We were lost! Decades before the invention of GPS, we didn’t even have a map. Unfamiliar landmarks whizzed rapidly past the car’s windows. All we had to rely on was our father’s usually unfailing sense of direction. Sitting in the back seat with my younger brother and sister, we would revel in the slightly scary feeling of visual disorientation.
“Getting lost” was our favourite Sabbath afternoon activity during the years that my parents were missionaries in Pakistan. Heading out from our suburban Karachi home, we had no idea where we might end up. Our only aim was to find something new and exciting and hopefully get “lost” along the way. But we had complete and utter trust in our father’s ability to get us home.
William Williams didn’t know he was lost. The Welsh Non-conformist church he attended had sermons that tended to the “dry and theoretical”. The neighbouring Anglican church went to the opposite extreme, eschewing theology for the virtues of “reason and morality”. Neither created a vivid picture in the worshiper’s heart and mind of God’s amazing love and grace, mercy and forgiveness.
Williams could not attend university as a non-conformist, but he continued his education at a dissenting Academy, intending to study medicine. The title of “Academy” might sound grander than the reality as classes were held in a barn. Taught by two ministers, the students learned the fundamentals of Theology and English and the rudiments of Hebrew, Greek, Mathematics, and Logic.
Walking home from class one day, Williams chanced upon 23-year-old Howell Harris preaching enthusiastically in a churchyard. At that time, being accused of “enthusiasm” concerning religion was not a compliment. Religion was supposed to be a serious business. Order in the church was necessary, and you couldn’t have just anyone preaching just anywhere, especially not in an enthusiastic manner.
Williams wrote of Howell’s preaching:
Come and hear him now expounding
Heaven’s free, redeeming grace;
Loudly praising the Redeemer
Of our poor apostate race;
Lo! He causes many a pilgrim,
Sore oppressed with fear and grief,
To depart in joyous freedom
From the bounds of unbelief.
For the first time, Williams saw the incredible gift God had given in Jesus. He now felt free, but not free to continue on the path he had been taking. His new knowledge resulted in him making a complete about-face. He no longer desired to practice medicine and heal bodies. He now hungered to preach the amazing love of Jesus and heal souls.
Williams was a talented poet, penning multiple hymns. “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” describes the trials of the children of Israel in the wilderness, comparing them to our own struggles. We are all slaves to sin, and the only way we can be free is to be rescued by the love of Jesus.
My Past has been Justified
Guide me, O my great Jehovah,
pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but thou are mighty;
hold me with thy powerful hand.
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven,
feed me till I want no more,
feed me till I want no more.
After hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt, Israel had lost all perception of who God was. They also had no idea of what freedom was. This can also happen to us. Slavery doesn’t have to be physical bondage. More often, it is being stuck in situations where we react in unloving ways to people who are treating us in unloving ways. Because I don’t have a clear picture of who God is, I act out the lies I believe about God.
Moses didn’t just have to persuade Pharoah to let his valuable (and free!) workforce leave. He also had to convince Israel that Yahweh was utterly different to Pharoah. Yahweh didn’t want to control them. He wanted them to have freedom.
Israel may have moaned and complained and wished they were back in Egypt, where at least they knew they were safe, but God was faithful. There was manna from heaven that tasted like bread and honey, and thirst-quenching water flowed from dry and barren rocks. God tried to show them that He was there to care for and protect them. He hadn’t just freed them. He would stay in the wilderness with them.
I start my walk with God by believing that He has freed me. Knowing that my past has been wiped clean gives me courage for the future. I am not to be afraid, for God is with me and holding my hand. God will feed me with His love until I overflow with love to others.
My Present is Being Sanctified
Open now the crystal fountain,
whence the healing stream doth flow;
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
lead me all my journey through.
Strong deliverer, strong deliverer,
be thou still my strength and shield;
be thou still my strength and shield.
God led Israel by a pillar of cloud out of Egypt and towards the Red Sea. As the army of Pharoah came up behind them, Israel was protected by a pillar of fire. The water in front of them opened up, and they crossed to the other side on dry land. Jesus would re-enact this event when He was baptised by John and the Holy Spirit.
When we are baptised, we hold our breath as we go under the water. We “die” and are “buried”. As we emerge from the water and take our first breath, we are “resurrected”. We now have eternal life, not as something to look forward to in the future, but as a present reality.
This isn’t because we have finally got our act together and can now behave as we think God wants us to. It is because we have seen a glimpse of the beautiful truth about God and how He has done it all. I have done nothing; I can do nothing. All I can do is see His love for what it is. His love then gives me strength. He gives me protection. He leads me.
My only role is to surrender. But what does that mean? That means that when God gives me a nudge and says, “that person needs to see My love in you”, I respond. I will still often have wrong motivations. I will still often have wrong actions. But my focus is on listening to God and positively responding to His promptings.
My Future will be Glorified
When I tread the verge of Jordan,
bid my anxious fears subside.
Death of death, and hell’s destruction,
land me safe on Canaan’s side.
Songs of praises, songs of praises
I will ever give to thee;
I will ever give to thee.
Believing in God means believing in the faith that He has in me, believing that He has done everything, and all I have to do is trust in that everything. Like Israel, we can also get distracted by the trials of life. Or we can be distracted by the pleasure of life. Both of them disregard the role of God in our lives.
How can I get that belief back when anxiety and fear overwhelm me? By remembering how God has been there for me in the past. Immersing myself in His Word, I can see how he has been there throughout history. Singing His praises helps me remember His grace and mercy, forgiveness and faithfulness.
God has kept His promises all the way through history. He promised Adam and Eve that He would come to stamp on the serpent’s head. He promised Abraham that he would become a great nation and be a blessing to all the nations. He sent Jesus to show His love in action, a love willing to die so that I may live forever.
I don’t have to be stuck reliving the events of my past because when I trust in Jesus, my past no longer exists. Jesus lived the perfect life, died with perfect love in His heart, and was raised again, so I never have to die the second death. I can trust in God even more than I trust in my earthly father. He will get me home safely.
I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20 NET
Inspired by David Asscherick at the ACY 2022
Saturday Morning Service
How do We Plug In?