A couple of weeks ago, we joyfully welcomed back Rachel, Ava and Jane to Scotland, Glasgow and Refuge—their adopted home and restored dream. Last Sunday morning, during the service of worship, Rachel shared with the church family the next instalment of her remarkable testimony of God's work in her life; and now on this blog, Rachel shares some invaluable wisdom and lessons that have been wrought in the furnace of trial and suffering...
My first exposure to Charles Spurgeon was through one of his quotes. He said,
I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me into the Rock of Ages.
If I’m being perfectly honest, this quote led me to believe the man was a lunatic. I was quite young in my faith when I read those words. I had been walking with Jesus for many years, but my faith, my understanding, of WHO God is was actually very immature. I didn’t understand Spurgeon’s words because I could not fathom “kissing the wave” that was attempting to drown me (slam me is more like it!) into a rock—be it through sorrow, pain or trial. My faith was young because it had not walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death [Psalm 23].
There is something to be said about wisdom that comes with age. But there is also something to be said about wisdom that comes through pain and it was something I knew very little about. Life had, up to that point, come with a few bumps in the road, some sorrow and hardship, grief and loss. If I was really being honest though, it had actually been pretty easy up to that point.There had been hard days, hard seasons, but I had not walked through a life shattering. In fact, I had no desire to, thank you very much. I believed that I could know the Man of Sorrows through other channels and circumstances. And I did. I did love Jesus. I did love the Word of God. I did love the Church. I did know God, but at the same time, I hardly knew God at all. And that is where my journey really began.
In December 2016 my life shattered. Utterly and completely ruined. I had been hurled to the very bottom of the Valley. I was Hagar. Cast off, unwanted, rejected, abandoned, exiled. Just waiting in the wilderness for death to come and bring relief to my weary bones (Genesis 16, 21). And there I lay for several months as bitterness and wormwood seeped into and then out of my heart. But just as God was with Hagar, God was with me. He confronted me in the desert. In my anguish I came to know Him as Hagar did, as my “El-Roi”.
God stepped in. He cared for Hagar’s needs-physical, parental, spiritual, emotional. El-Roi, the God who sees me, stepped in and saw me. He really, really saw me. And then, He changed everything.
He set my feet on a journey. It was time to walk forward: up through the Valley and out of my exile. That may sound sweet and idyllic—on a journey with God up and out of pain. But have you ever started a climb at the very bottom of a mountain? It may be pretty in vista, but it is hard, tedious, exhausting work. Bottom line, climbing is arduous and painful. Yet with each step forward, you find yourself one step nearer the high places, the victory, the view. While it is painful work, it is worthwhile work.
Like me, you may be staring up at a giant mountain. Sometimes, through our prayers and faith, God chooses to remove the mountain and cast it into the sea [Mark 21:21–22]. Other times and really more often times, I’ve found, the call comes with a sacred whisper to join Christ in His suffering: to lose everything; to join Him in His suffering; to become like Him in death—in order that you may share in fellowship with Him [Philippians 3:7-11]. Day in and day out, moment by moment, sometimes breath by breath, as you take one step after another up that impossible mountain.
That is the path God, in His kindness and wisdom, chose for me this time around. I have learned (and remembered) some things as I’ve been on this hike out of exile. May my experience encourage you as you climb:
1. Jesus is our Vine
We are the branches. Our job is to simply remain. So simple in precept, but so incredibly hard in practice. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. Nothing. Let that sink into our hearts each morning as we place our feet on the ground. As we remain, we are pruned to bear much fruit. Apart from the vine, we wither, we stop producing, we die [John 15].
2. God is our Author
As God began to heal me, He began to rewrite my past with Truth. Let me explain. As I climbed upward out of the Valley, God gently allowed past hurts and rejection to come back to the surface so that I could confront them head on, deal with them and release them into His capable hands. As old memories began to resurface, the pain of them threatening to choke the life out of me, God began to remind me that He “[makes] all things new” because He is the “Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end.” [Revelation 21:5-6]. He showed me that in the past, when I was rejected, He had been there in that moment, choosing me. When I had been unloved, there He was, loving me. As each memory surfaced, He rewrote it-showing me that He had been there. If we really believe that “the Lord your God is with you WHEREVER you go” [Joshua 1:9], then we must believe that He was with us in the past, is with us now in our present, will be with us in the future. He has rewritten my past. He was there all along. I am no longer unloved, unwanted, uncared for. I am Rachel: chosen, wanted, loved. Praise God!
3. God is our Promise Keeper
I have learned that my prayers will ALWAYS succeed when I pray God’s promises back to Him. This, friends, is how we approach the throne of grace with confidence [Hebrews 4:16]. Charles Spurgeon talked a lot about this in his sermons. Spurgeon urges us to read the promises of God in Scripture, take them back to the Promiser and ask Him to fulfill His own Word. Remind God of what He has spoken [Psalm 119:49]. I really believe God loves these prayers. He is faithful and true. His Word is Truth. His promises will stand eternal. Stand on them in prayer. You will find under your feet an unshakeable rock to stand upon. May I urge you to pray past, present and future:
God You have said/done/promised _____________.
You are the Great I AM. You are ________________ (choose a name of God in His Word, or like Hagar, name Him based on the qualities you see in His Word. My favourite name has become Feeder of Sparrows).
You promise future grace for me so I choose to trust that you will ________________.
I’m writing these words to you today from my new wee flat back in Scotland. God has taken me and my daughters on quite an adventure. We are no longer in exile. Our valley has been traversed. I am looking back with hindsight, shouts of victory on my tongue and beating in my heart. He has restored home. He has restored me. His kindness is overwhelming. Valleys of Shadows and Loss don’t last forever. God is our Restorer. He carries us up and out. It’s breathtaking up here on the mountain. I can breathe easier and the air is just plain sweet. But as I look behind me, I get it now. Spurgeon wasn’t crazy after all. I really have learned to kiss the waves that threw me into the Rock of Ages. I am actually able to look at people and say, I would choose what happened to me all over again. I love my story. It’s been blood, sweat and tears. Oh, but it’s been good. I know my God in intimate, life-changing, beautiful ways today. Elisabeth Elliot once wrote,
Of one thing I am perfectly sure: God’s story never ends with ‘ashes.'
Yes, Charles. Yes, Elisabeth. I get it, now. I could absolutely weep with thankfulness for my suffering. What an upside-down kingdom is the Kingdom of God!
El-Roi, my God Who Sees Me, oh for grace to continue “getting it” all my days as I look behind at your faithfulness and see you as Promise Keeper. As I live in my present, eyes fixed on Jesus, you are my Great I AM. And as I journey forward, into more hills, valleys and mountain tops, you are my Sovereign God and I choose today to trust you for all my tomorrows. Amen.