8:18

Strength for the journey

Strength for the journey

The day dawns as I take to the lake.

My wife and daughter are still asleep in our rented cabin, but I want to take in the quiet beauty of still water in the early light.  I ease my canoe out from the shore, sliding through wraith-like mist.  Gripping the paddle, I quietly pull it through the dark water, finishing the J-stroke with slight push at the end.  The canoe glides.

After a few minutes, I rest the paddle on my knees, thinking of the verses I’ve been meditating on for days:

Strengthen the feeble hands,
    steady the knees that give way;
 say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
    he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
    he will come to save you.”

Had this been written about canoeing, it would have added “straighten aching backs.”  It was, however, meant to remind readers of another journey – the trek of Israel out of Egypt in Exodus.  Scripture constantly dips into those waters for lessons to motivate us.

Discipleship is a constant journey.  We move out of one thing into another.  Think of the Exodus: they moved out of the slavery of Egypt into the freedom of the Promised Land.  Our journey may be out of spiritual darkness, into the light.  Out of habitual sin, into righteousness.  Out of self-centered accumulation, into others-focused giving.

What keeps us from proceeding on our journeys?  One reason for feeble hands and unsteady knees is discouragement.  We try and try.  And when we don’t make headway, our bodies and spirits complain, wondering, “What’s the point?”

This lake is man-made, as are many in Pennsylvania.  The Juniata River was stopped by a dam, converting its meandering flow into a twisting waterway.  On such a lake, the shore is never far away.  So, as I paddle, I can see my progress.

But I have canoed on wide lakes in Ontario, where It feels like I’m standing still despite my effort.  Our personal journeys may feel like that at times.  As can our societal ones.  The need is so vast, change seems incremental.  It’s tempting to give up.

But I think the second reason is more to the point of these verses.  Fear can make one’s grip loosen and knees shake.  Consider the stress on the Israelites at the Red Sea -- an impassible obstacle ahead (no canoes!) and an hell-bent army behind.  And even if they did cross, they had a hostile landscape awaiting them.

God’s word to them and to us is, Be strong!  Don’t fear!  God will come!  He will save!  And when he comes to save, he will bring vengeance.

One thing I’ve learned about solo canoeing: it’s very tippy.  Sitting high on the water, the slightest movement can rock it.  The slightest breeze can turn it.  The church feels like that in our present day.  Rocked by internal issues.  Buffeted by cultural winds.

Let us not forget that we have an enemy that wants us to be ineffectual, off-course and quaking with fear.  God’s salvation – both in Jesus’s completed work on the cross and in his triumphant return – will deal with that enemy.

So, renew your grip on the paddle.  Or the hiking staff.  Pick your analogy, as long as it is about moving forward.

Whatever you do, don’t stop.

Jesus, you have promised a place for us.  But until we arrive, we’re to follow you.  Calm our fear, strengthen our resolve, keep us moving forward.  For we know, in the end, your truth and your kingdom will prevail.

Reader: How would you describe your journey right now?

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Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.