What road trip do you aspire to take some day? I have traveled on some memorable road trips. I’ve driven from Jacksonville Beach, Florida to Phoenix, Arizona by way El Paso, Texas, and driven from Phoenix to San Diego. My wife and I drove through New England and the Mid-Atlantic States in 2010, and navigated a circuitous route through Montana, Northwestern Wyoming, and Idaho. We had harrowing road adventures on the other side of Wyoming and on the Hana Road in Maui. My children accompanied me on some of my favorite road trips from Dover, Delaware to Chattanooga, Tennessee and back. There remain roads to travel. Morrisa and I would love to take a road trip through Alaska someday. I want to see Mount Denali and to gain an impression of our nation’s largest state. As I suggested in a recent post, it is extremely unlikely that I will make a once hoped-for road trip through the Valles Marineris, a gargantuan canyon on Mars that would stretch across more than half the United States if it were on earth. It is over 1800 miles long, as wide as 360 miles, and as deep as five miles. Although science fiction novels by Ben Bova and Andy Weir have whetted my appetite with vivid imagining of road trips on Mars, such journeys remain in the future, and I almost certainly will not be among those travelers on the Red Planet.
What do road trips have to do with prayer? As many seasoned road warriors have learned, prayer happens on such trips. Often, travelers pray fervently as they descend an icy and curving mountain highway that has no guardrails or drive through torrential rain and fierce winds. They pray as they traverse a desert road, far from the nearest town, and nervously watch the gas gauge near empty. In the Bible several “road trips” include episodes with prayer. Ezra began a road trip from Persia to Jerusalem in this way:
“There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, ‘The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.’ So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer” (Ezra 8:21-23).
Ezra and his fellow travelers prayed for safety after assuring the King of Persia that they would not need government protection because God would be with them. They still prayed, because they recognized the reality of the dangers they might encounter as they traveled. Later in the same chapter, Ezra writes, “The hand of our God was on us, and he protected us from enemies and bandits along the way” (Ezra 8:31b). Several years later, Nehemiah wanted to strike out on the same journey, having learned that the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem were in trouble. When the king noticed his distress, and asked what troubled him, Nehemiah prayed before asking to be sent by the king to Jerusalem for the purpose of rebuilding the city. After the king agreed, then Nehemiah’s account continues,
“I also said to him, ‘If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe conduct until I arrive in Judah?” (Nehemiah 2:7).
Nehemiah, after praying, asks for government protection on his journey. Ezra had told the king he did not need protection, then he had prayed for God to protect him. Both men had great faith in God, despite their differing approaches to travel security. They would work together in the rebuilding of the city and the reinforcing of the faith of their fellow Jews. Although Ezra had refused security forces, he too had received written authorization from the King of Persia before beginning his journey. After receiving the letter, Ezra responded with these words,
“Praise be to the LORD, the God of our ancestors, who has put it into the kings’s heart to bring honor to the house of the LORD in Jerusalem in this way and who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the kings powerful officials. Because the hand of the Lord was on me, I took courage and gathered leaders from Israel to go up with me” (Ezra 7:27-28).
Nehemiah and Ezra both prayed before beginning road trips that would have great significance in Israel’s history. Respectively, they would rebuild the temple and the walls around Jerusalem. Their methods at times would differ, but in the end they would work together to accomplish their common mission.
Believing in God’s power to save and protect means sometimes that we venture out when others might not. However, such faith also includes accepting rescue and protection that God may provide through the government. Discerning the difference requires faith, wisdom, and discernment.
Travelers prayed during other road trips in the Bible. Moses prayed during the Exodus. Jesus prayed during his final road trip to Jerusalem. Paul prayed for guidance during his missionary journeys. As we venture out on our road trips, wherever we may go, let us recognize the presence of God and take time to pray as we go.
• Quotations from the Bible are from the New International Version 2011.
Lord, protect us as we travel. May we recognize your power to protect us while discerning wisely what protection and gifts you have given us by means of other travelers. May our journeys result in more people giving glory to you. May our faith grow stronger as we work together with others who share our faith in us. May we grow in unity despite our differences as we travel together towards our ultimate destination, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, in whose name I pray, amen.