As often with my writing, this is written to my brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. Others may find it helpful, but with few exceptions, this article describes a certainty that only the followers, the believers, the disciples, of King Jesus can have.
Once upon a long-ago summer day, trying to think of something interesting to do, my brother and I consulted with a friend, a local police officer named Steve. It was mid-afternoon already, so we weren’t going to head for the coast, but it was a perfect summer day and we were healthy and energetic.
Steve had a brainstorm: “Have you guys ever done any rappelling? Let’s swing by my house and I’ll get my gear. We’ll go to -” (Grandfather Mountain? Lookout Mountain? Pilot Mountain? Don’t remember now) “- and I’ll teach you guys to rappel!”
I responded, “OK, but just a small cliff, alright?”
“Sure! Nothing too big the first time.” Was there a light of wicked gleeful humor in his eyes when he said that? I didn’t think so at that moment. But I should have known. This man taught rappelling to his SWAT team.
The ground at the edge of the cliff sloped downward. Of course it couldn’t be level. “Careful, don’t lean over. One slip, one crumbling rock …” I got down on my stomach, crawled to the edge, and looked over. Immediately wished I hadn’t.
You might pace off eighty-five feet on a level surface and think, “What’s he whining about?” Believe me, pal, eighty-five feet is a lot farther when it’s
See what I mean? But I was trapped. I mean committed. My younger brother was watching.
Want to guess who got elected to go first? Right the first time. Me. All quivering 185 pounds. (Don’t roll your eyes at me. This was a long time ago.)
So Steve anchored the rappelling line, connected it to the harness, showed me how to don the harness – (“This is getting SERIOUS!”) described the strength of every piece of the equipment and how to brake the descent and … “OK. Back up to the edge of the cliff. ”
I was slightly nervous. OK, alright, I was SCARED. Happy now? I hear you laughing. But I backed up until I reached the edge and my feet were half on the top and half resting on air. There I froze.
Steve and my brother at least had the grace not to laugh. They started calling encouragement to me. I answered, “Wait. Give me a minute.”
What gave me the courage to go over the edge – this is the important part – was reviewing in my mind the breaking strengths of the various components Steve had described. Static line, 7500 pounds, OK. Harness webbing, 2000 pounds, OK. Carabiner, 1000 pounds, good enough … I guess … harness buckle, 1000 pounds. Gulp. OK. I’m covered. Steve’s done this many times, so I know the knots and connections are secure.
I went over the edge. There were about two seconds where I was “in between two worlds” and my brain screamed “YOU ARE GOING TO DIE!”
Then I was leaning back, fully supported by the harness, with my feet now flat against the face of the cliff. Braking fully applied. At that moment, everything magically changed! I felt, experienced, the security I had mentally known I had. I smiled. Laughed. “Hey! This is fun!”
(Still two feet below the edge of the cliff.)
But it was fun! I rappelled down and gladly went back for a second turn. By the time we’d all done two turns, it was time to go. But I had learned something about faith.
Because it was faith that got me over the edge. Faith in my friend’s skill. Knowing that he’d been there before many times. Believing what he told us about the strength of the components. Because why would he lie? He wasn’t stupid or malicious.
Does this begin to sound familiar? “My Lord knows the way through the wilderness; all I have to do is follow.”
King Jesus went before us. He walked every path we are called to walk. He gave up His life, in a horrifying way, for us. There’s no way He would betray us. You can’t find in all history a more positive proof of trustworthiness. “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7-8) Still sinners, that is, we were in opposition to and in rebellion against God. You can “lean on the everlasting arms”, like I could lean into that harness.
I’ll tell you something, whenever you get to the edge of a cliff, at least in my experience, you still get scared. There is danger. There is reason to fear. But review your support system. It’s all in place. There are as many angels as necessary standing by to protect you from what God chooses to protect you from. You may get hurt. In fact, you will get hurt, sooner or later.
But you will never be abandoned. Never thrown to your enemies, completely at their mercy. They can’t touch you except as God the All-Powerful One allows, and He will never allow you to be hurt unless it’s necessary for some truly good end He is working out. Something that, once we step into eternity and see, will make our hearts overflow with joy and rejoicing. If we are faithful to the end.
I end this article as I ended another one some time back. I write this as I face another cliff, and you bet I’m scared. But this time, friends, I asked for it. And I believe that I’m seeing God beginning to prepare me to go over the edge again. I’m still scared. This time I don’t know how high the cliff is. It could be something that will have me flat on my face in my own personal Gethsemene, praying as King Jesus did, “Abba, if it is possible in Your will, let this cup pass from me!”
I hope it won’t be as bad as I fear. But I hope that if the worst happens, I will somehow find the strength to say, “Not my will, but Yours, be done.” I don’t want to face the worst I can imagine. I’m not happy at the possibility. But I’m – terrifying word – committed. I think. So I’m writing this to encourage and strengthen myself as well as other believers. May God deal gently with us all, but if not, may we finish our lives singing our Broken Hallelujahs and enter Heaven’s gates in God’s time, shouting the victory and His praises every step. In Jesus’ name, amen.