Ascending Calvary: An Act of Assurance
The following tale is installment five of one pilgrim’s fictional journey up the hill of Golgotha to the place of Christ’s crucifixion. If you are new here, read installments one, two, three, and four to catch up.
My eyelids flew open with a start as I gasped for air. I panted quickly, attempting to settle my racing heart. My eyes focused on the tiny puffs of breath that escaped my mouth in the cold nighttime air. Searching my fuzzy brain, I tried to remember where exactly I was. Slowly, my senses came around, and I felt beneath me the cold, hard ground just on the other side of my thin bedroll. I looked to my left and saw the slight warm glow from the few embers that remained where my fire once was. I remembered my hike.
I looked to the full moon and saw that it hung high in the center of the sky. It was sometime in the deep hours of the night. What had awoken me? Feelings of fear still pulsed through my veins, and my stiff body felt as if it was on high alert. I listened to the hooting of an owl nearby as I lay motionless for a while, trying to recall the details from my dream. It had sent me into such a fright; it was more of a nightmare, really. Bits and pieces of the details came to my mind.
…I was being chased; I was running for my life from an unknown assailant, and I was terrified. It was nighttime, and I raced with such desperation. Where was I? I looked around me as I fled. The woods…
I heard the sound of a twig snap, and I sat up in an instant, forgetting about my dream. Had I really heard that, or did I imagine it as I remembered my dream? I reached over, as silently as possible, and I pulled my pack close. I felt in the dark for the opening, and I searched carefully through my supplies for the flint hunting knife. At last, my fingers wrapped around the rough wooden handle, and I pulled my knife out of the pack. I unhooked its cover and slid the blade out from its hiding place. Gripping the knife closely, I scanned my surroundings. After a while, I decided the sound must have been my imagination, so I lay back down, still gripping the knife tightly. I then turned my attention back to that horrific dream.
…I was running, but I felt so weighted down, so slow. What was keeping me from getting away? The enemy was close on my heels! I looked down, and my arms were full. I was carrying something, a bag. But this bag was unlike any I had ever seen. It was small, but it was so heavy! The bag was actually tied to my body with a rope. I must have done so to prevent myself from being separated from this bag…
Suddenly, I heard the rustling of brush somewhere to my right, as if shuffling feet were trying to move undetected. I knew this time that the noise was not of my imagining, so I rolled on my side to look that direction. I felt like something was just beyond the bushes, watching me. I wanted to call out to the one watching me, to say that I was unafraid and armed, but truth be told, I was terrified. Words of bravery lodged in my throat, unable to make their escape.
I squeezed the blade of my knife harder, trying to steady my shaking hand. The owl continued to hoot, and I wished with all of my might that the animal would just be silent! Every noise of the night caused my heart to race more and more, and my eyes darted to and fro as they searched the edges of the clearing where I camped. All I knew in that moment was fear. The dream continued to play out in my mind.
…I came to a cave, and I stopped for a only moment to consider my options. The cave was dark, and I could hear droplets of water inside. Drip, drip, drip. I could hide in there, but what other dangers might be inside this cave? The bag pulled at my arms, and I knew I could not run much longer! I heard my assailant making his way closer and closer, so I hurried into the cave. My only hope of escape was to hide well from whoever was chasing me. My bare feet felt their way along the cool, hardened ground, until they stepped into a stream of water. It was only an inch or so deep. I walked slowly, trying to avoid making any splashing sounds…
The rustling of brush beneath feet reached my ears once more, this time from the left. I rolled quickly to my left side, bringing my knees up so that I could stand in an instant, if needed. I looked past the embers that burned slowly, my eyes falling upon the trail that lay many yards beyond my camp site. Who was there, and how had he so quickly changed locations? I breathed deeply. Inhale, exhale. I had to get control of my senses. I had to be ready for whoever or whatever was here. I remembered more of my dream:
…As I put more and more distance between myself and the cave opening, complete darkness swallowed me whole. I moved to the wall of the cave, placing my hand on it to feel my way in the darkness. Eventually, my hand felt the wall give way, and I realized I had found an opening to the left, a place I could hide! I crawled into this hole in the cave wall, sliding as far back as possible. Other than the sound of my steady breathing, I only heard the drip, drip, dripping of the water droplets in the cave. After a while, I decided it was safe enough to examine the contents of my bag. I reached into my pockets and felt for the matches. Untying the heavy bag in the darkness, I felt it drop into my lap…
I startled at the howl of a wolf somewhere close by, and I squeezed my eyes shut in fear. I was so utterly exposed in this clearing. I wanted to hide, but where could I go? Surely whoever was watching me would follow me if I fled! Giving up on that idea, I considered building a raging fire that could at least melt away the chill I felt deeply in my spirit. How could I have been so foolish to come on this journey, unprotected and alone? Who would save me now?
I began to whisper with a hoarse, quiet voice. The sound brought some small measure of comfort to my ears. A chilling breeze swept through the clearing, and the sound of leaves rustling all around caused my eyes to dart back and forth. Without much thought, these words spilled out of my mouth as I searched for any danger: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’” (Ps. 91:1). I said these words over and over to myself, trying to believe that the Most High God could protect me now. In my fear, details of the dream kept pressing to the forefront of my mind.
…My hands trembled as I pulled a match from the matchbox. I struck it once, but it did not light. I struck it again, and light filled my hiding place. I look immediately to the entrance of the hole, fearful that my assailant would be standing there. Alas, I was alone. I looked down to my bag and untied its opening, and at last, the contents of the bag spilled forth. A sudden draft blew the match out. Once I was able to light another match, I looked in wonder at the contents of my bag. Valuable beyond measure, they were the most prized possessions of my life! I sorted through the items with amazement and care. I lifted a small but heavy cloth, folded around something, and I unwrapped the cloth to study the treasure. I set it aside and pulled a smaller box out of the bag. The sound of coins clinking greeted my ears, and the light shimmered off of their golden surface. It was my fortune, all I had worked to gain in this life. I pulled it close, possessively. Whoever was after me was after my bag, my possessions. My treasure! The splashing of feet in water suddenly drew me back to reality. My pursuer was in the cave! I quickly blew out the match and prayed that the smell of the burning matches would dissipate before he made it this deep inside…
Unable to lay still much longer, I decided to search the perimeter of the clearing. Perhaps it would hasten a bitter ending, but the dread of it all was nearly driving me mad. I grabbed a stick in one hand and held my knife in the other. I stood. The full moon cast an eerie glow in the night, and what warmth I’d managed while huddled in my bedroll quickly vanished. I continued to whisper to myself as I took unsure, cautious steps to the right: “For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.” (vs. 3-4) A twig snapped behind me, and I turned with a start. I continued, a little louder this time: “You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.” (vs. 5-6). The dream, ever persistent and as if mirroring my reality, played out in my mind:
…The enemy’s approach became louder and louder. I cradled my bag, terrified of whoever was after me, my possessions. They were mine! My fingers dug deep into the bag as I tightened my grip. I huddled in the hole and closed my eyes, as if to add another layer of protection. Closer and closer he came, until at last, he stopped outside my hole! I held my breath, and I listened intently. I could hear his breathing, slow and steady. Did he know where I was? Could he hear my pounding heart? I stifled a scream of fear that threatened to escape my lips…
“Whoever you are, I know you are here,” I said. My words, though spoken not much louder than a whisper, sounded like a trumpet blast in the quiet night. But no one came out of hiding. I continued with a whisper my earlier recitation of scripture: “Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—the Most High, who is my refuge—no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent” (vs. 9-10).
And then I heard it: a growl. Low and steady, the rumbling sound of some unknown beast drifted from just beyond my line of sight. I feared for my life in that moment.
…Eventually, the breathing of my pursuer quieted. Had he slipped off silently, further into the cave? Or perhaps he had left the cave altogether? After more time past, my fingers loosened their grip on my bag. I was safe! My possessions were safe. I began to breathe calmly once more. With practiced hands, I tied the bag shut in the dark and secured it tightly around my waste. I slid from my hiding place, stepped back into the cave. But just as my feet touched the floor of the cave, strong hands grabbed me from behind, wrestling the bag from my body. I screamed, but it was too late! I was caught…
“Father God! Rescue me!” I cried, releasing with my words all of the terror I felt. A wolf stepped out of the clearing, his teeth shimmering in the light of the moon. I continued to rapidly speak out loud the promises of God as I stared death in the face: “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways…they will bear you up…” (vs.11-12a). The wolf broke into a run, coming straight at me. I yelled my words now, believing they would be my last on this earth. “You will tread on the lion and the adder…” (vs.13)! The wolf lunged at me, flying in the air. I held my knife out, bracing for his blow and ready to fight until my dying breath.
“BE STILL!” His words erupted in the night. The wolf yelped as he stopped midair and fell to the ground at my feet, as if the words of God had formed an invisible barrier around me. “You will not touch a hair on the body of my weary one,” commanded the Lord. The wolf continued to cry as he lay in a heap. “Now, leave this place,” God ordered, and the wolf limped off silently.
All of the adrenaline drained from my body, and I fell to the earth in weakness. I dropped the knife and cradled my face in a state of shock. “Lord!” I exclaimed. “I did not know how this would end. I felt so alone!”
“I am always with you,” the Lord replied. His strong voice comforted my weary spirit. “You have nothing to fear.”
I felt I had everything to fear. “But Father,” I responded, “All I knew just now was fear. You helped me this night, but what about tomorrow? And the next? As long as I am breathing, I’m afraid that fear will be a constant companion of mine.” Even my dreams played out those fears. Fear of death, fear of loss, fear of danger...
“You are mine, beloved. It is on this eternal promise that you must rest.”
“But I have so much to lose, see? I have worked hard in life. What if I lost it all? What if that terrible dream I had became my reality? I would have nothing to show for my days on this earth!”
“Naked you came from your mother’s womb, and naked you shall return.” He responded. “You fear losing that which you cannot keep and that which will not satisfy you.”
He was right, and I knew it. Yet I remembered my sorrows, my loss. I thought of the wolf. “But what of the wolf? This world is unsafe! It was the wolf tonight, but it might be the robber tomorrow, or sickness, or even death. My very life is never safe!”
“Not a hair on your head will be harmed unless I allow it. Don’t you see? My sovereign hand protects you. There will be trouble on this earth, for it is still a world plagued by the brokenness of sin. But you are mine, and I am sufficient for your needs, whatever may come.”
I realized the costliness of the fears that had ruled my days and nights. Those fears I harbored were not nearly so great as the One I served. He spoke once more: “Because you hold fast to me in love, I will deliver you; I will protect you, because you know my name. When you call to me, I will answer; I will be with you in trouble; I will rescue you and honor you. With long life I will satisfy you and show you my salvation (vs.14-16). Rest in Me, weary traveler. I alone am your protector and defender,” the Lord said. “This, my child, is an act of assurance.”
How could I doubt? “I believe You, Lord,” I confessed with my lips. Retrieving my knife, I stood on steady feet and walked toward a tree with determination. Lifting the knife in the air, I stabbed it deeply into the flesh of the tree, leaving there with it the fears that had for so long ruled my heart. The only fear I need possess is a healthy fear and awe of my Lord and Savior. I then built a strong fire before crawling back into my bedroll. I closed my eyes and drifted into a deep, peaceful sleep.
Questions to Ponder:
- What fears plague your days and your nights? How do they prevent you from living fully in the goodness and joy of the Lord?
- What promises does God give that specifically address the fears you harbor? Search the scriptures for them, and claim those promises today!