By Logan Nicholson
When we take a group out adventuring, we create a microcosm of the Christian walk and get a glimpse of how people react in various life situations. There is a group dynamic I particularly notice on caving days here at DM. As we lead a group through a cave and introduce them to the wonder of God’s underground creation, we often stop in a large room and have everyone turn off their lights. Then we stand or sit in silence so that the complete darkness envelops us. This opportunity to experience life at a low volume and listen for God’s voice rarely occurs in today’s world, and it is difficult for students to endure for even a brief time. Many times, despite clear instructions to stay still and be quiet in the darkness, someone will crack a joke--generally about flatulence, will squish their shoes in the mud, or will “accidentally” turn on his flashlight. As a leader, I ask myself, “Why? Why can’t they ever wait quietly?” I have come to the simple conclusion that we people do not cope well with waiting, especially in the unknown with a lack of control. When we find ourselves in a situation where we don’t know what is going on, we start to strive for answers and control.
I have long struggled with wanting to know exactly how God would use me: where He wanted me to live and work, whom I was to marry, and so on. Not knowing the future and not being content to carry on with the instructions already given, I tried to seize control and search out information for myself, running after whatever I thought was the best option. But life never turned out like I had hoped, and I always landed in a state of more confusion than I was in before. Patiently waiting for the Lord to do His work is a skill that I have yet to master, but one in which I am growing. I am finding that when I wait in stillness for Him, I find peace in spite of the turmoil of the world.
This trait is not peculiar to me or the groups who go caving, It appears throughout the history of humanity. Abram and Sarai knew God’s promise of a son, but tried to fulfill it in their own time on their own terms when Abram took Hagar and fathered Ishmael (Genesis 16:1-4). When the Israelites feared starvation in the wilderness, they determined they would turn back to Egypt (Exodus 16:3), and later they turned to other gods instead of waiting for Moses to bring God’s word off the mountain (Exodus 32:1). Then there were the Pharisees of Jesus day who tried to attain perfection through the law rather than accept the One of whom the law testified.
I think of the night Jesus was taken to be crucified. He went into the Garden to pray and asked His disciples to wait, but they fell asleep. Then he was betrayed and they tried to take Him away. In spite of all Jesus had told His disciples about what was to come, Peter took matters into his own hands and struck the servant of the high priest. During Jesus’ trial, Peter denied his Savior, not understanding that it was only through taking our punishment on Himself that Christ could justly grant us pardon. (Mathew 26:36-28:20)
You see, in those times when we are tempted to move ahead of God, trying to take matters out of His hands, we will be amazed if we simply wait and see what He has in store. That student who was so uncomfortable in the cave experienced authentic worship when we sang together and praise reverberated through our underground cathedral. When I waited on the Lord, God brought me to a ministry where I can joyfully use the abilities He has gifted me with. God gave me a wonderful wife and two sons whom I couldn’t have imagined. And, on that Sunday morning when the stone rolled away from the tomb, Israel’s vain attempts to run ahead of God’s plan were shown to be so foolish. In the days that followed, Jesus revealed Himself to the disciples. They once again left their nets behind and began exercising their kingdom mission with a zeal that never faded.
Maybe the next time you find yourself waiting, looking for what God is going to do next and beginning to rush ahead; stop and remember what you were instructed to do with this time and faithfully do it. God will move in His time. Just wait and watch. Waiting does not mean that nothing is happening. It may be that you are unable to see His will unfolding because it does not fit your definition of progress. God knows and works out the best plan, and yet His vast creativity can feel unpredictable to us. A composer writes a symphony and paints his musical picture, beginning with silence and creating beauty through the sound of the music. God sets the tempo of this life for a reason. Often that uncomfortable silence becomes the complement to a beautiful crescendo.
By Joel Bates
Panic crept from the hot pavement up through my body as reality pierced my mind like a sniper’s bullet. “My car has been stolen, and I am utterly helpless!”
Just moments before, I had been on the phone with my wife, regaling her with my adventures of having explored San Antonio, Texas. I had been surprised by the paradox of the Alamo, a mere three acres and yet a monumental inspiration that captures a nation’s heart. I had strolled down the River Walk, taking in the restaurant aromas and shops’ wares while I smiled back at the giddy, canal boat passengers. But, what made this day extra special for me was pressing through the unknown and taking the risk to get there. Just hours before this, I had enjoyed a retreat at a breathtakingly beautiful ranch in the Texas hill country. At this small conference, we examined what gives us passion and fills us with excitement for the future. I remembered how one of my joys was going on adventures, so as the conference closed and all the attendees departed, I found myself with a few hours of time to kill before catching my flight. It’s always daunting for me to travel alone into unfamiliar places, but the potential for adventure lured me. Besides, I knew God would be with me. So with my fresh enthusiasm, the invitation of the Lord, and the call of adventure, I risked setting off to see the sights. As I passed my exit for the airport and aimed my car toward downtown, I shuddered a little but cheered myself with the thought that I was living by what I teach.
As a facilitator, I invite participants to walk through the door of the unknown, to take the risk of adventure and reap the rewards of true self-examination leading to a fuller life in Christ. The invitation is the easy part. The trial is not, and as a facilitator I am mostly limited to just watching. Oh, I do walk alongside the struggling participants, and I give encouragement to the hurting and fatigued, but as their facilitator, I also am usually part of the cause of their challenge. I assure them that I have their best interest at heart as I dole out another challenge. I tell people they can do just a little bit more than they thought they could, and while I believe it, it’s still easier to say than it is to do. Some participants get angry with me. Some grow distant and cold hearted for a time because they thought our relationship would be different; they thought the experience would be the adventure with only the reward and not the pain. I believe they need the challenge, so I keep presenting it before them.
As I stood in that downtown parking lot with nothing but a flip phone and the clothes I wore, I joined all those pained, suffering participants that come through DM. I was desperate, way out of my comfort zone, and growing bitter at God with each passing minute for leaving me stranded and exiled in this wilderness of pavement. Hadn’t he invited me into the adventure? But now I was alone and helpless! “What kind of father invites his child on an adventure only to kick him to the curb?” I grumbled.
There was a hotel across the street, and I walked there as I tried in vain to get some help from the 911 operator on my cell phone. She wanted my VIN number. The problem was that the VIN number was on the stolen car. Does anyone else see the problem with this logic? I hung up as I walked into the hotel lobby and asked the clerk at the front desk if I could borrow a pen, some paper, and a phone book. He expressed genuine concern as he listened to my rushed account of my predicament. I had been in communication with my wife, and she texted me info for the rental car company. I dialed the number and was comforted to find the lady on the other end of the line was kind and competent. (I made a mental note to call her instead of 911 next time I had a crisis!) It turns out my car had simply been towed away due to my ignorance of big city parking lot procedures. I hadn’t paid at the serve-yourself kiosk!
Understanding I had less than an hour to make my flight, the hotel clerk phoned a cab. When I got into the taxi, the tires peeled as the heavyset driver with a thick Boston brogue turned around and said, “Pal, if you’re late, it ain’t gonna be because of me!” Now maybe I’ve been in the backwoods too long, but as we broke many traffic laws getting to the airport, I felt like I was in a Bourne movie.
Every time I fly, I always encounter those people who are running really late. They come through the line and have to sort of grovel to the other passengers who got there early. Most of the time people are gracious, but we still give them that smug, superior, examining look that says, “You should be more responsible.” I was that guy! I felt especially bad cutting in front of the lady in the wheel chair and the couple with the newborn in the baby stroller, but only a few people gave me the “you’re irresponsible” look.
I made my flight, but had to leave my luggage, my laptop, and course work in the trunk of the rental car that was nestled deep in the confines of some impound lot. I have to admit I wasn’t counting my blessings that day, and my hope, joy, and enthusiasm for adventure had abandoned me. I replaced that joyful outlook with some bitterness and resentment at God as the plane lifted high above the clouds to take me home. To be honest, that event unraveled a series of discouraging and bitter moments that overwhelmed me during the next weeks.
I was retelling the story to a good friend the other day, now being able to laugh about it some but still unable to see the redemptive quality in an ordeal where following God left me feeling abandoned and vulnerable. My friend insightfully responded, “You were standing in the place of all of your participants, in the midst of the challenge. And, you’re not the only child God has allowed to experience this sort of pain.” As soon as he said it, I felt my face flush and tears well up. He was right. After all the challenges I’ve designed for others, all the adventures I believed in, and the risks I promised would reap a reward, I hadn’t recognized my own wilderness moment in the middle of a strange city where I knew no one. But just like all the adventures God invites us into, He was providing just the right amount of challenge and just the right amount of help through the patient hotel clerk, the salty cabbie, the kindly wheel chair lady, and the setting sun at 30,000 feet that can’t be explained, only experienced. As I now reflect on God’s goodness to me in the midst of trial, my breath catches, and I remember another child of God who long ago was abandoned and scorned, bruised, and bloodied. God offered His only Son, Jesus, as a sacrifice so that the worst that will ever happen to me are merely light, momentary, earthly trials. Because of that “Son,” I not only win over the wilderness, I get to live the adventure.
By Leah Fuller
Is it easier to compete with others or to unite and cooperate with them? Much of American culture centers around competition. From a young age, kids learn to compete to win through team sports or to achieve top honors in an academic setting. While the educational system champions leaving no child behind, we cannot deny the classroom hierarchy that naturally develops as some students excel and others struggle. Even if our culture weren’t preaching this gospel, it is practically ingrained into the very fiber of our humanness. Even in biblical history, examples of jealous comparison and competition abound: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, competitive squabbles amongst the disciples, and the list could go on.
One afternoon last summer, I was leading campers as they tackled a battery of group initiatives. Group initiatives are puzzles or games that encourage a group of individuals to work together to find a solution. Earlier in the day, I had worked with the first half of the group and now led the remaining students. As they neared the end of the first initiative, one of them looked at me and asked, “Did we do this faster than the other group?” I gave them a quizzical look, grinned, asking “Why does it matter?” The response was classic “We just want to know if we did better than them.” Their interest led to a conversation about comparison and competition—the places where they are of benefit, such as in sports, but also the ways that comparison and competition actually can create disunity in the body of Christ, stealing what God actually might have in store for us.
This scenario is not uncommon, and while I would love to say that this is a message for everyone else but me, this is not true. It is difficult not to want to compare and compete for God’s love, measuring my maturity and growth by the maturity and growth I see in others. I often find myself comparing my value to someone else’s, fearing that when a co-worker receives affirmation, my value has been judged and found lacking if I don’t also receive affirmation. I find that spiritual comparisons are some of the most detrimental. When a friend receives a word from the Lord in prayer for someone and I don’t, I wonder if God favors them more than me. When another is quick to serve others and meet needs in a group, I feel like I’m not being servant-hearted enough. I hear friends who are mothers make statements comparing their parenting based on how disciplined their children seem to be. Deep down, I struggle to live from the truth that my value and “belovedness” are not diminished by others’ success or bolstered by others’ failure. Maybe you have thought this, too? You see, we long for a tangible measurement of the love we ache to feel, but are afraid we will never have.
Henri Nouwen in his book Life of the Beloved says “It is impossible to compete for God’s love…It is only when we have claimed our own place in God’s love that we can experience this all-embracing, non-comparing love and feel safe, not only with God, but also with our brothers and sisters.” Scripture abounds with this truth, urging us to remember that “we have different gifts, according to the grace given us” (Romans 12:6). God made us different on purpose, to complement one another, and to make us aware of our need of Him as we acknowledge areas of weakness. We know this truth in our heads, but often it is difficult to believe it in our hearts. It is difficult to remember the truth that “my salvation and my honor depend on God” (Psalm 62:7) and that no matter what, He loves me with the deep, unconditional love that I long for. What would happen if I focused the energy I use comparing my value to others’ on thanking God that He has gifted me and He has gifted them, even as our gifts are different? And in that place of thankfulness, wouldn’t I remember that my value does not depend on another, but solely on the love of Christ freely given for me?
It requires effort to live from this truth. Why else would Paul urge us in Ephesians 4:3 to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”? Unity in the body of Christ requires effort as we each learn to receive God’s love for us. It is not an effort of striving or grasping, but an effort of continuing to return to the truth that God has chosen and gifted me and that He has chosen and gifted you, too. In an effort of surrender and death to self, we relinquish our reputation and value, trusting that God loves every bit of us, the weak parts and the strong. As I make the effort to surrender and receive God’s love for me, He fills my cup full. His love begins to overflow, and I find I can speak the truth of your “belovedness” and “chosenness” with a heart of gratitude. This is what Paul meant in Romans 12:3 when he said, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”
Perhaps today you can take some time to take an inventory of your relationships, noting places where you may unknowingly have been comparing or competing? Bring these relationships before the Lord asking, “What does God think of me?” Next, take time to renew your mind, remembering the truth that your value is not diminished by others’ success or bolstered by others’ failure. Now turn your heart to God in gratitude for the ways He uniquely loves you and has gifted you. Finally, thank God for the ways He uniquely loves and gifts others. Return to a posture of trust that “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.