Last week I started a series featuring the story found in Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard written more than 40 years ago. The story of Much Afraid and her journey to the High Places offer truth for us even today.
The journey we might take to the high places in the mountains may well feature the varied terrain Much Afraid faced with her companions Sorrow and Suffering. The higher elevations do not offer the more pristine easier paths of the lower portions of the mountain areas. The higher you go the path will seem to disappear many times, covered by rocky areas of boulders torn from the mountain over time by the storms that can happen unexpectedly in those heights. Other times the paths can be interrupted by streams or even a waterfall that requires you to adjust your journey and find a new path around the obstacle. Oddly enough you may even discover small areas that are worn down by endless glaciers that can seem more like desert terrain.
Our lives (wherever we may live) are much like that, filled with unexpected things we could not have planned for and challenges beyond our ability. It is at such times that our own journey can include sorrow and suffering. We would never choose those companions and yet they teach us much about ourselves and the Chief Shepherd (Christ) who promises to be with us through everything we face. Our task is to follow Him, even when it isn’t easy.
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)
One of the tests we must face is whether we will follow Christ and obey Him, when we do not see the path or the way He is leading, when it appears impossible, and we want another way. To know or risk believing He loves us when He chooses that we pass through a desert or need to climb mountains when we too are crippled in our faith and trust, raises questions and uncertainty of what his love is like. But perhaps one of the things Christ wants us to see is that our human love is unlike the love He wants us to know and develop within us.
Much Afraid began to see that early in her journey to the High Places. Time and again she pleaded with the Chief Shepherd to choose a different path, but then began to learn to submit to the path set before her.
“Even if you cannot tell me why it has to be, I will go with you, for you know I love you, and you have the right to choose for me anything that you please.”Hannah Hurnard
Not unlike the Israelites who had to detour through the desert, we and Much Afraid “learn many things which otherwise they would have known nothing about.”
When we are children, we struggle with how many things we must learn (often painfully) through obedience. We don’t know that we are in dangerous situations or that what we want may harm us. We just want what we want. We eventually learn not to touch hot things, run into the street without looking, and a great many other things, but somehow that old desire to ‘want what we want when we want it’ still leaves its footprint in us so that all through life obedience that is required of us can challenge that desire. Even Christ faced the challenge to obey.
“Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.”Hebrews 5:8 (ESV)
The Chief Shepherd offered these words to Much Afraid in the midst of loneliness and uncertainty:
“Whenever you are willing to obey me, Much Afraid, and to follow the path of my choice, you will always be able to hear and recognize my voice, and when you hear it, you must always obey. Remember also that it is always safe to obey my voice, even if it seems to call you to paths which look impossible or even crazy.”Hannah Hurnard
“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”Job 23:10
And each day as the climb grew more difficult for Much Afraid, she held more tightly to the companions the Chief Shepherd had chosen for her. She grew to learn their strength and care for her as learned obedience and grew in acceptance. At each spot where she faced a challenge, she picked up a small stone and placed them in a small pouch she carried around her neck so she could remember what she was learning along the path. And she also built an altar at each of those places as she laid down something and offered it to the Chief Shepherd as she came to know sacrifice.
It wasn’t the sacrifice (though significant) that most mattered to the Chief Shepherd, but rather the obedience that the sacrifice represented.
“But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”1 Samuel 15:22 (NIV)
How difficult lessons of obedience are for us even as they were for Much Afraid. Look at this glimpse of how Hannah Hurnard portrays the lessons Much Afraid begins to learn:
“There Much Afraid built her first altar on the mountain, a little pile of broken rocks, and then, with the Shepherd standing close beside her, she laid down on the altar her trembling, rebelling will. A little spurt of flame came from somewhere, and in an instant nothing but a heap of ashes was lying on the altar. That is to say, she thought at first there was only ashes, but the Shepherd told her to look closer, and there among the ashes she saw a little stone of some kind, a dark-colored, common-looking pebble.
“Pick it up and take it with you,” said the Shepherd gently, ” as a memorial of this altar which you built, and all that it stands for.”Hannah Hurnard