by: Joel Bates
After agonizing with his decision for over an hour, the student looked at me and the ropes and declared, “It’s not enough!” I tried to hide my irritation, but I felt incensed as I held the young man on belay, high atop the seventy-foot river bluff. Sam was one of eight fearless and determined participants who had braved the wilds of the Missouri backcountry for six days. Together they had faced cold winter temperatures that left them shivering in the night, had faced the demands of night navigation, had faced drenching downpours, and had conquered swift-river crossings, but now, Sam was having none of it. When it came to heights, he had hit a wall that his courage couldn’t surmount.
How strange that he had gone through so much, and yet, facing the rappel anchors, his will had become powerless to see him through! I touted the merits of the ropes, explaining their trustworthy ability to hold thousands of pounds of weight and how simple it would be to lower himself on that strength. Even with this assurance, he doubted my ability to hold him on belay for the descent. I gave him a brief account of my experience and ability, and other group members testified to my talents since they had put me to the test mere minutes prior. I offered to pray for him that the Lord might help him find the courage to continue. He agreed.
After all my assurances and encouragement, Sam asked what he must do to make it stop…to get away…to avoid the fear. I simply told him to trust. He studied the solid rope anchors intensely. He considered my hands holding him securely. Then he declared, “It’s not enough!” We had come to his final answer, and fear had won.
The phrase “It’s not enough!” remained with me long after the event—long after Sam left my rappel station having never trusted completely, having never believed that he could do it, having never felt the thrill of rappelling down a breathtaking cliff face, suspended amid the freshness of the budding spring air and centered in the fullness of complete trust. That’s what it is to rappel—exercising complete trust in something other than oneself, for once.
Usually with some hesitancy, the participant leans back and feels all his body weight settle into the fabric of the harness. The ropes grow taught, but they are far from straining as he eases his shaking figure over the side for the long and chilling decent. Then, there’s a phenomenon that occurs with most people who are completely trusting; euphoric freedom sweeps through them. I don’t understand it completely, though I’ve experienced it myself, but when in placing complete trust in the ropes and belayer, I find a rest, a peace, a simplicity that comes from releasing my will and control. Times like these show us just how burdensome it is to try to keep control, to be self-reliant above all else, to give lip service to faith but fool ourselves as we feed our doubts.
This phrase “It’s not enough!” keeps haunting me because though I’m brave enough to trust the ropes to rappel down a mountain, I trouble the Holy Spirit on a regular basis with a myriad of misgivings. I halt at simple requests from the Lord like, “Pray with that guy. Yes, even though he‘s not a believer, and it may feel awkward at first.” Or “Lay down your defenses, and let me protect your heart. Yes, I understand that you feel very vulnerable right now.” Or “My sacrifice is sufficient to pay for your sins. Yes, all of them, and that one, too.” Or “I am with you, so let’s go.” Or “I love you, and nothing will ever change that.” The Apostle Paul had reason to doubt himself, considering how he had persecuted the church in his early days, but he inspires me with his message to the believers in Colossae:
“He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col 1:15-20).
I amaze myself sometimes by my lack of faith in the face of such power…such kindness, care, and reason. When I consider who God is and what Jesus has done, I must confess that it truly is enough. It’s more than enough. As you face your daunting cliff edges of life today, remember the truth of Christ in your life. Consider who He is and what He has done so that you can be intentional with your trust. Lean into Him, and experience the joy of trusting in the One who is enough!
“We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
by: Joel Bates
One of the downsides of living in the wilderness is a lack of resources. Directing a camp that specializes in taking people through a process of wilderness learning often results in my finding myself in the same classroom. I learned another lesson the other day when I discovered a problem with the roof on the Iron Stake Lodge.
As I walked atop the weathered shingles, examining them with a wary eye, it was neither the thick layers of green moss growing on the shingles that gave me greatest pause nor the bare patches on the eaves, revealing tar paper where a shingle ought to have been. Not even the many weather-beaten, worn out, brittle shingles themselves grabbed my attention so much as when I took a step on a spongy part of the roof and nearly fell through to the rafters below. Even with my untrained eye, I could tell the roof needed help, and I needed resources.
I checked the bank account and found that the funds were there not only to buy materials, but also to hire a professional to re-roof the lodge. Historically, the camp hasn’t always had a bank account that allowed contracting the services of a pro. That’s why almost everything around here has been built by volunteers or camp staff. With lots of other plates spinning, I felt truly blessed be able to hand off this mammoth task to someone else, someone more gifted, someone specialized.
I began the search for a quality carpenter by making a list of phone numbers. I then began dialing those numbers with a smile on my face, but it didn’t last long. Some had a waiting list I could join if I wanted to wait until 2056! Others had life emergencies that prevented them from committing. One said he could get to it—alright!—but not until late spring. Sigh. Another could have fit the job into his schedule…if it were a little bit smaller. I kept crossing off names as I contacted every qualified builder I knew. No one was available to do the job.
Morosely, I grabbed up my measuring tape and ladder. It had been a long time since I’d done any roofing, but as I trudged down to the lodge, a plan was forming in my mind. Maybe if I could just get the project started, perhaps a professional builder would emerge. I collected my measurements, placed the order, and huddled up with Briar, the camp’s newest full-time staff member. “Briar, do you think the two of us can at least start on the roof project?”
He grinned, “Sure, let’s do this!”
We began, cutting off the decayed drip edges and pulling back shingles. Our efforts revealed all the places in the sheathing that were spongy and rotting and needing replaced. Saws whined as they cut through tar paper and wood. Hammers pinged as nails pinned down replacements, and old boards screeched and popped as crowbars pried them from their aged cradles. We were thankful that winter was giving us a respite from the chilling winds and heavy snow. That day the clouds had parted to let the sun gaze down on our progress.
I paused to look around from my rooftop perch in the center of camp. There above the oaks and pines, I stood high enough to see the fallow cow pasture half a mile to the south and the deep green cedar forest beyond. I wiped the sweat from my brow and grinned as I took in the view. Briar stole a glance at me from his position across the way, “Sure is pretty, isn’t it? You know, I think you and I can do this job.”
His optimism warmed my heart as I glanced down at the orderly pile of recently delivered materials—shiny green roof panels, drip edges, and fresh lumber stacked on the ground ready for installation. “Maybe so,” I mused. “But we’ll need more help!”
The next day, bribed by the promise of pay and cheap ice cream, my kids joined us on the roof, hauling boards, hammering nails. and snapping lines. As I directed the work, memories of past construction projects came to mind, and the more progress we made, the more my rusty memory came to life with the solutions to the next steps. It finally dawned on me partway through the project that there was no professional coming and that perhaps we could do the entire job ourselves! The sun was still shining, and I relished that “Aha!” moment that spurred us on.
As the weeks passed, we made more and more progress until one day last month, I put in the last screw. I stood back and looked at the new roof. I was there alone that day as I surveyed the finished project. It had been a big task. So big that I should have had a professional do it. Curious, I uttered a question to God that had been on mind for some time, “God, with all the qualified professionals out there in the world, why did you not provide one for this job? Why did you leave me with no choice but to do it myself?” As I stood there silently waiting, a thought filled my mind, “This is my building, Joel, and I wanted the job done right…by the best.”
I was stunned. This couldn’t have been the voice of God. It must have been my own will infiltrating my mind to puff up my ego and rob God of the glory. I pondered this doubtfully, but still listened. Then the Lord clarified His message. It was not that I am such a great builder or the best carpenter. Far from it! But who more than the camp director cares about these buildings? I don’t want to cut corners on the work here because I, as much as anyone, will have to deal with the consequences of shoddy craftsmanship later.
What’s more, the Lord was with us as we worked, qualifying us, providing for us, and enabling us. He was there when the sun warmed our backs, and He was there when the materials we had measured for and ordered were the right size and the right amount. He enjoyed seeing my children learn to swing a hammer and run a drill as much as I did, and He thought it would enrich me personally to get to do this project and feel the joy of its success. Realizing that God cares so much about our plans, our tasks, and our lives and that He is so intricately involved from top to bottom brings tears to my eyes.
I’m not just making this up either. The Apostle Paul shared my sentiment when he jubilantly wrote in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” You see, the heavenly Father has building plans, and we all are part of it. There is work for us to do, and it does not require the hands of a professional, just the hands of the faithful, the committed, the willing follower.
We have promises from the Lord in what we are building for the Kingdom. “Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me” (Isaiah 44:21). I’m utterly amazed by God’s willingness to involve us in His plans and by His ongoing humility to release some of the work to us. Moreover, to share in God’s work surpasses all the work we would do for ourselves. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3:9, “For we are God's fellow workers. You are God's field, God's building.” So, the work I was doing on the camp’s lodge roof was good, but truly a God thing, because His people were involved.
At the end of the day, we remember His unlimited resources for us. We step back to take in the view of what we’ve done together and remember that the greatest work that God ever does is the work He does in us through Jesus. There was a task that we could not help Him with. It involved our sin, our salvation, a cross, and an empty tomb. The completion of that task has given us everlasting life with God. Now that’s a building project that I can get into!
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
2 Corinthians 5:17
by Joel Bates
Every DM intern must complete certain assigned readings from the shelves of our camp library. We have some good ones, like Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and Ashley Denton’s Outdoor Leadership, but my all-time favorite is Alfred Lansing’s Endurance. Though I’d read the story before, I found for the first time a message of Jesus sandwiched between the lines.
The ship was lost, but the men aboard were not. We read how they painstakingly hauled their equipment and stores miles and miles across the treacherous ice tundra, always taking sightings and plotting a course for the freedom and salvation of the ocean that lay north. Months and months, they traveled with persistence and fervor across the rolling tide of the floes to reach the sea. But alas, the sea presented another test of their skill and resolve as they embarked again on a perilous journey, braving the icebergs, encountering pack ice, and being drenched by the icy spray from the swells of the open ocean.
Though riddled with scenes of peril, intrigue, and the anguish of their plight, it was the book’s last few pages that brought tears to my eyes. Against all odds and with unmistakable divine intervention, Shackleton prevailed and returned to rescue his crew who had waited faithfully for months. The captain refused to rest easy until the last soul was reclaimed from Elephant Island, and as those souls step into the lifeboat, “everything that had only moments before seemed so important, now faded into nothing at the realization of their rescue.”
I cannot help but think of our great expedition leader, Jesus. He crossed a void we could not cross. He overcame all odds to rescue us. I want to be like that crew awaiting their captain, faithfully believing that he would return. I will not lose hope, not grow apathetic, not become consumed with hoarding all I can to preserve myself in this current situation. With my Savior looking on, I want to be one who steps into that lifeboat, having never lost faith, having never given up the fight, and never looking back and longing for the trappings of all the remains on icy, Elephant Island—things that seemed so important only moments before, but now fade into nothing.
When interns ask which book to read first, I might just suggest, The Gospel according to Endurance.
For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us
an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen,
since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18 (NIV)
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.