Walking in the Dark
The snow burned Ray’s face as he struggled across the field. He is racing against the clock. If he doesn’t make it to a phone in a few hours, his friend would die. Earlier in the day, his hunting partner had been seriously injured and was now in desperate need of medical attention. Having medical help brought back to the woods was his friend’s only hope of survival.
To make things more difficult, a snowstorm had reduced visibility to a couple of feet. It was risky, but Ray knew the only way to save his friend was to travel through this blinding storm. Fortunately, Ray brought his compass. He knew if he would walk SSW for 15 miles he would run into a road leading to a small town.
Although the blizzard was very disorienting, Ray faithfully consulted his compass. His mind, however, was filled with doubts. He had run across a river and some landscape he hadn’t expected. "What if I’m going the wrong way?" Ray asked himself. Fortunately, Ray didn’t allow his imagination and doubts to run wild. His compass showed he was heading in the correct direction, and he based his actions on this fact.
Our lives can often be like this. You know in your heart something is true, yet outward circumstances seem to dictate the opposite. Which do you believe? Most Christians, at one time or another, will go through periods in their lives where it seems like God has abandoned them. In these times it may seem like God is a mean, cruel, and sadistic person. During times like these, it would be easy to say something like, "God is not a God of love. If He were, He would never have put me through what I’m now going through."
Yet, our compass says these feelings are not true. We know the Bible says God does love us and is intimately concerned about everything we are going through. He hurts when we hurt. So, what do you believe: your feelings or your compass?
It is important you establish a habit of consulting your compass regularly. If you learn to do it now, when you are not enduring difficult times, it is more likely you’ll do it when you are going through the dark times in your life. This will help protect you from becoming bitter and disillusioned with God. Someone once said, "Do not doubt in the dark what God has told you in the light." The light is the classroom where we learn the theory. The darkness is the lab where we prove the theory works.
There are four main reasons why we may not understand God’s dealings with us. First, because we are finite creatures, our perception of God is usually distorted. Second, true spiritual growth usually involves difficulties, challenges, and times of testing. Third, God uses "impossible" circumstances to prove Himself to you and to the world. Fourth, God, for whatever reason, God has chosen to let certain aspects of Himself remain a mystery to us.
Troubles and difficulties are a normal part of our spiritual growth. Scientists have found that the struggle a young chick goes through to break out of his shell is essential for his development. If someone were to help the chick break out of his shell, he’ll grow up being weaker and sicker than the other chickens.
Troubles and difficulties purify us. Just as fire is needed to purify gold, God put us through the "fire" to purify us. More important, difficulties often cause us to draw closer to God. Many missionaries who have endured incredible hardships have said they would never trade those difficult times for anything else. It was in these desperate hours their fellowship with Jesus was the sweetest.
There are times when God allows us to bump up against a wall or encounter an impossible situation for the purpose of glorifying Himself. The struggles Moses endured when he was trying to free the Israelites from Egypt are good examples of this. First, Pharaoh was continually lying to him. Second, and probably more discouraging, the people he was trying to help were continually blaming him for their troubles. Yet, this was the perfect backdrop for God to show the world His mighty power. I’m sure there were times when Moses questioned God’s handling of the situation and even wondered if God was actually in control. Sometimes we need to be reminded that our God is an awesome God. When you go through times like these, count yourself fortunate He is revealing His majesty to you, and through you.
For whatever reason, I believe God has deliberately chosen to let certain aspects of Himself remain a mystery to us. Originally, I was going to entitle this chapter, The Lord of Riddles. It seems to me God likes mysteries and riddles.
"Torpedo!" a crewmember shouted. "About 8,000 yards." The submarine Captain yelled out, "Steer right, 315." Astonished, another commander shouted, "Wait a minute, you’re heading straight into the torpedo." Calmly the Captain said, "Steer 315 and increase the speed to 115%." To add to the confusion, the captain casually asked the person at the controls about a book he had written.
"Five seconds to impact!" a crewmember announced. Preparing for the worst, the crew braced themselves for the blast. The only thing they heard, however, was the thud of the torpedo shattering into the submarine. Everyone, but the Captain, was surprised. He knew heading full speed toward the torpedo allowed them to reach the torpedo before it was able to arm itself. (This is a safety feature that keeps the torpedo from exploding accidentally right after being launched.)
Although the Captain could have explained to the crew why he was heading toward the torpedo, he chose not to. This scene from the movie Hunt for Red October is similar to how God acts. When we are faced with a crisis, many of the anxieties could be eliminated if God would provide us some insight. Yet, He usually doesn’t.
The "premature" death of Christian workers is something that many Christians find confusing. Jesus stated that although the fields are white to harvest, there was a shortage of laborers (Mt. 9:37). People are dying and going to Hell because of a lack of workers. Why then, if there were already a tremendous shortage of Christian workers, would God take home so many missionaries and preachers when they are in their prime?
Sometime God uses the martyred death of a Christian worker to challenge others into His service (i.e. "God Planted 5 Seeds," the Story of 5 martyred NTM missionaries). Other times, however, there doesn’t seem to be any obvious reasons for a premature death. In these cases, we must trust in the fact God knows what He is doing. It is sufficient to say, if a sovereign God wants to hide something from us, He has the right to do so.
Regardless of the reason you are "in the dark," your response should always be the same. Follow your compass. Your peace, happiness, and sanity depend on it. The salvation of others depends on it.
What is our compass? Basically, it is a combination of listening to the Spirit’s leading and knowing God’s Word. When everything seems to be falling apart and you feel like God has abandoned you and is not concerned about your welfare, you must take God at His Word. The Bible clearly states God loves you and is personally interested in every aspect of your life. Sometimes, all you can do in these desperate hours is to hang on to God, just like you would hang onto the neck of a trusted horse as he runs full speed away from some danger.
I have talked about Darlene Rose, a young missionary in New Guinea, elsewhere in this book. She was in a Japanese POW camp during WWII. She endured incredible loss and suffering, such as her young husband dying at another POW camp. One day, after receiving a crushing loss, she cried out to God, "Why, Lord? Why did you have to take that away from me? I had so little in the first place and you even took that away?" Then, in defiance of the self-pity rising up within her, she exclaims, "Just as Job said, ‘Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him.’ " (Job 13:15a) Hopefully, you will never be in a position where you need to say that. You must, however, trust God to the point where you are willing to say it.
Of course, not everyone goes through times where their world is ripped apart. It doesn’t, however, take a major calamity to cause you to lose heart and forsake God. Even small problems are capable of causing you to stumble.
By the time you finish reading this book, you should have gotten the message I strongly believe in the power of prayer. In fact, when I die, I would like my epithet to read, "He prayed." When I was writing this book, I decided to ask other Christians to pray for this project. I wasn’t asking people to pray that the book would be a "success" or a best seller. I just wanted the book to be a useful tool in the hands of God. A few weeks later I asked many Christians on the Internet to pray for it.
This is when everything blew apart. The morning after I emailed several Christians, I received an anxious phone call. Whatever I had done on the Internet the day before was about to crash the server of my Internet provider. There were over 800 email messages waiting for me. It took me over an hour just to download the messages. Although most of the email messages were error messages from one location, I did receive some complaints. One Christian criticized me for emailing him. I couldn’t understand this because the letter was not offensive. Another guy called the administrator of my Internet provider and complained. This resulted in the administrator sending me an email telling me that I should not be "spamming." The term "spam" means sending junk mail on the Internet. He said if I was to continue I would have to find another provider.
Since our Internet service was provided by my wife’s employment, I was concerned about causing a problem for her. Meanwhile, I kept getting about 120 new email messages an hour. Apparently, my email had triggered an error at a major domain that resulted in it continually sending me three pages of error messages every 30 seconds.
I received some more messages from the administrator telling me that my flood of email was threatening to take down their system. He said I had personally generated more traffic in six hours than their whole system normally does in 24 hours. For many hours I tried to solve the problem. No matter what I did, I couldn’t stop the incoming error messages. It was like that silly pink bunny that "keeps going and going and … ." I felt completely helpless, desperate.
After several more hours and more messages from the administrator, I finally solved the problems. Amazingly, this incident knocked the wind out of me. I was angry and disillusioned with God. I didn’t "backslide," but I did stop praying for the book. I figured, "If God doesn’t care about reaching the lost, I’m certainly not going to break my back praying fervently for a book that emphasizes it."
I was surprised by the intensity of my frustrations. Before this incident, I was praying for this project several times a day. For a couple months afterwards, however, I didn’t pray for it at all. I still worked on writing the book, but I just didn’t pray for it. In case you were wondering: Yes, I did see the obvious contradiction of working on a "spiritual" project that I was refusing to pray for. I am ashamed of my lack of spiritual depth, but I’m sharing this experience with you in the hopes you will be able to learn from it.
When we are frustrated, our vision can be easily distorted. This is especially true when you feel you have been faithfully following God’s will. When I was 16, I started praying God would provide me the wife He wanted me to have. I also prayed God would give me the children He wanted me to have. Since then, I have prayed for these concerns several times a day. Although there are others who have prayed for their future mate and children more than what I have, I think I have prayed more for this than 95% of all Christians.
Yet, I didn’t get married until I was 35. I am now 44 (my wife is 32) and we still do not have any children. I won’t go into our odyssey of unsuccessful fertility treatments and failed adoptions. Considering how much I have prayed for my future wife and children, you would think things should have happened differently. It may be, however, this unusual timetable was actually the result of my prayers. It is possible the more I prayed, the more I prompted God to perform His special will in our lives.
Despite these frustrations, I can still find peace and contentment when I look at my compass. I have the comfort of knowing I’m heading in the correct direction in the middle of a disorienting storm. The compass does not take away the hurt, but it does apply balm to help soothe it.
The need to trust your compass instead of relying on your perceptions is illustrated by the mysterious disappearance of Flight 19. The December 4, 1945 disappearance of five Gremlin Avenger torpedo bombers has become the cornerstone of the Bermuda Triangle legend.
There are various explanations for the disappearances of multiple vessels in this "mysterious" body of water. You have probably seen many books on this subject. I have found, however, many of these books have a tendency of conveniently leaving out key pieces of information or exaggerating certain "facts." Although it is probably not worth the trouble, you can to go the library and look at the original newspaper articles (microfiche) on these disappearances. I think you’ll find it interesting to compare the original story to the "news reports" described in these Bermuda Triangle books. The similarities between the two are often quite scarce. These legends tend to take on a life of their own.
For example, a mile off the coast of Florida, a boat radios in a distress call. When the Coast Guard gets there, the boat has completely disappeared without a trace. Very mysterious, indeed. Many of these books led you to believe the boat vanished in thin air on a clear, calm day. In reality, when you look at the actual Coast Guard logs and weather reports you will see some discrepancies with the stories that are now being circulated. Many books fail to mention the ocean was very rough on that dark stormy night. They also fail to mention there were drift currents of 4 mph. The drift currents in these waters are a continual source of problems for the Coast Guard as they try to find vessels in distress.
The same types of inaccuracies surround the disappearance of Flight 19. The books say the squad leader, Charles Taylor, had said things like, "We seem to be off course. Everything is wrong, strange. Can’t be sure of any direction. Strange ocean. Sky is wrong. The ocean doesn’t look right." This communication makes it sound like a mysterious occurrence is taking place around the plane.
However, when you look at the logs and hear the actual testimony of the people who worked in the control tower that day, you find Taylor actually said, "I don’t know where we are. We must have gotten lost after the last turn. Both of my compasses are out. I’m sure we’re in the Keys, but I don’t know how far down." This communication sounds more like a person who feels he is lost as opposed to a person flying through the Twilight Zone.
This flight from Fort Lauderdale was supposed to be a routine training flight for some student pilots. They were to head East 160 miles and then turn north. After going 40 miles they were to return home. They were on their North leg of the trip when they ran into problems. When Taylor first radioed he was lost, radar showed he was where he was supposed to be.
Taylor had just moved from the southern part of Florida and was unfamiliar with this area. He was flying over a string of islands, North of the Bahamas, when he reported he was lost. This string of islands looks very similar to the Keys of southern Florida and it is believed he got disoriented and somehow thought he was flying over the Keys he was used to. Remember, he said, "I’m sure we’re in the Keys, but I don’t know how far down." His other radio communications and his new flight headings support this theory. Not every pilot on this fatal flight was confused. One of his student pilots tried to explain that they were where they were supposed to be. Although this student gave accurate directions to return home, his desperate pleas went unheeded.
My point is this: It is highly probable the compasses were working correctly and they were not "lost," just confused. If this is true, Taylor should have ignored his perceptions of being someplace else and used his compass to guide them back home.
If your perception of God’s character differs from what you know the Bible says, you should ignore your perception and trust the Bible. Don’t allow your life to end up like Flight 19. Don’t let Satan rob you of your joy, peace, and victory.
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