Valiant Endurance

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Glancing up out of the window as I worked, my eye was caught by a movement. As I shifted to see what it was, I realised a small, almost translucent spider was hauling his groceries back to his home up in the eves. I say hauling because the insect he had spun his thread around was enormous compared to him. He was so confident and self-assured, never doubting his ability as he darted further up his line, pulling the load up another centimetre, and then down again, checking the insect wasn’t breaking free, casting another few intricate lines around it, and then up again, hauling again, and so on.

As I watched, the word “valiant” dropped into my mind.

Taking some photos of something that is a well-known phenomenon, but one I rarely see, I thought about what God might be saying to me about this. I reflected on what it means to be valiant.

It is not a word we use much lately. In fact, I think it is one of those “c” words that are regularly dismissed in our current climate. And before you get worried, I am talking of character.

A conversation we have had on numerous occasions with our children, especially as they have got older is about the importance of character. It is not a discussion that has always been appreciated. Character seems to have become a dirty word in our society today. Gifting and looks have so much more appeal and are much easier to see.

Unfortunately, it is not just a societal issue. I have been in a number of churches where people are often praised, honoured and uplifted for their giftedness, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, it is rare we talk about the value of character and integrity, and even rarer that we would honour someone for having good character – can you imagine it: “And this week, we just want to highlight a couple of people for their character and integrity. John did really well at removing himself from the room when all his colleagues were looking at pornography at lunch time, and Betty didn’t lose her temper once, even when someone cut her off in traffic.”

Character is not easy to measure and can be really awkward to praise. It tends to be much more obvious when it is lacking!

So my valiant little spider piqued my interest, as this is not a word we often hear.

However, it did connect in well to another word God had given me just the day before.

As I asked a friend how she was doing, she responded, “Oh well, you know.” Straight away, the words, “Your feet are on the rock” came out of my mouth.

Over the next little while, more bits and pieces were added to this in my head. First it was Psalm 40:2, “He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand”. This was closely followed by the words to the song, “Made me Glad” – “He has set my feet upon a rock and I will not be moved”.

What stood out to me most in this is that we don’t get to stand on the rock, we don’t get that choice.

HE has put our feet on the rock

So often, we can feel as though we have to do all the hard work, the “heavy lifting”, to keep ourselves from being swept away or blown around by shifting winds. This impacted me so strongly: we don’t have to work hard to stay standing on the Rock – He is actually holding us there.

How does this link in with the valiant spider?

The definition of valiant is: “possessing or showing courage or determination”.

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Personally, we have some circumstances going on in our life at the moment that we have great faith for certain outcomes, and total peace about them. However, the resolution of these situations is seeming a long time coming. We are tired. We have had enough. We would really love to move into the next season. But we are still waiting.

In the middle of this, God has reminded me of two things. One was a dream I had nearly twelve months ago where we were searching for buried treasure. When we found where it was hidden, we had to screw off a metal plate with a special tool. We kept turning, but every time we thought it would open, there was still another turn. However, eventually it did open.

The other memory was of a picture God gave me of Jesus tying sandals on my feet. They were like Roman soldier’s sandals, with straps up around the calves, which He tied carefully and firmly. The idea was that these were shoes to give stability and help me to walk for a long time without getting tired or sore. It was a reminder that He has already given me what I need to get to the end.

Reflecting on this, I realised that this is something of the nature of God He is showing me. He has already gone ahead. He knows what we need well ahead of time and gives it to us so we can succeed on the journey He has for us. I sense that Still, Small Voice speaking into my soul,

"Be valiant, little one. Continue in the courage and determination I have given you, in confidence that it will be more than enough to get you through."

Finally, He gave me one more picture. It was of a surprise party. This was the end point. There is a party at the end. And even if you are like me and don’t like surprise parties so much, this one is perfect, as God knows exactly what we would like for the perfect party: the right food, the right entertainment, the right décor, atmosphere and guests. We are guaranteed to have a great time. All we need is the courage and determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and just like my little spider friend, we will get home.

"I will bless the Lord forever
And I will trust Him at all times
He has delivered me from all fear
He has set my feet upon a rock I will not be moved
And I'll say of the Lord
You are my shield, my strength
My portion, Deliverer
My shelter, strong tower
My very present help in time of need"


Hillsong - Made Me Glad 

Just give me the formula!

Years ago, in another lifetime, I was a maths teacher. What can I say? I like the order of numbers, the known outcome - there is an answer that is right. Maths can be comforting in its safety of black and white. 

One of the struggles my students had with me (and I with them!) was that they would say to me, "Just tell me how to do it, just give me the answer." They too wanted the safety and simplicity of the known and predictable. What I wanted for them was to understand the process, the underlying methodology and reasoning, because when they grasped  that, I knew they could apply it to other problems and scenarios. Hopefully they could recognise problems that were similar and extend what they already knew and understood into new problems and new scenarios.

Wanting a simple answer is not just confined to the classroom, though. Perhaps it is a quintessential part of being human. I am reminded of Arthur Dent in the "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy" series asking for the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything (and finding it is 42!), or the Israelites at Sinai telling Moses, "Just tell us what to do so God won't smite us, and we will do it, but having a relationship with God where we need to listen to Him is just too scary for us." (Exodus 20:19)

There was a desire for a formulated way of living, without having to get involved in the mess and uncertainty of relationship.

I think we tend to transpose this way of thinking into our own lives when we hit tough times, when we come across a problem: "God, just tell me the answer, tell me what steps to take to produce the outcome I want". 

I was confronted by my own desire for this more recently. In discussing something going on in my life, a friend suggested a message she had found really helpful that came with a process which, in turn seemed  to promise a secured outcome. I dutifully watched the teaching, went through the process and waited for the outcome. Which didn't happen - at least not as I was hoping! 

Reflecting on this and seeking God in the midst of this, I realised, again, that while process can be helpful and good, there are many times in life and relationships when the cookie cutter method will not produce cookie cutter results. But why?

Part of the problem is that although my issue, my difficulty may have all the hallmarks of being the same as yours, when people are involved there will always be differences. We are different. Our experiences are different. Our journey and what we need to learn for it and from it are different. We may be heading for the same thing (being closer to God), but we also may be coming from entirely different directions, complete with different landscapes and challenges. One size will never fit all.

There is a part of our make up, though, that continues to chase after the tried and true method. It is why advertising is so powerful and effective: "Got this problem? Our product is the answer and we can prove it - look at all these people." 

We do it in church as well: "Got this problem? Just read your Bible more/pray more/journal more/be part of a home group/go to this conference/read this book/hear this speaker/follow that teaching. All of these things have their place and may be helpful. But the problem comes when we choose process over relationship. We tell God we want a guaranteed outcome with minimum effort or pain. But in relationship, free will (our own or others') can trip up the best laid plans.

And even using a cookie cutter my cookies rarely look exactly the same, and definitely don't look like yours, so why should I expect that with the rest of life?

So I come back again and I choose relationship, with all its mess and unpredictability, over process. I will allow God to be God. I will have faith in His great wisdom, His vision, His understanding and knowledge of what is best. I will take the path that is my own, rather than the tried and not always universally true path of others. I will wait and hold on, even though there are no guarantees I see today, and even though today, again, it all looks wrong. I will again lean not on my own understanding, I will submit to Him and I will trust Him to make my path level.

"Trust in Adonai with all your heart; and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him; and He will level your paths."

(Prov 3:5,6 Complete Jewish Bible)