It has been a week where my eyes were swollen more than not; but the confession that I have been crying is not manly, so, for the record, my eyes were swollen. And two days ago at the Home Depot, the manly place that it is, I didn’t bother to cover it up, as I figured that the public was getting used to my new look.
Two weeks ago, however, I was riding a high. We are in the midst of a two-month stretch when we are sending out one family of five and two couples into three different mission fields: Oregon, Honduras, and Madagascar. Two will be gone for a year and one is moving permanently. We have raised money for these missionaries and it feels great to release them for more Kingdom building. They are ready. We also graduated four seniors in college and had a warm goodbye party for them. They shared a lot of encouraging things about the church and why they chose to be part of it.
Then reality hit. And it felt like real punches.
- Body blow: We are saying goodbye to thirteen of our mature and consistent worshippers and tithers;
- Face jab: Our superintendent came unannounced for our lowest-attended service of the year.
- Uppercut to the jaw: A ministry leader is moving to another church.
I was wobbling. These are the things that fill me with anxiety, fear, and self-doubt. But Jesus didn’t desert me. Like a boxer who takes a punch and keeps their feet, church planters need to be able to take these blows and stay on their feet.
And the only way it happens is by being secure in God. What I have learned is Jesus is every bit as interested, and maybe more, with the work of discipleship he is doing in me. It’s true! Jesus wants to transform my life, as well! I am a very important statistic to keep track of.
My youngest son asks me to read to him and his brothers almost every night. He gets so excited for it; he puts on his PJs, and hops into the bed between his mother and me. Without fail he falls asleep before I finish one page.
But I read on.
Two nights ago, before beginning to read, I had a feeling that God had an appointment with me. The boys? Sure. But mostly an appointment with me.
Our book has been Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnaud. It’s an allegory about the Christian journey of transformation based on Psalm 18:33, which says, “He maketh my feet like hinds’ feet, and setteth me upon my high places.” (A “hind” is a young female deer.)
The story centers on the main character, Much-Afraid, and her journey to the “High Places” (representative of Heaven or spiritual maturity or sanctification or a combination of these) and the development of her “hinds’ feet.” The Shepherd (the Christ figure) does not set Much-Afraid on the high places right from the start. She has to develop the ability to scale God’s heights.
In Chapter 9, Much-Afraid finally arrives at the base of the High Places and when she looks up at the intended route, she sees nothing but a sheer cliff face. When recognizing what is being asked of her, she collapses in fear and anguish; and her primary enemy—Craven Fear—pounces all over her. She laments that she will not be able to scale such heights. In fact, she even hesitates to call on the Shepherd to rescue her because her fears are getting the best of her. The obstacles in her way to developing hinds’ feet are, in her view, simply impassible.
With her little remaining strength, she does call on the Shepherd and he delivers her from Craven Fear. He then explains that this is the intended route for her and speaks words of encouragement. He also describes how Sorrow will take the lead and Suffering the rear and will show her the steps to take up the steep cliff.
In the end of the chapter, Much-Afraid and the Shepherd are laughing together, and Much-Afraid begins the ascent.
Jesus wanted me to achieve the same recognition that Much-Afraid did. That the challenges to life and ministry are part of His plan. Challenges are the tried and true template for successfully discipling and transforming a life. And the Shepherd starts with me!
So ask yourself what the Good Shepherd is doing in you during this trial. Is he stretching and transforming and developing your hinds’ feet as well?
I’ll bet He is.