The air was cold but the flames from the bonfire danced high with dangerous beauty, warming my skin. It was not the first time we had a bonfire at our ladies’ retreat, and it was far more significant than just a place to gather. Just as the year before, we had written something we needed to surrender to the Lord and were now asked to throw it in the fire to be burned and never picked up again.
In years prior I wrote something like “fear of man”, which summed up everything from fear of sharing Christ to caring what others thought. This year I had a single word with a very different meaning. I knew while throwing my word in that this was not going to be like giving up a bad habit. This year, God had shown us a new direction, and swung open wide a door for us to walk through. It wasn’t a clear map, but rather an open door with unknown paths and unfamiliar territory on the other side.
Lord, this is crazy.
That had been my answer as I reminded him of the mess that is us. If you know me, then you know I usually tend to run ahead of God. This time, it was me who froze and wouldn’t budge while Brian steadily pushed forward in prayer. I prayed and I asked God to help me surrender where necessary, but with eyes closed and mouth uttering all the right things – I sensed my heart dig its heels in. It was as if when I did, without me noticing, the enemy slipped a chain around my ankles as they sunk into the miry soil of distrust and unbelief.
But Lord, I see where this is going and it’s scary out there. And don’t You know what could happen? How we could fail? How much it’d cost? How I’d put my money on anyone but me?
This time it wasn’t “fear of man” that I struggled with. I was very aware that we have a very real enemy that prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). And I wanted to stay off his radar. For some reason, despite all the times I could tell you about how we overcame his obstacles – I felt a paralyzing fear I had never felt before. I knew what God was saying and I knew it was an invitation to the front lines of a battle. And I was sitting the bench shaking my head in fear. Such a pathetic sight, I know. A warrior with the “full armor of God” – sitting the bench afraid to stand up and step out.
I had closed my eyes that night and I felt the heat of the fire on my face and I silently mumbled an awkward prayer. Then I tossed a word into the fire.
And even as I walked away I thought “I don’t know how you are going to pull this one off, Lord.”
I’d like to tell you that I came home and I felt no fear. Actually, I came home and felt mostly the same, except I got sick. Instead of getting better I kept getting worse until I had cracked a rib from coughing so much. One doctor put me on heart medicine for an unrelated problem and six weeks later another was doing x-rays to check for pneumonia and figure out how to finally help me get better. Neither could tell me why I had lost so much weight. Meanwhile, things around us started unraveling at the seams. Family members we loved deeply made terrible decisions and wandered from the Lord despite our intercessions. Friends we loved like family went through times of deep suffering and we found ourselves helpless to do anything but hurt with them. At one point two different friends were in the hospital and I was too sick to even visit, and our own family was suffering heartaches of its own as we watched the enemy seemingly win spiritual battles we were whole-heartedly engaged in. I saw no victory in any direction, and I was tired in every sense of the word.
My prayer journal pages filled one after the other but the bolder and more specific my prayers became, the more my circumstances seemed to scream defeat in almost every area I was praying so intently about. This only deepened my resolve to avoid more treacherous waters.
It happened one day when I was drained physically, emotionally, and spiritually. A broken rib and broken heart, I had a simple thought, “Well I guess if the enemy manages to push my face down further in the dirt then so what?! I’m in the perfect position really to praise God – on my face before Him. He can’t take that from me, so I will always be fine in the end”. I immediately felt a weight lifted, although I didn’t grasp the significance of it right away.
I didn’t realize it at the moment, but looking back I am sure that if you had been there – and the world had been silent enough – you would have heard the slightest “clink” of a link in a chain breaking.
And all it takes is one broken link for a chain to fall.
Suddenly it occurred to me that if the enemy could overtake us, he would have done it years ago.
He hasn’t, because he can’t.
He can’t, because in all our frailty, we still have Christ inside us. And when Christ is there, it’s the enemy who trembles.
Suddenly I couldn’t remember why I had been so afraid. I remembered, and God showed me again in Scripture, that circumstances are lousy predictors of whether God is working or what God is doing. God, more often than not, gives miracles when circumstances are bleak, manna where there is no food, and streams in the middle of deserts.
And just like that, I lifted those sunken heels out of the dirt, took my husband’s hand, took a deep breath (but not too deep because…. ouch! ) and put one foot in front of the other.
And as we stepped through the open door, the next door flew open right in front of us.
This time, it didn’t occur to me to stop and tremble. I had remembered what the enemy forgot: “Greater is He who is in us, than he who is in the world”. Not only had I remembered this Truth, it made its way a little deeper down into the crevices of my soul and drove out the doubt that I didn’t know was hidden there. In it’s place, I had a renewed hope and excitement because I knew that God was about to do a brand new thing.
“See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland”. – Isaiah 43:19