September heralds the beginning of a very busy season and time for many people. It also reflects a time when much more is demanded of us in the church. I want to share a personal story of how when I was recently asked to be involved in something very difficult. I led and drew on my own strength until the Lord led me back to Himself so that He could provide the resources I needed for the task. The fall season is hard and we need all our strength to face it, we need all our own strength in God.
Let me frame my state of mind that let to my personal conflict. Two summers ago I was doing course work in my annual study leave. While on that study leave I conducted a funeral, a wedding, preached and remained in multiple daily contact with my office. The week after my study leave I landed up in Emergency from, amongst other things, exhaustion.
In mid- July this year I was preparing once again to go on study leave and had one more trip to make before doing so. I was on my way to the airport when I started getting voicemail on my cell. My wife Kerry caught up to me to tell me that a young man whom we had known well in his teen years had just drowned and that his extended family, whom we also deeply cared for, wanted to speak to me. I felt ill for this young man’s death, the same age (and a friend) as my son, he was part of our youth group at Kits and a camper at Keats when he visited family for entire summers from the age of five until adulthood. He had begun to read sentences at three; he was a lovely, kind, funny and believing kid. Sadness washed over me. Overwhelmed me, the truth be told. Then I turned with a sullen, selfish and angry face to God. I like to tell you I railed against the loss of this man. But no, I railed at God for what I knew would follow, the care, the thought, the funeral and the emotional and physical bankruptcy I would go through once again helping others. I wallowed in my anger and narcissistic fury; letting God know what I thought of Him. I remained that way for over half the day; through the time on the plane with family, through agreeing to take the funeral. I felt trapped, drained and angry. I didn’t want someone else taking a piece of my depleted, emotional carcass. I was all about me and had no concept of the strength of God for me and in me.
On the plane I opened a daily newspaper and read a columnist who recounted a young Jewish-Christian woman who had chosen to enter the concentration camps of German-occupied Holland in the 1940’s. She died there. She had written that she went willingly into difficult places because “God had need of her presence there.” I saw my own contrasting myopia in her story. God didn’t “need me” anywhere, least of all where I went so corruptibly selfishly. He would provide others. Yet what I learned in that tumultuous morning, in reading of that Dutch Christian and in God’s strength to be present and supportive of others in the weeks that followed was this; when I seek to swim in my own strength I drown like my dear young friend. When I rest in and depend on the Lord’s strength I am able to put my feet on the riverbed of the most raging streams. Like the Psalmist I am able to say Lord “you have put my feet upon a rock.” I have never been at a holier gathering than that funeral. Never been more wrung out emotionally, never been so severely challenged for my lack of dependence on God. I have never been more ambivalent or anxious. Never more thankful for the fruitfulness of God.
Thanks be to God.
I don’t often go into such personal detail. The story is drawn out not simply to lay bear my own unworthiness but I trust to emphasize God’s holiness.