by Leah Fuller
On a recent expedition, I found myself sitting atop a ridge in the black of night with a group of missionaries. The Leaders-of-the-Day were pouring over their map, having sent scouts into the darkness to see if they could find evidence that might help them identify where they were. The stress for the leaders was reaching a peak as I walked over and asked Ariel what was happening. Tears sprung to her eyes as she related how they had been counting paces and thought they knew where they were, but now they weren’t so sure. As her words spilled out, I could see the fear in her eyes. “What are you afraid of?” I asked, sensing this might be one of those moments in which God was working His mysterious transformation. She stared ahead blankly and confessed, “I don’t know how to move forward when I can’t see where I’m going.”
Her words hung in the air as I processed how very real the situation was. This was no game. It was real life, and for Ariel, the lack of control and the inability to see what lay ahead were leading her to lose trust in the map, the compass, her ability to lead the group, and God. I took a moment to pray with Ariel and Jonas that God would help them to know the next step. When we finished praying, they began to draw on the skills we had taught them, and with some “helpful” questions from my co-leader, they figured out where they were. In the dead of night, these two who had been frozen in fear by the darkness shrouding their sight just a few hours earlier were able to lead the group into a peaceful valley where a beautiful campsite next to a gentle stream awaited.
When God works in His mysterious ways, we can at times feel disoriented and confused. He often doesn’t lay out the entire plan for us to see, rather He chooses to reveal to us only the next step. The unknown lying beyond that step could lead us to shrink back in fear, or it could create curiosity and intrigue, a sense of expectation. Too often we find ourselves feeling just like Ariel and Jonas did on that night. Not knowing what is just beyond what we can see directly in front of us, we shrink back in fear. What lies beyond can feel fearsome and may require the release of some special treasure, comfort, or Illusion of control that we have assumed we had.
I was reading somewhere recently that craftsmen—those who take up a trade or occupation requiring specialized skill—must by nature embrace mystery. The reason for this is that while a potter, for example, will start out intending to create something beautiful, there is still an element of the clay or glaze that they cannot control. I have experienced this as I have applied my hand to the potter’s wheel. Each time I fire a piece, I quiver with excitement over the end result and stand in awe and delight when the colors run together, responding to the extreme heat of the furnace in ways I could never have predicted. The inability to predict the outcome or to know for certain what I can expect is what leads to the curiosity that courses through my body as I wait for the furnace to cool.
As an instructor, I find myself regularly praying for and urging participants to take the “next step,” even as they feel uncertain. It is in moments like these, the ones I could have never predicted when building the itinerary, that I find myself leaning forward with expectation and curiosity and wondering how God will work out His divine plan. It is not a question of if God will work out His plan as much as when or how He will shed light on a place of invitation that reaches deeply into my being. These are the moments I must hold with open hand before the Lord, trusting that He will make Himself known and show us the way forward. This mystery is what causes me as an instructor to lean forward with anticipation, watching and waiting with faith that the struggle to produce perseverance, character, and a hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:3-5 paraphrased). The apostle Paul spoke often of the mystery made known to us through Christ’s suffering and glory. He assures us that lessons learned through “…slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison…” (2 Corinthians 4:17 ESV).
If I’m being totally honest, I am finding that I can mostly trust this process. And yet, there are moments all along the trail of life where I also wrestle with doubt, fear, and uncertainty about what may lie ahead. I am convicted by how often I find myself to be the one frozen and fearing what the future may hold. I also find myself at times resisting the invitation to move away from comfort and control and step into the adventurous way of Jesus. And yet, as Paul reminds us so often, the “mystery,” which can feel so fearsome, has been “revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:26-27 ESV).
We have already been given the sight we so crave! Christ revealed to us the end of the story when He died and rose again. We may not know exactly how He will invite us to places of vulnerability and trust along the way, but we can hold fast to “the hope of glory!”
by Joel Bates
My son, Caleb, is well-acquainted with collecting and stacking firewood. Until recently, he had not graduated to splitting the logs, but he’s 13! I decided I should teach him the finer points of using a traditional splitting maul. Some folks—smart folks—use a hydraulic wood splitter to section their sawn logs into nice, usable shapes, but not me. I prefer my 8-lb., steel wedge that resembles a sledge hammer with an axe-like blade. I swing it over my head and bring it down forcefully against the cut face of the log causing the wood to explode. I like to think it takes a special person to split firewood this way, a rugged woodsman with brawny resolve, but mostly I’m just a cheapskate.
Caleb protested, “Dad, why don’t we have a wood splitter? My buddy Tommy’s dad has one.”
“Son,” I said, “there’s an art to splitting wood with a maul. It connects you to the ways of our ancestors, builds character in you, and makes you glad to be a man. Besides, why do I need a fancy, expensive wood splitter when I have you?”
Caleb frowned at my reasoning, but he picked up the maul, heaved it over his head, and brought it down on the upended log. The weighty axe bounced mutely off the middle of the wood and fell at his feet. “This will take forever!” he groaned.
“You’ve got the strength, but your technique is all wrong,” I coached. “Here, let me show you how.” He stood back, and I hefted the maul over my head, swung it up in a wide arch, and brought its full force powerfully down, making sure the head made direct contact with the center of the log and keeping the handle perpendicular to the point of contact. A crack formed. Sighting the handle along the newly formed fault-line, I repeated the actions to land the maul directly on the fissure point. Akin to the sound a strike makes in bowling, the log blew apart.
“Wow!” Caleb exclaimed. “Let me try.”
I gave the maul back to him and observed. After a while, his aim was dead on. As I watched him split log after log, I saw him become proficient in wielding the maul. I noticed how he began to hold the weapon correctly, swing it the right way, and bring it down on the same mark, blow after blow. Watching him, I suddenly felt a spiritual maul hit me upside the head. Our enemy, the devil, is a master of the “splitting maul!”
Satan loves to kill, steal, and destroy. He prowls around like a lion seeking to devour people, and he takes great delight in burrowing the heavy wedge of dissention among God’s children, severing relationships, alienating friends, and pounding fault lines throughout the bride of Christ. He loves splitting us apart like a talented woodsman drubbing hardwood. It makes him happy to see our nation torn in two like an oak log that gives way before the maul. He giggles when a church splits up. He bends over doubled in wicked glee when another couple files for divorce. And he swings that thing at me with great mastery!
I pondered this and wondered, “How can we escape the separation that comes from the blows of the enemy?” Here’s some ideas coming from a guy who’s flung the maul a few times:
We are cut from a great and glorious tree of life. More accurately, we are grafted into the tree called Christ. If you’re being struck by the enemy, hurting from the wrongs done to you, and feeling the cracks of disunity forming, implement the tactics listed above to see if they can help you be “unsplittable.”
by Joel Bates
When Japanese sub I-58 torpedoed the USS Indianapolis, it caused the worst naval sea disaster of World War II. And yet, for the men who survived the initial sinking, the worst was yet to come. With communications knocked out at the onset of the raid and a mere 15 minutes during which the ship would stay afloat, all attempts to send out distress signals were in vain, leaving the survivors in the hands of fate. For days, the bobbing sailors succumbed one by one to their wounds, shark attacks, and the deterioration of their fragile psyches until only a few remained. Miraculously, an American seaplane happened to spot the oil slick left behind by the sunken vessel. A closer flyby inspection revealed, amid the turbid waves of shark-infested waters, human bodies—survivors who had drifted aimlessly for four days and now had little physical strength and even less will to live.
An emergency SOS went out to all American ships in the vicinity. The USS Doyle received the message and began steaming “all ahead full” toward the position. As night encroached, the Doyle had yet to reach the men. Knowing that the survivors’ mental fight to stay alive hung by a thread easily snapped by the despair of darkness, the captain issued a dangerous command that no crew had ever heard. In the inky darkness, he ordered the searchlight be aimed into the sky to give hope to the men in the water, to let them know that help was on the way. At the same time, though, this order painted a broad target on the warship itself for any enemy subterfuge. Against U.S. Navy protocols, the light continued to shine brightly. Later, survivors would testify that it was the light beamed from the foredeck of the USS Doyle that saved them, proving that light has power over even the darkest night.
I was with a group of missionaries-in-training recently, trying to convey this message of the power of light over darkness. We were assembled in a cave, covered in muddy filth and sitting in pitch-black silence when someone started to cry. To my surprise, it was Ross, the oldest of our group…Ross, who was toned and lanky for his 61 years of age…Ross, who was always congenial, smiling, and kind. This former California surfer had left behind a home, a business, and a past that should have taken him to hell. Now headed to Africa with a reckless abandon for Jesus, he sat in the dark with tears running down his weathered face.
We waited as Ross dug down to unearth the words to describe how he felt. “I had forgotten about the power of light,” he whispered. “All those people around the world living like this…covered in mud and all alone in the dark.” He continued, “That was me. That’s my story. If not for the light of Jesus, I would be lost right now…probably dead is more like it. This is a picture of what we are going to do...shine!” His words punctuated the already sobering reality of just how important is the mission of sharing the gospel. Using the cave and its darkness as a simple illustration, Christ made His call to these mission recruits poignant; they would shine the light of Christ in a very dark world.
Whether from the deck of a great warship, in the small beam of a headlamp in a cave, or from the word of the gospel told to those lost in darkness, light always…ALWAYS wins over darkness.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.