(Originally published August 5, 2013)
The “Footprints in the Sand” poem by Mary Stevenson, written in the 1930’s, has been given a slight update in cartoon format which is making the rounds of the various Social Media sites. It seems to resonate with many of my friends; I know it grabbed my attention.
We’ve been going through an extended period of “difficult providence.” My faith assures me that my Lord has never left my side and most certainly has carried me much of the way. And yet, even so, there have been periods when I have felt a deep and threatening tremor in my soul which this cartoon lightly treats with the idea that Christ has had to drag me through the sand. And so, in sunnier seasons, I chuckle at the cartoon, nod my head in agreement, share it on Facebook, and move on.
Many years ago, I followed a line of teaching that had me believing that the victorious Christian life is lived walking tall beside Jesus without any need for carrying. “Thanks Lord, but I’ve got this! I’m claiming the promises and walking in victory! Nice to have you along for the walk, by the way.” (I may be stretching it a bit, but this is how it sounds to me today.) This attitude didn’t carry me very far into the sands of trial before I realized that I was utterly incapable of continuing under my own strength and desperately in need of Christ’s strong sustaining arms to hold me.
Through faithful teachers and preachers of the Word I have been gradually, gratefully, immersed in the truth of God’s sovereign care for me. “Not a hair falls from your head… all things work for good for those who believe… in this world you will have trouble, but take heart..” I am fully persuaded of this grace-abounding, faith-building truth. By the gift of faith, I have no doubt that my Father is watching over me, superintending every situation, and has indeed planned it all for my good and His glory.
And yet, in those dark moments, though I know He’s carrying me, I tremble with fear.
Which brings me to this morning’s devotional reading from Heart Aflame: Daily Readings from Calvin on the Psalms. I’m still behind on my readings, and this morning had me at May 15, but it was precisely what my Lord knew that I needed to hear. Today’s reading was from John Calvin’s commentary on the final two verses of Psalm 52, which read:
“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.”
Half-way down the page I slowed when I came to this:
“As the term of (David’s) earthly trials might be protracted, and there was a danger that he might sink under their long continuance unless his confidence should extend itself far into futurity, he declares expressly that he would not presume to prescribe times to God, and that his hopes were stretched into eternity. It followed that he surrendered himself entirely to God in all that regarded this life or his death.”
The image that came to mind as I read this was not of our Lord dragging David, or carrying a trembling and fearful king through his trial, but of our loving and strong God carrying a trusting child who has his arms flung joyfully around his Father’s neck, gazing gratefully into the eyes of his Savior.
Am I going to take from these two verses that this is always to be my response to trials? Of course, no. There are many verses of Scripture which depict trembling and tearful trust as well as this picture of joy and gratitude. What I take from this, the gift which this is to me, is that when the trial merits being carried there can still be joy. David is able, by the grace given him, to look beyond the present trial and into the eternity of unrivaled goodness and utter joy which is his in Christ. Bring what this present difficulty may, my hope is not anchored here on earth, but in Heaven, where my Savior ever lives to intercede for me and is working all things—every hardship, uncertainty, and pain—for my good.
Does this mean I won’t ever again be that bedraggled and worn-thin believer who needs her Savior to grab her by the ankles and haul her through the sandy ground of trial? Of course, no. I’m familiar enough with my weakness to know better than that. But I will pray with gratitude and joy while I’m able, and ask my Lord for faith-fueled joy when I’m unable.
O, Lord, grant me the joyful faith of David, that I may surrender myself entirely to You and face this present trial, and those You have planned for my future, with peace, gratitude, and a firm conviction that You are carrying me to higher ground.