The Realm of Love

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On our long series looking at the allegory Hinds Feet on High Places, we ended with the King of Love going about his work in the Kingdom of Love. Hannah Hurnard described it like this:

“Here the King’s gardeners were always busy, pruning the trees, tending the plants and the vines, and preparing the beds for new seedlings and tender shoots.

These the King himself transplants from uncongenial soil and conditions in the valleys below so that they might grow to perfection and bloom in other parts of the Kingdom of Love, to beautify and adorn it wherever the King saw fit.”

Hannah Hurnard

Love so tenderly and fiercely pursuing our hearts cannot help but plant love unlike human love within our own hearts. He wants that for each of us, but it is not intended for only our good and pleasure. Something that wondrous begs to be shared, not in words but in a life lived out differently in the world God created. That is what it means to be salt and light.

Photo by Pam Ecrement

In the sometimes barrenness of life in this world, God transplants his love within us, and it speaks most loudly when it emanates from our undivided self.

What does that look like?

It’s when our spiritual life is not segmented into a religious compartment with everything else in another. And then, we talk less about love and simply are love toward those with whom we come in contact. We listen to the hearts of others, not to see their problems and offer a solution but to seek instead to truly know them. It is too easy to forget at times that when Christ walked the earth, He never saw a person as the problem to be fixed but rather the person to be known and loved and heard. Sometimes we get ahead of that without really hearing the person and that sets us up to be the problem solver rather than the one carrying the cup of cold water to offer to a person who is thirsty.

As I have spent time in Colossians, I see Paul’s words resonate with Christ’s desire:

 “I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God. Then you will have minds confident and at rest, focused on Christ, God’s great mystery. All the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in that mystery and nowhere else. And we’ve been shown the mystery! I’m telling you this because I don’t want anyone leading you off on some wild-goose chase, after other so-called mysteries, or “the Secret.”

Colossians 2:2-4 (MSG)

Yes, love can be expressed in a myriad of ways, but it is most effective when how it is offered flows from the wholeness of our undivided selves as we discern the heart of Christ in us for the other person. That means as well keeping in perspective that the ground around the cross is level and we do not share from one above them, but one beside them.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:13 (NIV)
Photo by Pam Ecrement

Perhaps we can be better at loving if we consider a waterfall. It can captivate us as it rushes from a source we may not see and cascades over rocks and keeps tumbling onward to a destination that also may not be within our gaze.

The water we see does not decide to start moving or flowing in a direction through rocks as if it were a source unto itself. The source of the water often comes from a great distance and mountains that may be much like the High Places. It flows without determining its direction but nonetheless directed for its purposes and God’s glory.

The source of the water is the God of Creation, and He determines and wills it to flow from his love and heart to remind us of Him here on earth.

So too the source of the love He would have us share comes from Him rather than a decision that it is something we are to do. If He has transformed us it will flow from what we are because of Him.

Only when God is the source is love the pure, undefiled love that sees beyond what human love can ever see or know. Only that love can truly transform our hearts, so they flow more like his heart of love for humankind.

How often are we tempted to look for some list or recipe for how to be salt and light, to be love in this world. Could it be that we are trying too hard from human love?

“My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well-constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.”

Colossians 2:6-7 (MSG)
Photo by Pam Ecrement, Bow River, Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

Beyond the High Places

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As Grace and Glory (previously Much Afraid) continues with time in the High Places with the Chief Shepherd and her two companions, Joy and Peace (previously Sorrow and Suffering), she begins to recognize something she had not expected – there was so much more for her to see, learn, and understand. There was so much beyond the new discoveries on her journey to the High Places.

“It was now perfectly evident to them that there must be ranges upon ranges of which they had never dreamed while they were still down in the narrow valleys with their extraordinarily limited view.”

Hannah Hurnard

How true that is of us as well! No matter how much insight we may have (or believe we have), we see so little. I cannot help but believe that Christ is so eager to share so much with us. Some of it we can peek into now, but so much more of it will not happen until we are with Him.

“For now, we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”

1 Corinthians 13:12 (KJV)

Can you imagine? Consider this through the eyes of Grace and Glory:

“She began to understand quite clearly that truth cannot be understood from books alone or by any written words, but only by personal growth and development in understanding, and that things written even in the Book of Books can be astonishingly misunderstood while one still lives on the low levels of spiritual experience and on the wrong side of the grave on the mountains.”

Hannah Hurnard
Photo by Pam Ecrement

The trips I have made to the mountains have forever changed me for how they remind me of the limits of my perspective. The seemingly endless peaks and vistas I saw in every direction I turn helps me to see each part of the trail differently.

I am reminded always of the greatness and grandeur of God and how small I am (any of us are) in comparison and yet, He sees us where we are planted just as the wildflowers that are snuggled between rocks and seemingly barren soil. I get a better sense of how much He would want us to delight in Him and see Him in creation. It’s there that He can best quiet our souls and harness our thoughts that race in so many directions. Photos I take cannot capture the reality of being there as all the senses come alive to the reality that we are a part of something so much bigger than we can fully comprehend. Just like Grace and Glory there is always more to see, learn and understand.

As Grace and Glory began to consider all this, she was eager to share new insights with the Chief Shepherd about what she had learned:

“First,” she said, “I learned that I must accept with joy all that you allowed to happen to me on the way and everything to which the path led me! That I was never to try to evade it but to accept it and lay down my own will on the altar…

Then I learned that I must bear all that others were allowed to do against me and to forgive with no trace of bitterness…

The third thing that I learned was that you, my Lord, never regarded me as I actually was, lame and weak, and crooked and cowardly. You saw me as I would be when you had done what you promised and had brought me to the High Places..

Then she looked up into his face and for a little time could say no more, but at last she added, ‘My Lord, I cannot tell you how greatly I want to regard others in the same way.

Every circumstance in life, no matter how crooked and distorted and ugly it appears to be, if it is reacted to in love and forgiveness and obedience to your will can be transformed.

Therefore, I begin to think, my Lord, you purposely allow us to be brought into contact with the bad and evil things that you want changed. Perhaps that is the very reason we are here in this world, where sins and sorrow and suffering and evil abound, so that we may let you teach us to react to them, that out of them we can create lovely qualities to live forever. That is the only really satisfactory way of dealing with evil, not simply binding it so that it cannot work harm, but whenever possible overcoming it with good.”

Hannah Hurnard

Oh, if we could only learn those things at deeper levels! How much more fruit would our lives bear if that would be our heart’s focus. Then we would truly be more like Christ, and it would be clear that the Holy Spirit is the One who is guiding us.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Galatians 5;22-23 (NIV)
Photo by Pam Ecrement

Surely then we would also come to better understand the Apostle John’s words:

“And so, we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”

1 John 4:16 (NIV)

Just like Much Afraid learned on her journey to the High Places, we must offer Christ our heart of human love so He can transform it to be more like his. That could transform so much of the life we live now if we would take that step.

The transformation that happened to Much Afraid and became Grace and Glory caused her to want to return to the Valley of Humiliation for those who were wretched and miserable and without hope to see what she and the Chief Shepherd could do for them and as the book Hinds Feet on High Places ends Grace and Glory, Joy and Peace, along with the Chief Shepherd leap down from the High Places to share the Good News.

Bow River, Alberta, Canada – Photo by Pam Ecrement

His Promises Are Sure

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As I come almost to the close of this 3 week+ series based on Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard, we find Much Afraid has been resting after she had offered her whole heart to the Chief Shepherd. It has been a peaceful rest unlike any other, but after resting three days…

“…she awoke suddenly, and sprang to her feet with a shock of joy tingling through her. She had not heard her name called, had not even been conscious of a voice, yet she knew that she had been called. Some mysterious, poignantly sweet summons had reached her, a summons that she knew instinctively…”

Hannah Hurnard

As I read those words, it reminds me that those who follow the Shepherd, Christ, know his voice also if they follow closely and listen carefully. He desires sweet communion with Him. It is we who are so busy with the dailyness of this life that we are not prone to take time to sit in his presence without rushing so we come to know Him and his voice. How crucial it is for us to discipline our time for that so other whispers or shouts that seek to pull us away from Him are ones we recognize to be false immediately. Isn’t that what John, the Apostle, tells us?

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

John 10:27-30 (NIV)

Christ is so patient with us as we seek to go our own way doing our own things. Even if they are not bad things, they may not be the things He has in mind for us if we can learn to ask and listen for the path He has chosen. Just like Much Afraid, we often are hesitant with our own “lame” feet and fear. But over time I think the author of the book and the Shepherd of our heart reminds us that despite how the path may appear, the path He leads will always be the best one as Much Afraid has discovered.

Peyto Lake, Alberta, Canada – Photo by Pam Ecrement

Much Afraid now seeks to follow the voice she senses has called her, but she can see no way out of the canyon until a mountain hart and hind catch her eye and leap across the ravine and spring up the canyon wall in front of her.

In that moment, she does not hesitate but takes a flying leap and follows them along with Sorrow and Suffering and there in the light of the dawn with the mountains gleaming all around her she sees the Chief Shepherd. Then he holds out his hands and laughingly calls to her, “You – with the hinds’ feet – jump over here.”

And just like that with one flying leap she reached the summit where the Chief Shepherd stood arrayed in his royal robes with a crown upon his head. As she comes before him there is no hesitancy, and she kneels at his feet with abundant joy.

“Then, lifting her up, he continued, ‘This is the time when you are to receive the fulfillment of the promises. Never am I to call you Much Afraid again…This is your new name,’ he declared. ‘From henceforth you are Grace and Glory.”

Hannah Hurnard

How easy it can be when we are in the desert or deep valley to not doubt Christ’s promises to us. Everything in us can struggle to believe them at some of those times (if we are honest) and it is then we most need someone alongside us with whom we walk closely to remind us of what we already know and yet can’t quite grasp.

“For the Lord God is a sun and shield;

    the Lord bestows favor and honor;

no good thing does he withhold

    from those whose walk is blameless.”

Psalm 84:11 (NIV)

How could we possibly be blameless? Only because of Christ’s righteousness granted us at salvation because of his great sacrifice to cover the cost we could not pay.

But the Chief Shepherd was not done. He reminds Grace and Glory of the altar where she gave him her heart of human love and longing and tells her to look and see what has happened. To her amazement she sees a flower of love, his love, growing in her heart. He then asks her for the stones she gathered from each of the altars on her way to the High Places. They were never beautiful, but she opens the bag she had carried them in and to her surprise when they fell from the bag into her hands, they were sparkling jewels of every color. As she looks up at the Chief Shepherd, he is holding a circlet of gold and places each gem in the golden setting and then places the crown upon her head.

It was only then she looked up and saw two figures she did not immediately recognize until she saw a familiar gesture and recognized they too had been transformed. When she called their names, Sorrow and Suffering, they shook their heads and told her their names had also been changed and were now Joy and Peace. Truly everything was transformed in the High Places she had reached at last despite her struggle to hold tight to the promises of the Chief Shepherd.

But Grace and Glory was only beginning to see and recognize there was so much more as she surveyed the landscape and saw range after range of even higher places and the call that would now be upon her. Next time, I will share what that call is and look at the lessons she learned on her trek to the High Places as I close the series.

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One More Altar

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Hinds Feet on High Places has been taking us on a journey with Much Afraid that has shown us allegorically the challenges all who seek to follow Christ will face in this lifetime as we seek to become more like Him. Now Much Afraid has arrived at a great chasm that appeared when the mist lifted. It looked to her much like a grave and she shuddered as she looked into it. More difficult to fathom was what would be next. She asked for counsel from Sorrow and Suffering and their response was they needed to leap down into the canyon. And for the first time she risked trusting them and they held her under her arms leaning her full weight onto them as a support as they leaped to what could be certain death.

How far Much Afraid had come from when she first met Sorrow and Suffering! She no longer feared them as they had proven faithful to see her through every part of the trek to the high places. This time their strength was so great that all three were totally unharmed when they reached the bottom of the misty canyon. But as the mist cleared, Much Afraid saw a large stone altar of some sort and beside it a figure that she did not recognize immediately. She sensed this was yet another altar where she was to place a sacrifice but as she cried out to the Chief Shepherd to help her make whatever burnt offering he desired, she was only met with silence.

What did the Chief Shepherd desire of her? How often we may wonder what Christ would desire of us, what sacrifice or what obedience He would call us to. If we are honest, despite our love for Him it can be a fearsome thing and reveals the things, people, places, and dreams we hold onto tightly. What if He asks us to surrender all of them?

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Much Afraid remembered the warnings of her relatives that if she really trusted the Chief Shepherd and followed him that he would put her on a cross and then abandon her. Was that what was about to happen? As she knelt by the altar remembering this, she recognized that none of her fearsome relatives who had haunted and followed her on the early part of the journey appeared. She sensed a stillness inside of her and that developing desire to do whatever the Chief Shepherd asked of her. As she sought to discover her own heart it was clear to her that it was still not like his but rather only filled with human love. Could that be what he now desired, the heart full of only human love? She couldn’t imagine how she could remove this part of her and be able to place it on the stone altar. As she hesitated but then began to sort out how she could give him this, the figure beside the altar that she had not recognized stepped forward.

“At that the indistinct figure behind the altar stepped forward and said quietly, ‘I am the priest of this altar – I will take it out of your heart if you wish’.”

Hannah Hurnard

What does Christ seek? The list you can think of boils down to whether we will recognize Him and offer all of who we are, even and most importantly our heart that is unable to love as He does until or unless we give all of it to Him. How often we can forget that He understands and knows intimately the struggle we have because He became like us.

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Hebrews 4:14-16 (NIV)

This altar of all the altars was where she faced the challenge of laying down her longing to be loved if she was willing to put her human love there. She considered what was before her.

“Still there was silence, as silence as of the grave, for indeed she was in the grave of her own hopes and still without the promised hinds’ feet, still outside the High Places with even the promise to be laid down on the altar. This was the place to which the long, heartbreaking journey had led her. Yet just once more before she laid it on the altar, Much Afraid repeated the glorious promise which had been the cause of her starting for the High Places. ‘The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet and he will make me to walk upon mine High Places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.’ (Has. 3:19).”

Hannah Hurnard
Photo by Miriam Fischer from Pexels

And so it would be that Much Afraid offered all her heart to the Chief Shepherd and it was he who removed the human heart longing to be loved and laid it on the altar and afterward Much Afraid experienced “a sense of utter, overwhelming rest and peace.”

How true that can be for us when we cease resisting and struggling with holding on to that which we cannot keep if we are to follow Christ. Hannah Hurnard’s book gives a beautiful picture of what happens during this scene and afterward as Much Afraid rests and then goes to the healing streams she recalls she has seen as she moved higher. She slips beneath those waters and afterward, “She felt completely encompassed by peace, and a great inner quietness and contentment drowned every feeling of curiosity, loneliness, and anticipation.”

And at long last, “She did not think of the future at all. It was enough to be there in the quiet canyon, hidden away high up in the mountains with the river of life flowing beside her, and to rest and recover herself after the long journey.

And she lay down once again to rest in perfect peace.

“You will keep in perfect peace

    those whose minds are steadfast,

    because they trust in you.”

Isaiah 26:3 (NIV)
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Come Up Higher

Photo by Pam Ecrement

As Much Afraid continued to walk through the valley she had reluctantly followed, she was delighted to discover that the Chief Shepherd walked with her and her companions Sorrow and Suffering for many days. Even though she still did not know what it was like for her crooked feet to be made like hinds’ feet, she felt rested and refreshed. She reflected on how much she appreciated her companions and how often they had helped her along the way. In truth she learned (as can we), valleys can teach us much if we open our eyes to the purposes they fulfill.

Hannah Hurnard’s epic book, Hinds Feet on High Places, guides us through the lessons open to us if we look carefully at Much Afraid’s journey. The stops along the way to build altars remind her and us “that the important thing about altars was that they made possibilities of apparent impossibilities.” She was also learning more about love and what the Chief Shepherd had told her about it, “Love is beautiful, but it is also terrible – terrible in its determination to allow nothing blemished or unworthy to remain in the beloved.”

What a powerful image of the work of transformative sanctifying grace that occurs in each of our lives after we choose God and commit to follow Him. It would be nice to think everything about us changes at that one point in time, but how we think, make choices, and let go of the things that were unlike Him is a process where grace is extended as we (with his help) become more like Him and learn to appropriate his power at work within us. Though we are changed, God wants us to leave more and more of that old nature of ours defeated from seeking to impede our journey. He wants us to know our special purpose and how we are each called to fit into his plan and fulfill it.

Photo by Pam Ecrement

As Much Afraid had traveled many days in the valley now, she was surprised one day to find the Chief Shepherd led her to a rocky surface of wall leading up to the High Places. She could not imagine how they could climb the surface to the rocky faced mountains, but she discovered then as she had slowly been learning that the Chief Shepherd always made a way for the path ahead that he wanted her to go. As he did this time as well, she soon learned at the top that the High Places continued much higher than she realized and where he led her now was not the summit. Even so, she was able to look around at the magnificent view of streams, waterfalls, grassy meadows covered with wildflowers of nearly any color she had ever seen. As she walked along with Sorrow and Suffering, they came to the head of the great waterfalls they had encountered lower on the slopes and noted there appeared to be no way to move to the other side unless the Chief Shepherd could show them a way she could not see.

How often we also need to have God show us a path, a way across obstacles that we cannot see or imagine. If we will but trust and follow his lead, we grow more secure in his fierce love for us and determination to bring us to where He is.

The mist of the great waterfall made it more difficult than ever for Much Afraid to see how far it was to the towering peaks on the other side that she could barely see the tops of, but then as she was surveying the scene, the Chief Shepherd came along beside her and began to speak to her.

Photo by Pam Ecrement

“When you continue your journey there may be much mist and cloud. Perhaps it may even seem here as though everything you have seen here of the High Places was just a dream, or the work of your own imagination. But you have seen reality and the mist which seems to swallow it up is the illusion.

Believe steadfastly in what you have seen. Even if the way up to the High Places appears to be obscured and you are led to doubt whether you are following the right path, remember the promise, ‘Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand or to the left.’ Always go forward along the path of obedience as far as you know it until I intervene, even if it seems to be leading you where you fear I could never mean you to go.

Remember, Much Afraid, what you have seen before the mist blotted it out. Never doubt that the High Places are there, towering up above you, and be quite sure that whatever happens I mean to bring you up there exactly as I promised.”

Hannah Hurnard

God is not human, that he should lie,

    not a human being, that he should change his mind.

Does he speak and then not act?

    Does he promise and not fulfill?

Numbers 23:19 (NIV)

How often the Chief Shepherd had spoken to Much Afraid and her companions since they left the Valley of Humiliation, but now as he had a few times before, he took Much Afraid by herself and carried her to the summit of one of the High Places and it was there before her that he was transfigured and she knew then what she had only sensed before – he was truly the King of Love and he did love her as she had hoped so long ago that he might.

Photo by Pam Ecrement