is great indeed. Hear me though. The toil and the pain are still significant. Suffering is real but our perspective can change. We are invited to see things from heaven’s perspective. We can be ready for the promises of God despite our circumstances.
May today be a day where God’s Spirit fills you. May you not try to “vacate” in a frantic compulsion to escape the inevitable toil and pain of life in a fallen world. Instead may you look up, may you listen to the message, may you believe in the God who is bigger, may the pain and toil shrink in comparison to our God, and may you find rest for your soul in Him and Him alone. He is our deliverer now and forever. Amen.
Josh is the Director of Spiritual Formation & Men's Ministries at Crossroads. He and his wife Allison have two daughters and one son.
He enjoys spending time with his family as well as fishing, doing artwork, reading and writing.