Standing in Grace

“Safe Haven,” © 2016 Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission

© 2016 Lynn Abbott

I love a good story. Indeed, as you have certainly guessed, story-telling is part of my family DNA.

Perhaps, this accounts for my son’s love of history. Stories of the past have delighted him since he was a little boy.  For this reason among many others, travel has become an ongoing priority for our family.

And so it was that on an overcast,  autumn afternoon, this homebody found herself standing in St. James’ park in central London while her nineteen-year-old and his father wandered off to purchase tickets for another historic tour.

Safe Haven (oil), copyright 2016, Lynn Abbott Studios with watermarkThe canal and ducks initially drew me to wander further.  While there wasn’t time for me to squeeze in any plein air painting, I did carry my trusty Canon camera.

And the grassy causeway offered such peace in the midst of the heavily traveled London streets surrounding it that I longed to explore.

I knew instantly that I would find artistic inspiration, and that I would gather images of that storybook place to warm the walls of my studio.

Quietly, I watched children chase and feed the ducks that waddled along the shoreline.  And life’s tableau soothed my soul.

As I turned to cross the street to our late afternoon historic destination, a small cottage caught my eye.  Its whimsical design captivated me, and I lingered, eager to absorb its history… its story.

The park, of course, was developed by James I, of King James’ Bible translation fame. However, the current “Duck Island Cottage” did not occupy the small island until the 1840s.

At that time, the Ornithological Society commissioned architect John Burges Watson to design a cottage for the Royal Bird-keeper and the cottage has remained a part of this city haven since then.

However, the peaceful setting gives no indication of the cottage’s stormy history.  And yet, this building has stood stalwartly through two major world wars.

I imagine that the air raids of World War II were particularly formidable in this central London location.  On the surface, this small gingerbread house built to house the keeper, who gently and faithfully cared for the birds of St. James, appears quite vulnerable.

But that is only part of the story.  You see, the historic site that my son, husband and I visited that day is hidden from view.

Built under the sidewalks of the city, Churchill’s war rooms, his command central throughout  World War II, kept a watchful eye on the enemies’ movements and, from there, the Prime Minister and his trusted advisers orchestrated the defense of not only the city but also of the nation.

Indeed, no more than a few yards away, unbeknownst to Londoners and, very likely, the occupants of the cottage, Churchill and his team stood guard; they were the invisible sentinels.

Had I lived in that cottage during WWII, I know I would have felt tremendous fear as the sirens blared and the night sky lit up.  Danger surrounded the cottage.

It would have been easy to allow fear to consume me.  During such moments, fear fills the natural senses. And faith’s sight becomes foggy or dusky.

Yet, only a few feet away, unseen warriors secured the nation’s safety.

My sojourn in this sometimes fear-fraught world parallels that of the cottage.  And even though, my head reminds me that I am not alone,  my heart finds it difficult to hang onto faith when night raids ensue.

Safe Haven (oil), copyright 2016, Lynn Abbott Studios with watermarkLike Peter, I focus on the wind and the waves.  I sink instead of stand.

I think, perhaps, that this was the case with Elisha’s faithful servant.  Elisha had come under fire.  In 2 Kings, Elisha received a warning from God: the Israeli army should avoid a certain road since Syria planned an ambush.

When the Syrian strategy thus failed, the angry king looked for a scape-goat. Having learned of Elisha’s prophetic warning, the Syrians plotted to capture Elisha while he stayed in the city of Dothan.

Scripture records in chapter 6, “And he sent horses and chariots and a great army there, and they came by night and surrounded the city.”

As darkness surrounded Dothan, the enemy gathered to destroy Elisha.

When the sun rose, Elisha’s servant went out to begin his day’s work.  I can well imagine his terror when he saw a vast Syrian army encamped on the city’s doorstep.  All hope seemed lost.

“Alas, my master,” he cried in fearful despair. “What shall we do?”

Elisha’s answer reminds me of God’s uninterrupted night and day watch:  “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

If I had been there,  I probably would have spewed my morning coffee.  After all, as far as Elisha’s companion knew, it was he and God’s prophet against the world.

His look probably said it all because Elisha immediately responded, “O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.”

Immediately, Elisha’s servant saw God’s invisible army on the mountains around;  vast numbers of horses and chariots of fire stood ready to defend Elisha.

And God’s unseen guard protects you and me.  When the enemy comes against us; when we face persecution for our faith; when trials batter our physical bodies, hearts and souls, God is there.

In the middle of the night, as sirens blare and fire shatters the sky, I do not see the silent sentinels standing guard.

But God, in mercy and grace, guides me to safety. The light is always on in God’s war room.

I understand this in the morning light.

True, the enemy prowls “seeking those he may devour,” (2 Peter 5:8).  Satan demands permission to sift Job.

Demons fight with Michael as God’s messenger makes his way to deliver the answer to Daniel’s prayers, (Daniel 10).

Without a doubt, the journey can be extremely treacherous.

However, God, with ever-present goodness and grace, leads us safely home. Despite the fact that waves often overwhelm me, my Savior’s hand catches me when I begin to sink.

While I may be blind to His hand in the world around me and while I find it easy to focus on the dark armies encamped against God’s people,  Abba’s protective wings cover me in spite of my frail faith.

Safe Haven (oil), copyright 2016, Lynn Abbott Studios with watermarkFor this reason, as storms and darkness in this world continue, I pray that our faith eyes will  be opened.

I ask Abba to enable you and I to be, as Paul has written, “… strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might…”(Ephesians 6:10).

I pray because I am absolutely convinced that through His mercy and grace, we will “be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm,” (Ephesians 6:13).

Indeed, I know this to be a promise.

The battle rages, but our Savior stands near.  And our safe passage will not depend upon us, but upon the Unseen One in whose grace we stand.

“For Thou has been my help, And in the shadow of Thy wings I sing for joy,” ~Psalm 63:7

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…For momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” ~2 Corinthians 4: 7-9; 17-18

“But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one,” ~2 Thessalonians 3:3

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” ~Hebrews 11:1