Category Archives: Devotions

The Unwelcome Fellow Traveler

 

In the 12th chapter of C.S. Lewis’ The Horse and His Boy, there is a fascinating portrayal of Christ’s words, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5; cf. Deuteronomy 31:6) even in the midst of our own self-pity and despair.  In the scene, the boy, Shasta, is making his way towards the city of Anvard in order to warn them of a pending, unwarranted attack from Rabadash.  After coming to a fork in the road, and ducking along the right-fork away from Rabadash and his men, his exhaustion and self-pity is interrupted by the presence of fear.

“Shasta discovered that someone or something was walking beside him.  It was pitch dark and he could see nothing.  And the Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly hear any footfalls.  What he could hear was breathing.  His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature.  And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there.  It was a horrible shock.

It darted into his mind that he had heard long ago that there were giants in these Northern countries.  He bit his lip in terror.  But now that he really had something to cry about, he stopped crying.  

The Thing (unless it was a Person) went on beside him so very quietly that Shasta began to hope he had only imagined it.  But just as he was becoming quite sure of it, there suddenly  came a deep, rich sigh out of the darkness beside him.  That couldn’t be imagination!  Anyway, he had felt the hot breath of that sigh on his chilly left hand.

If the horse had been any good – or if he had known how to get any good out of the horse – he would have risked everything on a breakaway and a wild gallop.  But he knew he couldn’t make that horse gallop.  So he went on at a walking pace and the unseen companion walked and breathed beside him.  At last he could bear it no longer.

‘Who are you?’  he said, scarcely above a whisper.

‘One who has waited long for you to speak,’ said the Thing.  Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.

‘Are you – are you a giant?’ asked Shasta.

‘You might call me a giant,’ said the Large Voice. ‘But I am not like the creatures you call giants.’

‘I can’t see you at all,’ said Shasta, after staring very hard.  Then (for an even more terrible idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, ‘You’re not–not something dead, are you? Oh please–please do go away.  What harm have I ever done you?  Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world!’

Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face.  ‘There,’ it said, ‘that is not the breath of a ghost.  Tell me your sorrows.”

Shasta was a little reassured by the breath:

so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman.  And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert.  And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis.  And also, how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.

‘I do not call you unfortunate,’ said the Large Voice.

‘Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?’ said Shasta.

‘There was only one lion,’ said the Voice.

‘What on earth do you mean?  I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and –‘

‘There was only one: but he was swift of foot.’

‘How do you know?’

“I was the lion.”  And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued.  ‘I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis.  I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead.  I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept.  I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time.  And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.'”

The weight of this scene probably cannot be rightly felt unless you’ve read the book, but nevertheless, the scene should be poignant.  At the heart of what young Shasta was experiencing was self-pity, considering himself the unluckiest person in the world.  That perhaps no one had ever had it so bad as he had.  As he laments, unsuspectingly to Aslan the Lion, he lays out all the troubles that he has experienced, including known, fear-laden encounters with multiple lions.  To his surprise, there was only 1 lion, Aslan himself.

This portrait of the Christ-like figure is emblematic of how Christ walks at the side of His own.  Often times, we lament that no one has had it as bad as we have.  We often see evil in every trial, but much like the character from the story above, or we may even say the biblical figure Job, we need to recognize that the hand behind these afflictions is none other than the hand of God.  All the while He leads, directs, pushes, steers, and guides according to His own sovereign pleasure for the accomplishment of His divine will.  Christ our Lord has promised He will never leave us nor forsake us.  It is to our detriment that our perception of being unlucky, cursed, or even picked on by Satan, does not match reality that it is “God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

What’s in a Name

 

Perhaps this is an over-generalization, but it seems rather apparent that the world has always endorsed the idea of individuals making a name for themselves.  While this sentiment has historically come under many different guises from being famous to self-branding, the concept has remained the same.  In order to be successful, popular, wealthy, etc., you need to get your name out there, or so we’re told.  This is especially true with having an online presence.  Just Google the phrase “self-branding” and you’ll find more than 13 million results, mostly lists of how-to.

Modern efforts to make a name for oneself are not all that different from those efforts in Genesis 11 where members of society tried to make a name for themselves by building a tower to heaven.  Verse 4 summarizes well

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

The people of Babel were united with a common language and a common motivation to make a lasting impact on  history by drawing attention to their technological advancements.  That they attempted to build a tower to heaven, highlights their common blind spot as a failure to rightly recognize God, most notably that no amount of human effort will be enough to earn your way to God.  Though the technology and methods have changed, the human heart has not.

The little phrase, “let us make a name for ourselves” becomes all the more remarkable when we encounter Abraham for the first time.  In the very next episode, after Babel, we read in chapter 12 of Genesis God’s call of Abraham and the introductory covenantal formula that will be repeated throughout Abraham’s life

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Amidst the covenantal promises outlined above is the phrase just highlighted from the Babel events only this time, it is God who is speaking, “I will bless you and make your name great”.  The contrast between these two statements, specifically Who it is that is making the statement, should be striking.  In the first case, it is the people of Babel who are attempting to make a name for themselves.  In second case it is God who declares that He will make a name for Abraham.

Only One can accomplish what they set out to do.  Only one can guarantee lasting value.

Through desire, invention, and efforts, humans are constantly trying to make a name for themselves, a lasting legacy as it is sometimes called.  Ultimately these desires are rooted in a recognition of human frailty and the brevity of life on the timescale of humanity.  It’s a desire to live a life of purpose and meaning that finds value in being remembered.  However, as Christians know all too well, this world is not our home.  Our longing is for a city who’s builder and maker is the Lord.  Therefore our lasting value, our worth, is found in Christ and it is our union with Him that is His great accomplishment in making our name great…child of God.

I’ve often been tempted, and have sometimes fallen into the trap, of wanting to make a name for my self or to somehow make efforts for self-promotion or branding.  But then I am reminded that first it is God who will make a name for Himself.  Then it is God who chooses who, when, and how to make a name for those as He sees fit.  Ultimately there is a reminder found in the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase.  I must decrease.”

Soli Deo Gloria.

 

The Balance between Despair and Hope

 

In a previous post, we looked at the tendency of believers faced with the circumstances of affliction who despair to the point of asking the familiar questions, “Why this happening?” or “Where is God?”.  There we suggested that although this was the course and pattern of Job’s response to his affliction, perhaps he lamented too far and too long, reaching the point of failing to properly recognize the consistent and righteous character of God in his afflictions.  It was not until God’s extended discourse in reminding Job that it is He who orders His creation as He sees fit, even those things which on the surface might seem contrary to nature and even those things which might seem impossible to the natural mind, that Job’s eyes were opened to properly stop asking why and start asking Who.

Lest we should walk away from that post thinking that our response in the face of affliction and despair should be one of resignation or stoicism, in this post we want to add balance to argument by looking at the much neglected practice of lament.  The Psalms provide for us this balanced approach through its inclusion of numerous laments.  Here we find that pouring out our hearts in agony and anguish before God, may indeed be a proper response to our most difficult circumstances, i.e. afflictions.  It may even be that God is working in our hearts to draw out the marrow of lamentation.  However, we must be reminded not to linger here, lest despair overtake us and doubt of God’s goodness begin to enter our minds.

Psalm 13 provides a typical pattern of a lament, maintaining the balance between despair and hope.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
    light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
    lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

The breaks above, provided by the ESV translators, highlight the transitions of the Psalm.  In vs. 1-3, we hear the words of the lament through a series of questions, much like the aforementioned, Why is this happening? and Where is God?  In vs. 4-6, there is a shift towards an appeal by the Psalmist to God for a response to his situation.  Then, in the last two verses we see the psalmist rest in the character of God, namely His goodness.

Entering into a lament shows a dissatisfaction with our circumstances; a recognition that things are not supposed to be this way.  Ultimately it is a desire for God to reconcile all that has been corrupted by sin.  It is toward this hope of reconciliation that our minds must then turn if we are to undergo lamentation properly.  If we linger in our despair, if we allow our minds to sink with the waves of doubt and depression, we show evidence of lacking faith as Peter did when walking on the water to our Lord.

The duration for how long we allow ourselves to lament over our afflictions, in order to maintain this proper balance, cannot be answered with any certainty, as it depends on a number of factors, not the least of which is the person and circumstance.  Nevertheless, universally, we must continually give ourselves over to prayer and continually fix our minds on the hope that is set before us knowing that our circumstances are only temporary and one day Christ will return to establish an eternity in which there will no longer be any crying; one in which He will wipe away all tears.

In closing, we need only to look at the life of our Lord to realize that lament has a proper place in the life of a believer.  Turning to the Scriptures, we find that Christ lamented over the death of Lazarus.  He lamented over the hardheartedness of Israel.  He lamented over the the pressing reality of experiencing the cup of God’s wrath.  And He lamented with outpouring  cries at the temporary abandonment from the Father as He bore the sins of many.  Yet all the while, He knew a better day was coming when sin would no longer exist, darkness would be engulfed by the light, and death would no longer reign over man.

When the time comes that we must navigate the darkness of despair, let us follow this pattern of our Lord by shining the light upon the hope of glory.