“Is it possible to accomplish the task I have given you?” I asked this question midway through a recent group initiative. I paused the initiative to find out if the members of the group really believed they could succeed. Responses were mixed. Two members felt that it was impossible while the others believed it was possible. Seizing a teachable moment in this timely dilemma, I launched into a discussion about faith and belief, even asking if it is okay to doubt. Each student agreed that the encouragement of another’s optimism was a key to a hopeful outcome, but that the doubt of some hurt their progress. They saw the need to uphold each other in the challenge.
The group probed for more hope by inquiring about past groups: “Have others accomplished this initiative in the past?” That was a valid question, a question that really mattered. So I answered, “Yes,” and this additional knowledge helped to bolster their faith and hope that they too might be able to succeed. The groups that had “been here and done that” couldn’t be present to help them with physical strength and audible voice, but the report of their successes gave the current strugglers something even greater than a leg up or an “Atta boy!” They gave them more than a story; they gave them a testimony. I was an eyewitness and testified to the other groups’ successes. Though the accomplishment was in the past, it was still real enough to give the team something beyond strength; it gave them hope.
It has dawned on me that this same, silent power is at work in my life everyday as I remember the accounts of the people listed in Hebrews’ hall of faith. The famous passage in chapter 11 tells us that from ark builders to nomads and kings to servants, these writers, warriors, princes, and prostitutes lived for God, who had a bigger story and a better kingdom. They were willing to hold on to their faith and hope even though they didn’t see instant gratification for their sacrifices, and their stories now are transformed into an unspeakable power borne through God that has an effect on us also to trust, also to risk, also to “count it all as loss” and throw our entire lot in with Jesus. He will challenge us and give us a better story. Nicolas Wolterstorff writes about the grief of losing his son in a mountaineering accident in Lament for a Son,
“How insipid it would be if every misstep, every slip of the hand, meant no more than a five foot drop into an Alpine meadow. The menace is essential to the exhilaration of achievement.”
With Christ’s power and our abandonment to Him, our otherwise mediocre story can become a life changing testimony.
So here I am, writing to you about a group who needed the power of testimony to complete their mission. And I’m happy to report that they did succeed that day and celebrated completing the group challenge. We stood in a circle grinning at each other, everyone talking all at once in our excitement over our achievement. And now, they have joined the other groups who over the years, when presented with a challenge, have mixed hope with cooperation to meet with success. And, their story lives on to encourage others as I testify of their achievement.
What about your story? You must not believe that your story is worthless or silent or small just because you aren’t the one telling it. As you face your own tests and challenges, live out your faith and hope in good conscience before the Lord, and let others tell your story in His time and in His way. Let the story that is told about you be part of God’s story. Then, and magnificently then, it will be a testimony.
Instructors spend a lot of time standing at the bottom of rock climbs with their necks craned upward and eyes squinting into the sun as they coach teens and adults in climbing techniques. The goal is always to help the climber get a little farther than he thought was possible in order to show him he can do hard things. Conquering a rock face is a real life example of what it means to persevere, trust God, and overcome. It is rewarding as an instructor to see a participant make the connection and begin a transformation that can only come from God.
During a recent adventure retreat, I had the opportunity to take several families rock climbing. What a treat it was to watch moms and dads climb next to their sons and daughters! The day was filled with struggle, pain, encouragement, and exclamations of joy; the ups and downs created a beautiful picture of life’s journey in Christ.
On this particular day, I noticed a common occurrence as each person climbed. Anyone trying rock climbing for the first time experiences the difficulty and discomfort of contorting his body into strange positions to shimmy up the rock. Many people hug the rock, gripping tightly with hands, grasping for anything resembling security. So once they have ascended and overcome the discomfort and fears that have assailed them up the rock, it is easy to think their worries are over. Not so. Next comes the descent, and this activity requires that they actually release their grip from the security of the rock they have come to trust, lean backward, and transfer their trust to the rope and belayer to prevent them from falling. Talk about uncomfortable! As one student exclaimed, “You want me to do what?! That’s crazy! Can’t I just climb down?”
How often I respond to God exactly the same way! “You want me to do what? It took a lot for me just to begin attending that church, and now you want me to lead a small group? I really like the comfort of these relationships and this home, and now you are asking me to go minister to people in another country? Can’t I just go back the way I came? Can’t I just huddle in the comfort of life as I know it?” Comfort, security, and independence draw and deceive me. Only when I dare step outside my comfort zone do I realize just how easily I have been lulled into accepting a mediocre life rather than trusting my Belayer to hold me in true, abundant life. Jesus tells us that “anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt. 10:37-39) True life is found in fully leaning away from the false security of material possessions, financial stability, and comfortable relationships and trusting that God will take care of the rest.
There is more, though, to leaning fully into God and trusting Him. As a climber grapples with what it means to lean away from the rock and trust the rope to lower him to the ground, an awkward dance occurs. The climber lets go of the rock and begins to lean back, but quickly lunges for the security of the rock once again.
“You have to let go of the rock and lean your whole body back,” the instructor encourages.
“I am!” comes the exasperated reply of the petrified climber.
“No, you aren’t. Look! You are still holding onto the rock. You are still holding yourself up and not letting the rope hold you.” The climber simply doesn’t realize that he hasn’t actually let go, that he is still trying to remain in control.
It is not enough for us to know we need to let go and trust. There is a required, intentional act of surrender every time we encounter an area that we have refused to place in God’s control, thinking we must provide our own security. Proverbs 3:5-6 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” I often deceive myself and believe that I am surrendering fully when there are still areas of my life that I have not yet released to Him unconditionally. Hence, this explains why a life fully surrendered to God is a journey, not a destination to arrive at. Throughout our lives, God asks us to surrender more and more to Him. And when we do surrender and fall into Him, He catches us and returns us to the solid ground below.
That solid ground may not have changed much, but the person who moves out of comfort, relinquishing false security and surrendering by leaning fully into Him, will never be the same.
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.