Talk of “the journey” or one’s “life story” crossed the threshold of cliché long ago. It can smack of self-absorption and needless rehashing when we could join the apostle Paul in “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13). Yet somewhere between the extremes of narcissism and denial lies a God-ordained reflection on where he has led us to this point. For all his resolve to press on, Paul took every opportunity to recount the story of his life from persecuting Christians to proclaiming their Christ.
Paul’s example is rooted in Israel’s national journey in the exodus. As they camped on the doorstep of the Promised Land, the children of Abraham faced the demanding task of fighting God’s enemies. Yet doubly sobering was the fact that this was not their first time on the doorstep of the Promised Land. Forty years earlier their parent’s generation refused to take the land based on the strength and size of the inhabitants. Thus the déjà vu of Deuteronomy necessitated some reflection on what went wrong the first time.
In Deuteronomy 8:2, Moses commands the people, “you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness.” Later in the chapter Moses would show how literally he meant the word “whole,” recounting their entire journey from their release from Egyptian enslavement and their caravan through “the great and terrifying wilderness” to the present (8:15).
Throughout this historical rehearsal, Moses repeats a crucial point–one that informs how we might best remember the whole way God has led us. The retelling of the journey was not for mere archiving of dates and events. It was along that path that God was shaping his people. Moses captures this with three words: “he humbled you” (Deuteronomy 8:3). The circuitous route by which God led them and the impossible scenarios which they faced would either embitter them, as it did their parents, or humble them, as it did for Israel 2.0.
The inflection points in our journey God means for us to recall are not necessarily the wedding, the promotion, or the “Whatever of the Year” awards. Rather, we should remain familiar with the times God humbled us, the times our failed attempts at self-reliance gave way to wholly depending on him. This not only keeps us in our place–Paul’s “by the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10)–it positions us to continue the journey with courage, trust, and hope.
Know your story. Identify how God shaped you. And regardless of how wandering or endless the path feels, know that God has a destination planned from the beginning–“to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29).