Sometimes, when you happen to be a bit stubborn (I hear echoes of my father’s voice from my youth using the colorful and perhaps more accurate descriptor, “bull-headed”), the Spirit has to bombard you with the same message from multiple angles. Last week I wrote a post about Sarah’s faith—but it was a fairly “safe” reflection, ensconced in the realm of theory without any real risk. Later the same day, I found myself seated in a Fort Wayne mega-church while the Lord was drawing together various threads from the past several weeks and inviting me into Sarah-like faith as an experiential adventure, not a theory. Those threads that the Spirit had been weaving together into an invitation were a pesky sermon illustration, old journals, and a concert.
I think it was the first week in the sermon series on Hebrews 11 that my pastor-husband told a memorable (and probably apocryphal) story about a tightrope walker, a wheelbarrow, and Niagara Falls. It went something like this. A famous and intrepid tightrope performer had just crossed Niagara Falls—while pushing a wheelbarrow! Then he did it again, finishing up at his starting point, where he was greeted by the exuberant promoter of this amazing exhibition. The wily performer interrupted the promoter’s applause and cheers with a penetrating question. “Sir, do you believe that I can cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope while pushing a wheelbarrow?” The man responded, “Well, of course I believe that! I just watched you do it.” Twice more the acrobat insisted, and both times the promoter repeated his seeing-is-believing faith in the performer’s ability. “Well, then,” declared the tightrope walker, “if you believe that, get in the wheelbarrow and I’ll do it again!” Despite the laughter the story generated in the moment, it became an instrument of the Spirit’s tenacious invitation over the next couple weeks—would I get in the wheelbarrow and let Jesus push it across the chasm of uncertainty and unknown risks?
That sermon illustration dropped right into an ongoing summer exercise, a slow review of a lifetime of journals. I have always thought more clearly and prayed more effectively with pen in hand, so journaling has been a key part of my spiritual life. I have a couple plastic storage bins full of those books and notebooks, which have been lugged from continent to continent and state to state in our many moves. When I turned 60 a few months ago, it seemed like a good time to read back over nearly four decades of life through the lens of those musings and memories. The first thing I noticed is how frail human memory is—there were events and encounters recorded in those writings that had completely disappeared from my conscious memory! Some of them made me laugh out loud, happy to have retrieved the lost joy of those moments. Some were painful—so painful that the loss of memory was probably a defense mechanism. But the number one thing that has impacted me about this still-in-progress exercise (I’ve made it as far as 2003), is the incredible faithfulness of God. Time after time, the God who called us also led us; the One who saved us was also constantly conforming us to his image; the Lord who asked us to abandon all other sources of security also provided and protected, in ways large and small.
A painful realization dawned as I looked back over those years—I used to live out of “wheelbarrow faith.” I used to be seated in that wobbly contraption, with my eyes fixed not on the chasm beneath but on the One who was pushing the wheelbarrow across the raging waters and deep ravines. In recent years, however, I think I’ve gotten out of the cart to sit comfortably on the platform with “spectator faith.” And it seems that the Spirit has only so much tolerance for faith from the sidelines! As we find ourselves in a season replete with uncertainties and unknowns, the insistent (dare I say, intrusive?) voice of the Spirit comes to me not principally with comfort, but with challenge. Will I get back in the wheelbarrow??
In the Spirit’s own gracious way, the challenge came with a lovely helping of compassionate provision. As we gathered with friends in Fort Wayne last Friday, a group that I’d never heard before let loose with heaven-sent harmonies, lifting song after song about God’s faithfulness in the midst of impossibilities, losses, and unexpected “detours” on life’s road. Weeks of reflection and sometimes reluctant prayer become worship. On the sidelines no more! No more standing with feet safely glued to the platform! Into the wheelbarrow with the One who is able to keep me from falling and to bring me joyously into his presence without fault (Jude 1:24).