Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Detour Through the Desert (December's DIB Article)

Recently, I began reading one of my most beloved books, Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard, as a prompting from Holy Spirit as I was praying through things on my heart; one of which was the message that God wanted to write through me for Destiny In Bloom.  I felt really impressed to share this portion with you:

Then one day the path turned a corner and to her amazement and consternation she saw a great plain spread out beneath them. As far as the eye could see there seemed to be nothing but desert, and endless expanse of sand dunes, with not a tree in sight. To the horror of Much-Afraid her two guides prepared to take the steep path downward.
She stopped dead and said to them, “We mustn’t go down there. The Shepherd has called me to the High Places.” But they made signs to her that she was to follow them down the steep pathway to the desert below.
“I can’t go down there,” panted Much-Afraid, sick with shock and fear. “He can never mean that—never!” He called me up, and this is an absolute contradiction of all that he promised.” She then lifted up her voice and called desperately, “Shepherd, come to me. Oh, I need you. Come and help me.”
In a moment he was there, standing beside her.
“Shepherd,” she said despairingly, “I can’t understand this. The guides you gave me say that we must go down there into that desert, turning right away from the High Places altogether. You don’t mean that, do you? You can’t contradict yourself. Tell them we are not to go there, and show us another way. Make a way for us, Shepherd, as you promised.”
He looked at her and answered very gently, “That is the path, Much-Afraid, and you are to go down there.”
“Oh, no,” she cried. “You can’t mean it. You said if I would trust you, you would bring me to the High Places, and that path leads right away from them. It contradicts all that you promised.”
“No,” said the Shepherd, “it is not contradiction, only postponement for the best to become possible.”
Much-Afraid felt as though he had stabbed her to the heart. “You mean,” she said incredulously, “you really mean that I am to follow that path down and down into that wilderness and then over that desert away from the mountains indefinitely? Why” (and there was a sob of anguish in her voice) “it may be months, even years, before that path leads back to the mountains again. Oh Shepherd, do you mean it is indefinite postponement?”
He bowed his head silently, and Much-Afraid sank on her knees at his feet, almost overwhelmed. He was leading her away from her heart’s desire altogether and gave no promise at all as to when he would bring her back. As she looked out over what seemed an endless desert, the only path she could see led farther and farther away from the High Places, and it was all desert.
The he answered very quietly, “Much-Afraid, do you love me enough to accept the postponement and the apparent contradiction of the promise, and to go down there with me into the desert?”
She was still crouching at his feet, sobbing as if her heart would break, but now she looked up through her tears, caught his hand in hers, and said, trembling, “I do love you, you know that I love you. Oh, forgive me because I can’t help my tears. I will go down with you into the wilderness, right away from the promise, if you really wish it. Even if you cannot tell me why it has to be, I will go with you, for you know I do love you, and you have the right to choose for me anything that you please.”
“Much-Afraid,” he said, “all of my servants on their way to the High Places have had to make this detour through the desert. It is called ‘The furnace of Egypt, and a horror of great darkness’. Here they have learned many things that otherwise they would have known nothing about. Those who go down to the furnace go on their way afterwards as royal men and women, princes and princesses of the Royal Line.”
“Fear not, Much-Afraid, to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation; I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again” (Genesis 46:3).
On the last morning she was walking near the tents and huts of the desert dwellers, when in a lonely corner behind a wall she came upon a little golden-yellow flower, growing all alone. An old pipe was connected with a water tank. In the pipe was one tiny hole through which came an occasional drop of water. Where the drops fell one by one, there grew the little golden flower, though where the seed had come from, Much-Afraid could not imagine, for there were no birds anywhere and no other growing things.
She stopped over the lonely, lovely little golden face, lifted up so hopefully and so bravely to the feeble drip, and cried out softly, “What is your name, little flower, for I never saw one like you before?”
The tiny plant answered at once in a tone as golden as itself, “Behold me! My name is Acceptance-with-Joy.”
Much-Afraid thought of the things which she had seen in the desert: the threshing-floor and the whirring wheel and the fiery furnace. Somehow the answer of the little golden flower which grew all alone in the waste of the desert stole into her heart and echoed there faintly but sweetly, filling her with comfort.
She said to herself, “He has brought me here when I did not want to come for his own purpose. I, too, will look up into his face and say, ‘Behold me! I am thy little handmaiden Acceptance-with-Joy.’” (pp. 80-91)

I don’t know how many of you have read this classic book, but it is a stunningly beautiful allegory of the journey of Much-Afraid—the story’s main character who was not only crippled with fear but with some physical malformations—from the Valley of Humiliation where she lives to the ‘High Places’ and the anticipated destination of the Kingdom of Love. In order to make the pilgrimage to the High Places where the Shepherd longs to take her, Much-Afraid must make the decision to leave what she knows behind her and venture into the unknown; the Shepherd will not, and cannot, force her.

When Much-Afraid finally summons the courage to leave the valley and her family: Craven Fear, Resentment, Bitterness, Self-Pity and Pride, the Shepherd assigns two hand-picked guides to travel with her: Sorrow and Suffering. It is at this point, early on in the story, that Much-Afraid’s journey begins. I will not give away anymore of the story but will share a glimpse into some of the lands through which she will have to travel: the Desert (Egypt), the Great Precipice, and the Forests of Danger and Tribulation.

As I was reading through Much-Afraid’s reaction to facing the desert (the passage with which I began this article), I was filled with the overwhelming sense that the words which were speaking volumes to my heart were also very much needed by many who read Destiny In Bloom.

Although we are surrounded this time of year with an ever-present reminder of the season of joy we celebrate—the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ—it does not mean that every heart is merry. On the contrary, it is because of this time of year that many who are burdened feel as if their weight has doubled, and it is for them this passage was illuminated.

Further into Much-Afraid’s journey, the Shepherd speaks to her as she lays down her will upon a small altar she had made of sand and stones, “This further delay is not unto death, but for the glory of God; that the son of God may be glorified” (John 11). 

Reading this, I was filled with a sense of promise that Jesus was looking into those hearts that are hurting and wooing them who need to be comforted, encouraged and reignited with the flame of hope.

As Much-Afraid traveled out of the desert and resumed her journey to the High Places, the story continued in this way:

…for something had happened in the wilderness which had left a mark upon her for the rest of her life. It was an inner and secret mark, and no one would have noticed any difference outwardly, but all the same, a deep inner change had taken place. She did not understand how it had happened, but what the Shepherd had said had come to pass in herself, for those who go down into the furnace of Egypt and find there the flower of Acceptance come up changed and with the stamp of royalty upon them. It is true that Much-Afraid did not feel at all royal, and certainly did not as yet look it. Nevertheless, she had been stamped with the mark and would never be the same.
Therefore, though she went with Sorrow and Suffering day after day along the shore of the great sea of Loneliness, she did not go cringingly or complainingly. Indeed, gradually an impossible thing seemed to be happening. A new kind of joy was springing up in her heart, and she began to find herself noticing beauties in the landscape of which until then she had been quite unconscious. (pp. 94-95)

In various seasons of our lives, we all face heartache, trials, sorrow and suffering; and for some, this season holds more for you than others. What was lit in my heart, as I read about Much-Afraid’s journey into and through the desert, was a strong desire to encourage those who are walking in that season right now. My hope is that the words spoken by the Shepherd to Much-Afraid will resonate as Jesus speaking to you. It is the voice of our Savior—our tender, compassionate and loving Shepherd—that heals our heartache and makes light our burdens.

The story of Much-Afraid does not end with her being left in the lowlands but unwinds with her transformation, both spiritually and physically. In reading this book, again, Jesus has revealed to me a seed of fear that is an obstacle in my own transformation. I have chosen to travel with Much-Afraid because, just like her, my desire is for the High Places.

“The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and he will make me walk upon nine high places.” Habakkuk 3:19

“But He knows the way that I take [He has concern for it, appreciates, and pays attention to it]. When He has tried me, I shall come forth as refined gold [pure and luminous].” (Job 23:10)

If you have never read the story of Much-Afraid, I encourage you to do so. We all have something in us that requires the loving touch and transformation of our Savior. This book will take you on a beautifully descriptive journey and may just show you something about yourself and Jesus that you’ve never seen before.

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