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?
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
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)