Read an Excerpt
Walking with God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel
By Mark Atteberry
Nelson BooksCopyright © 2007 Mark Atteberry
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSTRATEGY #1
Understand How You Wound Up in the Wilderness
You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. -JESUS, IN JOHN 8:32
The fact that you have picked up this book and begun to read tells me that you're probably on a hard road you never wanted to travel.
Maybe you're sitting in a house made silent by the departure of your spouse.
Maybe you're lying in a hospital bed with an eight-inch scar in your chest.
Maybe you've just been threatened by an angry creditor.
Or maybe your boss recently handed you a pink slip.
Right off the bat, I'm going to ask you to do something that might be a little painful. Okay, it might be extremely painful. But it's a critical exercise-one that lays the foundation for all the strategies to come. It's a step you simply cannot skip if you want to get through your wilderness in good mental and spiritual health.
I want you to take your eyes off the road ahead, do an about-face, and look at your back trail. I know you're worried about the future. You're wondering where this awful road is going to take you and what monsters might be hiding along the way. That's understandable, and we'll get to that. But for the next few minutes, I want you to forget where you're going and think about where you've been. In this first chapter, the goal is to answer one question: How did you get where you are?
In Psalm 77:5-6, Asaph said, "I think of the good old days, long since ended, when my nights were filled with joyful songs. I search my soul and think about the difference now." Some people would say that such reflection is pointless. After all, what's done is done; you can't change the past. Yet, Solomon said, "Wisdom is enshrined in an understanding heart"(Prov. 14:33). He also said, "People who cherish understanding will prosper" (Prov. 19:8). Our goal in this chapter is simply to gain understanding. Resolving the issue of how you wound up in the wilderness could help you in three ways.
First, it could point you toward the way of escape. Many times the road into the wilderness is also the road out. For example, if a destructive behavior pattern has broken one of your relationships, correcting that behavior will likely be the key to its healing. Or, if reckless spending habits have put you deep into debt, fiscal self-discipline is the only thing that will get you out and keep you out. Problems and solutions are often found at opposite ends of the same road.
Second, understanding how you wound up in the wilderness could keep you from making the same mistake again. I know a woman who's been married and divorced three times. She likes to tell everybody that she's "unlucky in love," but unlucky is not how I would describe her. I'd say she just hasn't been paying attention. She hasn't learned her lessons. Every time she finds her way out of the wilderness, she unwittingly turns around and marches right back in!
And third, understanding how you wound up in the wilderness could lift a load of guilt off your shoulders. What if it suddenly dawned on you that none of the mess you're in was your fault? What if you suddenly realized that you could have done nothing to prevent it? Such a realization wouldn't make your hard road any shorter, but it would make it a little easier by lightening the load you're carrying. No burden is heavier-and thus sweeter to get rid of-than guilt.
For all of these reasons, I encourage you to take the next few minutes and look at your recent history. After thinking honestly about how you got where you are, you should be able to settle on one of three possibilities.
It Was Your Fault
The Israelites spent much of their wilderness time bellyaching. More than anything, they hated the monotony. They hated eating the same food every single day. They hated having to repeatedly set up and tear down their tents. They hated having to pack up and lug their stuff from one desolate place to another. But more than anything, they hated the feeling that they were going nowhere. Day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, they trudged across a landscape that never seemed to change. No wonder they were always cranky!
But they had nobody to blame but themselves.
They could have avoided the wilderness simply by obeying the Lord's instructions to take possession of the land of Canaan. God had promised to give them the land. He had brought them safely out of Egypt, where they'd been living as slaves, and led them straight to its doorstep. And He had assured them that He would help them defeat the pagan tribes that lived there if they would only trust Him. But when the spies who were sent in to reconnoiter the land brought back reports of giants and fortified cities, the people became afraid:
All the people began weeping aloud, and they cried all night. Their voices rose in a great chorus of complaint against Moses and Aaron. "We wish we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!" they wailed. Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and little ones will be carried off as slaves! Let's get out of here and return to Egypt!" Then they plotted among themselves, "Let's choose a leader and go back to Egypt!" (Num. 14:1-4)
God was offended by this attitude, especially since He had gone to such great lengths to liberate them. He had done for them what they could never have done for themselves, even drowning the entire Egyptian army in the waters of the Red Sea as a glorious demonstration of His supreme authority over every human enemy. But their memories of that great miracle were clouded by frightening reports of giant warriors and walled cities. They panicked, pure and simple, and it made God angry.
Of course, God could have wiped them out altogether. In fact, that was His initial thought (Num. 14:12). But after Moses interceded on their behalf, God changed His mind. He decided that if the people didn't want the beautiful and bountiful land He was prepared to give them, they could have the wilderness. And they could have it for the next forty years ... until every faithless, complaining person in the entire nation was dead and buried (Num. 14:29-30).
I don't know if God was ever angrier than He was at that time. In fact, I've always felt that Numbers 14:34 contains the most chilling statement God ever made to His people: "You will discover what it is like to have me for an enemy."
Clearly, the Israelites had no one but themselves to blame for their predicament. And so it is with a lot of people today who are dragging themselves along the hard roads of life.
Kobe Bryant would be a case in point.
At this point, it looks as though only he and his young female accuser will ever know if he really sexually assaulted her. But whether he did or didn't, it can't be disputed that he alone is responsible for the trashing of his reputation. While traveling without his wife, he invited a young hotel employee to his room late at night and, at the very least, committed adultery. Talk about inviting trouble! If he'd studied for a year, I doubt that he could have come up with a dumber idea.
Or what about Dave Bliss, the recently disgraced basketball coach at Baylor University? After the mysterious death of one of his players, Bliss was secretly recorded encouraging several people associated with the basketball program to portray the deceased player as a drug dealer, knowing full well there was no evidence to support such a claim. It was a brainless, desperate attempt to divert attention away from unethical conduct within the Baylor basketball program, and it cost him both his career and his reputation.
Recently, I ran across this quote: "One of the annoying things about believing in free will and personal responsibility is the difficulty of finding someone to blame your problems on. And when you do find somebody, it's remarkable how often his picture turns up on your driver's license."
If you pulled your driver's license out right now, would you be staring at the mug shot of the person who got you into trouble? If so, you need to admit it. As painful and humiliating as it might be, you need to own up to your mistakes and commit yourself to never making them again. Proverbs 28:13 says, "People who cover over their sins will not prosper. But if they confess and forsake them, they will receive mercy."
But of course, there is a second possibility ...
It Was Somebody Else's Fault
Caleb and Joshua were two of the original twelve spies that were sent into the land of Canaan. They, too, saw the giants and the well-fortified cities. But unlike their ten companions, they believed the giants and the cities would be no match for God. Brimming with faith, they begged their countrymen to follow God's instructions. They pleaded with them to move forward in obedience and trust the One who had never failed to protect them. But it was to no avail. They were outvoted and almost stoned for daring to stand against the majority (Num. 14:10).
I can only imagine what a bitter pill Israel's sentence must have been for Caleb and Joshua. They had done nothing wrong. They bore not an ounce of guilt. Yet, there they were, loading up their gear and striking out for the wilderness as if they were as bad as everybody else. What an injustice! Two great heroes of the faith had to put all of their hopes and dreams on hold for forty long years because of other people's sins.
Can you relate?
Are you on a hard road right now through no fault of your own?
Let me caution you to tap the brakes right here and not answer this question too hastily. We all have a natural tendency to blame our problems on others. Recently, an overweight man filed a lawsuit against McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, and KFC, alleging that their food made him fat. He was right, of course. The problem is, nobody held a gun to his head and made him eat it. That's basically what the judge said when he ruled against the man.
Frivolous lawsuits are rampant today, which illustrates the difficulty a lot of people have when it comes to accepting responsibility for their actions. We are so desperate to feel good about ourselves that we have turned buck-passing into an art form.
Please don't do that. Don't blame somebody else for a problem you created ... or that you could have prevented.
On the other hand, if someone else really is to blame for your situation, now is the time to say so. Not out loud, necessarily. You don't have to shout it from the rooftops or take out an ad in the paper. In fact, nobody else even needs to know. The point here is not to seek revenge or send your antagonist on a guilt trip. The point is simply to let yourself off the hook. You need to get to the place where you're not beating yourself up over what happened.
I know that last paragraph will cause some of my readers to bristle. When you've been hurt and you know who the perpetrator is, you naturally want to shout it from the rooftops. You feel it's your duty. You tell yourself that justice demands it, that you're only protecting other potential victims, or that you would be sacrificing your self-respect if you failed to stand up and fight back.
Remember why you're reading this book: You're trying to get through the wilderness. You're trying to find your way to the end of a long, hard road.
When you focus on your enemy, you undermine that goal. How? By distracting yourself from your true purpose and by expending valuable energy on a pursuit that does nothing to advance your cause. Believe me, if the road you're facing looks so scary or difficult that you decided to pick up this book and read it, then you can't afford to waste even one ounce of energy. You're going to have to focus completely on the principles in this book and jettison every single distraction if you hope to make it through.
Read the next sentence slowly and let it soak in: People who seek revenge are the ones who die on this road.
Trust me on this.
I've been a pastor for a long time and I've seen it happen. People commit spiritual suicide trying to settle old scores. I've watched them do it even while pleading with them to stop. Hebrews 12:15 says, "Watch out that no bitter root of unbelief rises up among you, for whenever it springs up, many are corrupted by its poison" (emphasis added). Have you ever read that verse and wondered what the "bitter root of unbelief" is? I believe it's the anger and resentment that cause you to abandon everything you used to believe about love and forgiveness. It's the boiling, gurgling bitterness that corrupts your soul like poison.
Cutting out that "bitter root"-forgiving the person who put you on this road-may be the hardest challenge you'll face in this book ... and the most important. In fact, if you're struggling with anger and animosity, I'd suggest that you not move ahead to Chapter 2 until you get that bitter root cut out. Nothing you'll read in the rest of this book will help you in any appreciable way if you continue to harbor bitterness in your heart. Forgiveness always has been (and always will be) a prerequisite to healing and restoration.
Let me offer two facts that might make it easier for you to pick up your ax and start chopping at that bitter root.
First, remember that when you choose to hold a grudge, you make yourself a prisoner. This was illustrated in the life of a man I knew years ago. When his wife left him for another man, he vowed that he would never give them a moment's peace. He left messages on their answering machine, wrote angry letters, and followed them around, often popping up out of nowhere and embarrassing them in public. One day he completely lost control and began pounding on the door and screaming profanity-laced threats. Frightened, she called the police and he was arrested.
It wasn't until he found himself staring through the bars of a jail cell for the first time in his life that the reality hit him: He'd become a prisoner. Not just in the physical sense but, even more important, in the spiritual sense. He'd become a prisoner of hate.
My friend, hate is a terrible taskmaster. It will beat you senseless. It will have you doing things that are beyond stupid. And it will laugh in your face when you get caught and have to pay the price. Honestly, I've never met a grudge holder who wasn't miserable. They don't all get thrown into jail like the man I just referred to, but every revenge seeker I've ever known has been tormented and unhappy.
You will not be the exception.
The second fact I want you to remember is that God has promised to settle all your old scores. Romans 12:17-19 says, "Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible. Dear friends, never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God. For it is written, 'I will take vengeance; I will repay those who deserve it' says the Lord."
Here Paul makes it clear that when you leave the paybacks to God, it doesn't mean your antagonist is getting away with anything. In fact, I'm confident that any action God might take against your opponent would be more fitting (and probably more unpleasant) than anything you could dream up. When you grant forgiveness, you're simply stepping aside and allowing God to handle the situation so you can concentrate on more important matters.
Like getting home safely.
It Was Nobody's Fault
This is the third possibility you need to consider as you think about how you wound up in the wilderness.
Those of us who live in Florida are used to visitors. But never have we had one that stirred things up like Andrew. Hurricane Andrew, that is. He arrived kicking and screaming in August of 1992. He stayed only a few hours, but while he was here he killed twenty-three people and caused $26.5 billion in damage, making him the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.
Three months later I drove through Homestead, Florida, which bore the brunt of the storm. I got a lump in my throat as I surveyed the devastation caused by Andrew's 160-miles-per-hour winds. Entire neighborhoods were wiped off the face of the earth. Countless homes and businesses were turned into toothpicks. Many homeowners had used spray paint to write messages on what was left of their houses. Most wrote their insurance policy numbers and phone numbers where they could be reached. But a few used the opportunity to vent their feelings. I'll never forget one message that was scrawled across the only standing wall of what had been a modest, wood-frame home. It simply said: "Damn you, Andrew!"
Excerpted from Walking with God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel by Mark Atteberry Copyright © 2007 by Mark Atteberry. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.