Several years ago, as some have heard me tell the story, I had the opportunity to go with several teams of college students to the Middle East to do some ministry.
On an occasion in which we could “take the day off,” I arranged for my team to tag along with a group of Dutch workers on a hiking expedition in the desert surrounding the city. We started early, knowing that the relatively cool 90 degrees would quickly roar up to nearly 120 in the blazing sun, and were soon far out in the rocky waste, toting water bottles on our shoulders.
We walked a few miles under the scorching sun, explored some gullies, and listened to the absolute silence of the desert wilderness enjoying the reminder that one needs to pull aside from the noise of life and work at times to find a quiet place to meet with God in prayer and in reading and meditating on His Word.
During the day, we stopped to drink some coffee in the shade of some large rocks. By the way, if you think drinking regular coffee in that kind of heat is for the truly dedicated coffee drinker, than you should try Bedouin coffee: so strong and thick that it is actually syrupy and, given that it is also loaded with sugar, it definitely perks you up!
Soon our “coffee break” was over and we turned to head back to our cars. As we trudged our way along the bottom of a dusty ravine, we came upon a boulder covered with bones. Recently gnawed camel bones, to be precise.
A Dutchman named John, who had been working in the area for a number of years, pointed out a large opening in the side of the cliff wall behind the boulder. “Dat is a jackal den,” he explained. “Let’s see if der is anyone at home.” He reached down, picked up a baseball sized stone and tossed it inside the hole. When nothing happened, he got down on his hands and knees and began to crawl inside. “Da coast is clear. Come on!” he called over his shoulder.
Our little group just stared as he disappeared into the darkness of the jackal den. Then we stared at each other and wondered what to do. Finally, one of the people in John’s group shrugged his shoulders and headed into the cave as well. Of course, I thought that they were both crazy at first, but I was then struck by the thought that I might never have another chance to crawl into a jackal’s den. Why that thought suddenly kindled within me such an irresistible impulse to explore the cave I may never know, but I suddenly found myself also crouching down to climb into the cave after them.
The first 20 feet or so in the cool darkness were easy. I moved on my hands and knees able at first to hear the two ahead of me as they pressed ahead. After a while, however, the tunnel began to wind around. The walls on either side drew in and the ceiling dropped so low that I was forced to lie flat and crawl on my elbows. When the tunnel narrowed even further, I began to get nervous. When I realized that I couldn’t hear the others anymore, I began to panic.
I had never experienced the wave of unreasonable terror that began to rise up inside me as images of desert snakes and scorpions appeared in my mind’s eye. Here I was, stuck in a tight spot, alone and in complete darkness, prey to who knows what lay in wait. Stuck in that tight spot, I was too afraid to move forward but too ashamed to go back in defeat.
But just as quickly came the realization that if there really were snakes and scorpions in the tunnel with me, more than likely one of the two ahead of me would have been bitten already. But they hadn’t been. They had passed through and had made it.
I then breathed a sigh of relief, shrugged off the feelings of fear, and pressed on. Soon I left the darkness of the tunnel behind and came out into sunlight again to join my companions. My team members simply looked at me as if I was crazy but I just laughed knowing that I had something to tell them that I am now sharing with you.
There are occasions in life in which we must leave the safety and warmth of what we’ve always known. When in these tight spots, we may feel that we are lost in the darkness of the unknown, that we are all alone, that we are being pressed in upon every side, and that something lies in wait to hurt us and destroy us.
But the Bible says in Hebrews 12:1-2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
These witnesses are simply those Believers who have “gone before” us (see Hebrews 11). There has been since the beginning of time others who have been called out of their own affairs to join God in relationship with Him. What you wrestle with, they also have wrestled with. Some have given up and turned back. Some, too busy or too afraid of the cost, have chosen to not follow Him at all.
How sad. God gives us an opportunity to join Him in the “great adventure” of knowing Him and too often we say, “It’s too scary. It’s too hard.”
But some have come to realize that on whatever path God calls us, He accompanies us and He has sent others ahead to show us that we too can make it through and that He will never leave us stranded in those tight spots if we’ll trust Him. As Savior, He’ll see us through them no matter how long and winding, dark or frightening the path and He Himself will be there to greet us at the end.
Pastor Thom Mollohan leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.