Grace for the Journey

LynnAbbott_DocksideinMarseilles_20x20Oil©2016 Lynn Abbott

“Ships are safe in the harbor,” my dear friend began. “But they were made for the open sea.”

For a moment, her words hung in cellular space as I paused to think.

She does that… makes me think.

And I’m used to her cryptic, pithy wisdom.

I had just finished describing my latest dreams, and as usual, she had spoken simply. She didn’t give advice. Instead, she’d given me a word picture.

Of course, I waited for her to continue; to make some sort of explanation.

However, no explanation seemed forthcoming. Apparently, she expected me to interpret.

At first, I puzzled. Yet, the more I thought about it, the less necessary an explanation seemed. That one statement summed it all up for me.

LynnAbbott_DocksideinMarseilles_20x20Oil with watermarkIt’s really very straightforward. I think Jesus would have said, “If you want to walk on water, Peter, you have to get out of the boat.”

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always dreamed of a spectacular life in Christ. I want to make a difference. I long to significantly impact this world for good.

Walk on water, Peter.

Unfortunately, pursuing the spectacular can also be a little scary. Getting behind the wheel invites some measure of peril.

Or as my son, when he was a teen, once complained, “Why would I want to learn to drive, Mom? A person can get killed.”

So true.

If I put myself out there, I’m bound to foul up sometime. I might even crash.

Even so, unless we get out there and try, nothing gets accomplished.

Jesus told a story that convicts this cautious soul again and again. You know the tale well.

In the parable of the talents, Jesus tells of three servants, each given various monetary sums by their Master, (Matthew 25). The Master goes away, and the servants each make choices. Two of the servants invest their sums wisely, and double their monies.

The third servant, however, is fearful, and buries his assigned amount. When the Master returns, the cautious servant only offers his employer what was originally designated.

The servant has taken no risk; he has not advanced in any way. He has simply maintained the Master’s assets.

Some might see maintenance as a positive step. During unstable economic times, surely it is better to protect capital than to place it in risky investments.

But here’s the amazing part: the master reprimands the servant for avoiding risk.

Jesus evidently loves risk-takers.

LynnAbbott_DocksideinMarseilles_20x20OilIndeed, He loves it when we launch our boats… Or when we put out our nets one more time after a night of failed fishing.

He invites us to trust Him and step out of the boat. That’s faith.

And I’ll admit, it frequently terrifies me. I feel a little like Tolkien’s Frodo as he picked his way through the dead marshes that flanked Mordor.

It is difficult to keep one’s eye on the goal. The murky waters threaten. I look down.

Out on the open sea, the waves toss small boats. I’m tempted to bury the Master’s gift. I long for my moorings in the safe harbor. Fear takes hold.

Abba understands this about you and me.

He made us for spectacular sailing; yet, the wind and waves buffet us. Fear drives out faith. Out on the open waters, it’s easy to feel lost and alone.

As you have probably guessed by now, one of my favorite Old Testament saints is Elijah. I return to his story again and again. God’s Word reveals rich truth in the smallest details. Thus, I’ve recently discovered new aspects of grace in Elijah’s story.

In some respects, I think Elijah may have had a lot in common with Peter. Similarly, Elijah boldly stepped in where others feared to go. He spoke up. He didn’t let things slide…a man on a mission.

In fact, you never had to guess with Elijah. He was a straight shooter.

Yet, even the bold prophet felt the icy grip of fear on occasion. After his showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, Elijah fled for his life. After all, Queen Jezebel sought to kill him in retribution for his judgment of the pagan prophets.

Besides the fact that Elijah needed rest, nourishment and encouragement from Abba, I found one aspect of the account particularly noteworthy.

After God supplied Elijah’s physical needs, God addressed Elijah’s emotional and spiritual needs–particularly Elijah’s need for companionship.

First, Abba spoke to Elijah in a “gentle blowing.” And in this, Elijah found grace. God assured Elijah that he was not alone despite how he might feel.

When the wind, the earthquake and the fire died, the Creator spoke gently.

LynnAbbott_DocksideinMarseilles_20x20OilGod was there all along. And He’s there beside us as well; yes, even when the noisy wind and rain rage.

Although it may seem that Jesus sleeps in the boat and shows little concern for danger, He is with me. Even if the waves surge and make it difficult to see the Savior walking on the water toward us, He is there.

In fact, he continually and gently reminds us, “‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you. Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand,'”(Isaiah 41:10).

But God also gets practical. Specifically, in Elijah’s case, God gave Elijah a friend for the journey. Enter Elisha.

Yeah, God understands that we are “but dust,” (Psalm 103:14). He knows our weaknesses, our very human needs, (Hebrew 4:15).

I wish I’d recall that more often. However, much of the time, I find myself complaining like Elijah when I could be simply asking God to supply my needs.

Yet, despite my short memory, Abba not only promises me that He is with me but He also faithfully provides a traveling companion. He has it all in hand.

He understands us. For this reason, He has given us a community of faith. Some days, I miss that. I doggedly trudge on in solitude.

I struggle on in a kind of fog, and I can’t always see my situation clearly. I miss God’s plan. After all, His ways are higher than mine.

Perhaps, that’s why the apostle Paul spelled it out for us: We are to encourage one another. We need each other, (Hebrews 10:24-25). We were never meant to go it alone.

I don’t know what this year holds for you or for me.  But I can almost guarantee this: we will journey through some choppy, if not rough, waters. Life is like that.

LynnAbbott_DocksideinMarseilles_20x20OilBut God created us for adventure; the sea calls us. Try as we might to burrow in safe places, to hide in hobbit holes, the road will nevertheless rise to meet us.

Without a doubt, the journey will be too much for us to manage alone. Storms will come. Thus, it is best for two to sail together.

Elijah needs an Elisha; Moses needs an Aaron.

And Tolkien’s Frodo needs a Sam.

As I often note, Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion, But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.”

When one traveler feels weak, the other musters strength. So it goes. As Abba’s children, we especially need the buddy system. The world does not go easy with us.

Yet, our God gives so much more. He not only gives us companions to travel with us, but He also lights the way. Lest we dash against the rocks in the storm, He personally guides us, (Psalm 119: 105).

For this reason, I believe, Solomon continued his meditation with the words, “And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart,” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).

A cord of three? Solomon doesn’t elaborate. He paints a word picture and leaves the deciphering to me.

But as I ponder, I glean this truth…

I know One who creates an unbreakable cord. He walked with Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in the furnace.

He spoke to Elijah through that still, small, voice.

In desert darkness, He shined brightly as a pillar of fire for Moses and the Israelis.

Yes, He is the all important thread running through our lives.

And He has given us His Spirit as a pledge; He will never leave nor forsake us. Where two are gathered, there He is.

LynnAbbott_DocksideinMarseilles_20x20OilCertainly, as we depart the safe harbor and navigate life’s deep waters, we find both adventure and danger.

We may even find ourselves tumbling in tidal waves, sputtering in sea spray, and desperately beating back fear and failure.

Nevertheless, we can be sure of this: ships were made for the open sea. Abba loves His adventurous children; Christ calls us to risk all for Him. Thus, we embark.

Thankfully, we sail with this promise: His Grace is greater than any storm we face or any misstep we take.

“Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord–for we walk by faith, not by sight–we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him,” ~2 Corinthians 5: 6-9