I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
— Philippians 4:11
2,000 daunting miles over an unforgiving landscape, early settlers of the Western United States braved the American wilderness and the harsh elements of mother nature (a spiteful woman whose weather-related tantrums were neither forgiving nor remorseful), to stake their claim on just a small slice of the what historian James Truslow Adams would in later years call the American dream.
Had they prayed before leaving Missouri? Probably. Were they expecting a cloud to lead them by day and a pillar of fire at night? Probably not. But those who were believers may well have read and rehearsed the words of Exodus 13:17–18, thus committing their safe keeping along the trail into the hands of a providential God who they believed purposed their journey and would see them through. They had no illusions, knowing it would be difficult and many times perilous, but they loaded up the wagons with all their worldly goods, harnessed up the horses, looked to the western sky, popped the reins and said, “Giddy up.”
Contemplating those early pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail, I cannot help but set beside their story that of Israel wandering through the wilderness in search of the land of promise. Looking at both, and the thousands of years between them, I find God at work in every era, generation to generation, still fulfilling his promises today and I think to myself:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
— Psalm 23:4
Reaching up for a hand to cling to with the expectation of that hand coming out of the heavens to take yours seems like an act of insanity, but there are countless stories of people who, against all odds, persevered through many perils to reach their promised land, finding patient persistence to have a huge payoff. People who put their Egypt in the rear-view mirror, accepting detours to be ordained of God for a greater good, and reciting with each twist and turn the words of the apostle Paul, who said:
Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 3:13–14