"The eternal God is [my] refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms..."
Deuteronomy 33:27 (NIV)
Our family lived 420 miles outside of the capital city of Kinshasa when we were growing up in Congo. We loved to visit because there were other children to play with and wonderful food to eat at the American Club. We called Kinshasa our "little America" because of all the reminders of home that were there.
Our seven-ton army truck broke down during one of those visits, which required a three-month stay. My parents were able to rent a home on the Mennonite compound right next to the Mennonite hostel, the home away from home for the denomination's missionary children that were attending the American school in the city. Everyday my sister and I would walk over to play with some of the girls and climb the huge mango tree which had a swing attached on a branch about fifteen feet in the air.
The tree had boards which acted as steps nailed into its massive trunk. The first few times I went into the yard just to gape at those brave enough to try the swing. I watched as one of my friends climbed up the boards to the branch on which she carefully walked out on a little way in order to grab the swing's rope. The seat of the swing was just a thick slab of wood smoothed out so that one would not get splinters sitting on it. After situating herself on the board while holding onto the rope in both of her hands, my friend leaned back as she stood to her feet on the branch. And then...she jumped.
The height of the flying swing's arc was enormous--much bigger than one could experience on a normal swing set. I stood there vicariously experiencing the joy of her infectious laughter as a thrill went through my own body over the result of her bravery. But when she finally came to a stop and asked me if I wanted a turn, I vehemently shook my head. I did not want to risk a possible broken neck by crashing to the ground off the branch if I tried.
Each day I would walk away sad that I had not had the courage to try the swing. I would think about it over dinner and tell myself that maybe the next day something would happen inside of me to make me more brave. This went on for about two weeks.
I woke up one day knowing that this would be the day I was going to climb that tree and conquer my fear. Instead of watching everyone else having fun, I was going to throw caution to the wind and step out on that limb. I had the courage of a lioness walking the few short paces from the house into the yard. But as soon as I saw the distance of the branch from the ground and looked at the flimsiness of the wooden slab I would have to trust my weight to, my knees started knocking together.
I forced myself to climb the tree. I crawled out onto the limb, being sure that each movement would cause me to crash to the ground below. I stood up with my hands shaking and legs that felt like jelly as I placed the wooden slab underneath me. I had thought the height of the branch looked intimidating from the ground, but adding my almost five feet to the height made me feel dizzy and sick to my stomach. I realized I was at a crossroads. I did not want to retrace my steps. It had taken too much out of me to even get to this point. I leaned back with all my weight on the swing and jumped off the branch.
The next sensation I felt was that I was flying. Suddenly I realized I couldn't feel the wooden slab underneath me and, for a sickening moment, I thought I had forgotten to sit on it. The swing climbed to the top of the arc and came back toward the tree with a slight jerk. It was then, while I was in mid-air, that I felt the wonderful assurance that the swing was going to be able to hold me.
With that hope, I fully relaxed and enjoyed flying. I screamed in delight as the ground came up fast to meet me and then whizzed away beneath my feet. The swing turned every which way so that I could see my world from all angles. My previous moment of terror changed to a new realization--It was worth it! All the fear had been worth the ride!
My sweet girlfriends, have you jumped off the branch yet? Or is all that you see the possibility of you crashing to your death on the ground of your circumstances below? Walking with Jesus means having to walk by faith and not by sight. Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Christ has given us the steps to climb, the strong rope and wooden slab, and the steady branch to stand up on. But if we are ever going to break out of this "safe" and unfulfilling life, we are going to have to jump off the branch and see Who is going to hold us up in mid-air.
Our God is for us! Our God is good all the time. Our God is unfathomable in His ways. Our God is the One who calls things that are not as though they are. Yes, you and I cannot see the outcome of blind trust that is required for us to step off the branch, but He does!
Do I really believe He is going to let me crash and burn in this daring new life He is calling me to? Each new level of trust follows a crisis of faith. But too often I just see the crisis. I don't see that it is a promotion of sorts because He is making me even more desperate for Him. I am tired of watching other people being used by Him. I am envious of their joy, their hope, and their peace as they dare to do what He is asking them to. I want the joy ride to be mine, don't you?
We cannot fall when He is calling to us to step out in faith. He promises us that underneath are the everlasting arms. What would happen if we dared to jump and found that promise to be true?
Jesus, You had to climb a hill named Golgotha, which means "the skull," to a tree that You looked at with dread two thousand years ago. And in doing so, You conquered death's grip on me forever. How differently would I live if I knew that I ultimately could not fail? That is what Your obedience to God the Father did for me--it gives me all the assurance I need to be able to laugh at my fears and jump, knowing that I cannot fall as I experience the everlasting arms shielding me from harm. Help me to defy my fears and step off that branch in order to experience the dizzying, exhilarating security in Your arms I have never known before.