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
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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

Even in the Valley

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How do you view valleys? Geographically they can be beautiful, desolate, or anything in between. When we think of valleys in our lives, most of us would not associate them with anything positive.

As we move through this week to finish the 3-week series using Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard as the focus, you may recall our main character, Much Afraid, lived in the Valley of Humiliation before the Chief Shepherd had invited her to go with him to the High Places that she had often longed to go. The valley for her was not desolate in terrain, but devoid of love and healthy relational connection and she had sought to escape it for quite some time. Her lame feet, crooked mouth, and lack of skills and courage held her in bondage to stay where she had been born.

Trusting the Chief Shepherd had always been a challenge as she moved up each tier of slopes with the support of Sorrow and Suffering. The path to the High Places was sometimes barely a trail and took them over precipices that were steep and dangerous, across deserts that seemed to be going in the wrong direction, and through foreboding forests and storms. Each of these brought them further into steeper mountain ranges leading to the High Places despite appearing to have detours.

Our lives can be much that way as well. Over and over again we may face detours that seem to be taking us in the opposite direction of where we want to go or feel we are called to go. We, too, can struggle with doubt and trust because of what our eyes tell us about the direction we appear to be headed.

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Much Afraid thought surely, they had reached a point on the journey that it would no longer have a point that seemed to take them away from the High Places, but when the Chief Shepherd gave them directions to the next part of the journey Much Afraid was deeply discouraged.

“Now instead of that the path was leading them down into a valley as low as the Valley of Humiliation itself. All the height which they had gained after their long and toilsome journey must now be lost and they would have to begin all over again. Just as though they had never made a start so long ago and endured so many difficulties and tests.”

Hannah Hurnard

It was easy to recall all the tormenting fearful voices once again from her own valley that warned her about trusting the Chief Shepherd to lead her to the places she longed to go. Recalling his promises, she wondered again if she could trust them or choose her own path instead that would not take her to this fearsome valley that lay ahead. She was certain she did not have the strength to follow the Chief Shepherd down to this valley He pointed to and then try to retrace her steps up the treacherous slopes she had just managed.

“During that awful moment or two it seemed to Much Afraid that she was actually looking into an abyss of horror, into an existence in which there was no Shepherd to follow or to trust or to love – no Shepherd at all, nothing but her own horrible self. Ever after, it seemed that she had looked straight down into Hell. At the end of that moment Much Afraid shrieked – there is no other word for it.

‘Shepherd,’ she shrieked, ‘Shepherd! Shepherd! Help me! Where are you? Don’t leave me!”

Hannah Hurnard

To choose our own way and refuse the path God sets before us opens each one of us to consider what it would be like to travel through life without Him. I wonder if we were to consider that and experience the horror of what it would be like as Much Afraid did if we would be quicker to follow in obedience and trust that wherever He calls us, He will be there. It reminds me of a passage of scripture that looks at what we can rely on when we are in between a rock and a hard place.

“But now, God’s Message,

    the God who made you in the first place, Jacob,

    the One who got you started, Israel:

“Don’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you.

    I’ve called your name. You’re mine.

When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.

    When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.

When you’re between a rock and a hard place,

    it won’t be a dead end—

Because I am God, your personal God,

    The Holy of Israel, your Savior.

I paid a huge price for you:

    all of Egypt, with rich Cush and Seba thrown in!

That’s how much you mean to me!

    That’s how much I love you!

I’d sell off the whole world to get you back,

    trade the creation just for you.”

Isaiah 43:1-4 (MSG)

Perhaps the Chief Shepherd had those very historical memories in mind when he heard Much Afraid crying out for help. His response to her should encourage our own hearts whether we are facing a deep valley, a dry desert, or desolate mountains to climb.

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“He lifted her up, supported her by his arm, and with his own hand wiped the tears from her cheeks, then said in his strong cheery voice, ‘ There is no question of your turning back, Much Afraid. No one, not even your own shrinking heart, can pluck you out of my hand. Don’t you remember what I told you before? This delay is not unto death but for the glory of God.'”

Hannah Hurnard

And at the top of the path before descending into the valley, Much Afraid stopped to build another altar and then chose another memorial stone to carry with the other stones she had kept from each altar she built.

Much Afraid knew now that nothing could satisfy her except to be with the Chief Shepherd no matter how hard the journey or how much trembling it might evoke within her.

“Nothing else really matters,” she said to herself, “only to love him and to do what he tells me. I don’t know quite why it should be so, but it is. All the time it is suffering to love and sorrow to love, but it is lovely to love him in spite of this, and if I should cease to do so, I should cease to exist.”

Hannah Hurnard
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Amid Storms

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Storms are dangerous for many reasons and so often can be unpredictable. Some of us may enjoy watching them from the safety of shelter, but others of us are not keen on that and would be more prone to pull a blanket over our heads until the storm passes and we feel surer we are safe from its destructive power. I am one of those who is not a fan of storms. There are several specific occasions when a storm has unexpectedly developed (once while driving and another at a stadium on a 4th of July) that seemed perilous and left me feeling exposed.

When I think of storms, I recall the story in 1 Kings 19:9-18 when Elijah faced a trial. King Ahab tells the fearsome Jezebel all the things Elijah has done and Jezebel vows to destroy him. Despite all the times God had proven himself to Elijah, this powerful prophet ran into the wilderness. It was in the wilderness that God met him, fed him, and encouraged him to rest. After he had done that, he went to Mt. Horeb and hid in a cave.

This man of faith, used powerfully by God, faltered and then God speaks to him and asks him a question.

“There Elijah went into a cave and stayed all night. Then the Lord spoke his word to him: “Elijah! Why are you here?”

1 Kings 19:9 (NCV)
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In other versions of the text, God asks Elijah why he is hiding. Not unlike God, we know He already knows the answer to that. He often asks a question for us to own the truth of something so we (He and we) can address it. So, Elijah pours out his lament to God and He tells Elijah to go stand at the entrance to the cave.

If I were Elijah, I would be trembling more than ever, uncertain of what God would do.

In the text God shows up in powerful ways that would grab Elijah’s attention as well as any of ours. First there is a terrible windstorm that tears up the mountain rocks and shatters them. Next an earthquake shakes the mountain and everything in the area and then fire, but those are not when God speaks. They are what He uses to get Elijah’s attention so he can hear God’s voice above his fear and circumstances and be reminded of the truth Elijah lost track of with the other voices shouting at him and creating intense fear.

God longs to speak to us, but often He needs to first get our attention.

In this series about Much Afraid in Hannah Hurnard’s epic book, Hinds Feet on High Places, Much Afraid must learn to hear and know the voice of the Chief Shepherd to overcome the voices of her fearing relatives that have become a part of her, so she hears their messages even when they are not with her. She faces many storms on the journey to the High Places. She learns to hold more tightly to the strong hands of Sorrow and Suffering. She also sees how they respond to the difficulties and danger of the trek.

In one scene, the storm has passed and still the mist and clouds shroud the mountain slopes and paths ahead. All three are aware there is no turning back as they have come too far now. The voices of her relatives continue to pursue her reminding her of how foolish it is to trust the Chief Shepherd, telling her that he will leave her in danger and never take her to that place to give her hinds feet and the new name he promised.

Photo by Pam Ecrement

On the trip Much Afraid has heard the sound of rushing waters in streams and powerful waterfalls. Often, they have sounded like singing to Much Afraid and she has heard Sorrow and Suffering sometimes singing, but she had never joined them because she believed she had a very “unmelodious voice.”

But one day when Much Afraid would have said she was more crawling and slithering along the path the the voices of fear were repeating in her thoughts, she recalled there were a couple of times she had risked singing when the Chief Shepherd had done so because he was able to keep her more in tune, so her voice was not so awful to hear. Much Afraid felt as if she could not handle the taunts of her relatives any longer so she made a decision.

“It was not pleasant to think of her relatives now having the opportunity to entertain themselves at the expense of her very unmelodious voice, but she decided to risk their ribald comments. ‘If I sing quite loudly,’ she told herself, ‘I shall not be able to hear what they say.’ The only song she could think of at the moment was the one which Sorrow had taught her in the hut, and though it seemed singularly inappropriate she lifted up her voice and sang quaveringly…

There was perfect silence as she sang. The loud sneering voices of her enemies had died away altogether.”

Hannah Hurnard

How very much like God as He seeks to remind us of the power of praise and worship. Here is just one example:

“When they began to sing and praise, the Lord set traps against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah. So they were destroyed.”

2 Chronicles 20:22 (NLV)

Some of you also know the worship song taken from Psalm 68:1:

“Let God arise,

Let His enemies be scattered;

Let those also who hate Him flee before Him.”

Psalm 68:1 (NKJV)

Our own Chief Shepherd might remind us as well that our singing of praise and worship can drown out the fearsome voices that can assault us and the challenges we all face on our journey to the High Places.

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