In so many ways, I feel like I am facing a new stretch of life right now. And when my road takes unexpected turns – routes through desert-places, sudden drop-offs, steep climbs – I sometimes wonder how I will make it through such unfamiliar terrain. I wish I could know what lies ahead and how, exactly, to get through it all. I look at my surroundings and feel unprepared. I am suddenly newly aware of my weaknesses.
I don’t think that I am the only one who goes through these wondering-times. It seems like, lately, that so many people are moving into an unexpected place…and onto an unforeseen and arduous path.
And maybe this is a strange connection to make, but thinking about these unsure times brings me back to the disciples and to the last of their 40 days – 40 marvelous days – with Jesus after His resurrection. We get a little glimpse into what they were thinking with this question in Acts 1:6 – Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?
It seems pretty clear that they were expecting a new kind of reality – a time of restoration and fulfillment of all they longed to see. After their Lord has defeated even death, shouldn’t He begin His victorious reign in Israel? Shouldn’t the whole world know Him as King?
Instead of assuring Peter, John, and all the disciples that they would, indeed, soon see Him declare Himself to the world, Jesus reminded them that the time-line of the Father’s purpose was in His hands alone…and that it would be their mission to carry His name into all the earth. He answered their question with this: It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
And with that, He was taken into Heaven and they could see Him no more.
I want to spend some time in the coming days discussing the gift of the Holy Spirit to all of us and the mission Jesus gave…but for now, my mind is caught on that image of those disciples…those who had walked through the jubilation and struggles of Jesus’ ministry, those who had watched in anguish as He died and been filled with inexpressible joy to find an empty tomb, those who walked, talked, and even ate with the Resurrected Lord – just standing there, frozen, staring up at a now empty sky. They had just gotten used to the idea that Jesus was, indeed, risen and with them again. And although Jesus had told them that He would go away – seeing it actually happen was quite different from the thought that it would, at some point, come to pass.
He had promised that they would not be left orphans – but, in that moment, I can’t help but think that they felt overwhelmed at the thought of a future without Him among them. I can’t help but think that they were wondering what the future would bring. What would happen to them if they began to be His witnesses in Jerusalem (after all, they had just witnessed the ruling powers crucify Jesus)? How would they go into Samaria? Without Jesus with them, making their way into all of the world must have seemed like a daunting prospect. And what would the Holy Spirit be like when He came upon them? When would He come? Would they truly be able to do all that Jesus had done?
How would they make it through so much uncertainty?
And, then, even as they still stood, necks bent back, trying to see past the clouds – two men dressed white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into Heaven.” (Acts 1:11)
I love that first part – why do you stand here looking into the sky? It was time for them to take their next steps, to live in faith – it was time for them to trust in His words, to live them out. It was time to believe Him – to make His promises their hope, His life their example, His love the rock that they could stand upon.
They were witnessing another temporary departure, facing a future they knew would bring hardship – and they would follow Him still, staking their lives in His faithfulness.
And this is where we are, I think – in a time when we must stake our lives in His faithfulness.
This is what His Word says to us: no matter how our surroundings change, He never will. When the future is unclear, our God goes before us. We never have to make it on our own abilities because He promises to be our strength. The Holy Spirit is our Teacher, our guide…we have the assurance of God’s own presence in every place, in every day. He will not leave us.
We have moments that overwhelm us, but as a favorite song of mine says – – when we cannot stand, we fall on Him.
In circumstances that veer and catch me by surprise, my heart – my hope – remains on His steady foundation of love. I can take refuge – I walk upon the level ground of our Rock that is Higher than the shaking earth beneath us. I can rest because He holds all of the answers I don’t know.
And whatever our routes are, whatever He leads us through, there is one destination: home to Him. In the meantime – until that day of perfect reunion-joy with our God – may we know Him as our ever-present help, our comfort. May we trust Him to guide us. May we know Him to be our portion, our provision, our Prince of Peace. Let us believe Him – and so face an uncertain future with peace because He is good, He is over all things, and nothing will separate us from His love.
They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks, discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain! God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and at the last turn – Zion! God in full view. –from Psalm 84, The MSG
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forevermore. -Psalm 125:1-2
When I said, “My foot is slipping,” Your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought me joy. –Psalm 94:18-19
But my eyes are fixed on You, Sovereign Lord, in You I take refuge. Show me the way I should go, for to You I entrust my life. -from Psalm 141
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, the Lord has done great things for them…those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them. –from Psalm 126