Strength for the Journey
Brent and Susan’s wedding reception in the San Juan Islands drew friends and family from all over the United States. As the music rose on salted air their guests mingled. But I had eyes for only one. Where was she?
Riddled with cancer, Jane had only months to live. But how she wanted to make it to that wedding. My heart would not rest until I found her. When I did, I couldn’t help but gasp. She was, truly, never more beautiful. Suntanned and freckled, slim, erect, graceful. Her smile was huge and her eyes shone. I could not believe she was sick, that she was dying . . . she looked so vibrant and well.
We laughed, we hugged, we cried. We were direct. And when I asked her what she wanted me to pray for her, Jane answered without pause, “Strength for the journey.”
* * *
No stranger to the havoc of cancer, Jane was preparing for the even greater buffeting that lay before her. She was not afraid of the journey; she did not ask to put it off by being made temporarily well. She asked for strength to finish well.
Jane saw the gulf waiting before her . . . the gulf she would have to cross to get from where she was to where God was taking her — a gulf that would try her, a gulf that would demand more from her than she had left to give. Whatever the stresses and strains that would meet her there, she did not want to leave a legacy of having crashed and burned, but of having flown gloriously true.
Strength for the journey to fly gloriously true
A gulf lies between where you are right now and your potential breakthrough into fresh intimacy with God, where He will make Himself real to you in a way He hasn’t before. It is the gulf of your transcendence. It is the pressure that turns coal into diamonds.
It is not just that final bit of darkness at the end of our physical life, right before we burst through to the other side — it is the place we can taste even now, where difficulty demands transformation in our encounter with it. We skirmish with it to some degree each and every day — trying to avoid it, rarely understanding it.
In that gulf, on this side of the barrier, God runs us through a test where His finger will trace the thing in us that needs to die in order that something else (much better) can live. . . the ability to fly gloriously true.
Every believer will make an infinite number of crossings across this gulf –– each of them terribly difficult, each of them the necessary prelude to the next breakthrough into knowing God.
Grasping this, understanding the dynamics at work and what they are meant to achieve can lessen the pain and cancel the fear. . . strengthening your faith.
* * *
This gulf is being experienced by the young mother being tried beyond her natural strength, the husband being swallowed in despair because of the devastating financial situation his family faces, the young untried soldier facing combat for the first time, the one who reels and seethes under injustice he can do nothing about. It awaits each of us, in some form, on the journey between where we are and where we are meant-to-be. It is not an impediment to our progress but an absolute necessity.
This gulf brings the test we are not meant-to-win, the demand so rigorous that we are doomed to fail as we presently are.
When the test comes we have three options:
- we can abort, opting out, seeking the path of least resistance, refusing to be changed, not breaking through into a completely new place with God
- we can fight our way across in our own strength, until our strength fails us and we crash and burn, utterly failing
Both of these options look like this:
- or we can hold on for all we are worth, abiding in Him, talking to Him and recognizing His counsel to us, letting go of what we need to — as He calls out the strength that only He can create in us moment by moment.
Jane’s serenity — as she crossed that gulf where everything in her life was being wrested violently and painfully from her — is a forever picture of the strength to fly gloriously true in the midst of great strain and deep duress.
It has been years since Jane passed from my sight, but she has never shone more brightly to me than now, as I pry myself from the painful wreckage of my own crash and burn.
I can feel Yeshua’s (Jesus’) grief. He is unbelievably tender with me, even with the hurt I’ve caused. But there is a firmness to Him too — no leniency. I am shaken to the core, broken in consequence. But He is not going to back off.
He will teach me what He will teach me, by whatever means it takes, no matter how many times I have to be run through this testing process — until I begin to think like He thinks instead of my sullied own, until I learn how to trust Him enough that I am no longer afraid, until I feel so safe in His goodness and competence that I welcome the test with wild free courage knowing that He will be there to bear me through.
Failure is not final unless you refuse to learn from it. He tests us — not to see how we will do, but so that we can see how we do. As we writhe and groan, lashing out, His finger is tracing the fault-line that is keeping us from being able to fly gloriously true.
Crashing and Burning, the consequences
Our point of failure will very often be the point of our strength. One of my strengths is the desire to always do what is right, to do what God wants no matter what the cost. It is how He made me. But this can also become my point of failure.
I understood the challenge of what lay before me, what God wanted of me. Beginning with the best of intentions, I entered into the gulf and the pressure began. . . no surprise. I knew I was going to encounter resistance, but I believed God would take care of that resistance if I kept true. But the resistance did not let up.
Worn down by the unmitigated stress of struggling against a perceived injustice, I felt myself growing increasingly fragile, filling with contempt. (To harbor contempt makes it impossible to fly gloriously true.)
No matter how hard I tried to do the right thing, to hold my feelings in check, to put my best effort forward — it did not bring me to a breakthrough on the other side, but to the threshold of strain greater than I could bear (God’s purpose for taking me through the gulf).
White-knuckled, barely able to hold it together, knowing that my successful “flight” depended on not losing control, forces beyond my control took my control away. The pressure did not let up. Someone else’s failure to carry their fair share increased the strain on me exponentially.
Resentment began to color me, as I judged them for being totally irresponsible to do the right thing that they knew they should. (Notice how the point of my strength has now becomes self-righteous judgment of another.) Teeth clenched, I shook it off, pressing forward even harder to do what was right. I was now being colored by a competitive, nasty energy . . . “I’ll show you how to do it right, you failure, you”
All along, I was praying that the cause of my stress would be lifted, but I found my prayer denied. God did not intervene to bring relief. The point of this entire exercise was to show me what was keeping me from being able to fly gloriously true — not to remove the stress intended to reveal my fatal flaw.
There is a place in the gulf that I call the far point. It is where I don’t see or hear God anymore. It is just me having a dark night of the soul, feeling utterly abandoned by Him. This is the most dangerous moment of the passage — because I am flying blind and no longer have His words in me to give me course correction. When I reached that far point, My heart hardened toward God.
“It is unfair!” I screamed inside. I saw myself as “the victim” and God as uncaring and unresponsive. I began to “judge” God. I expected Him to show Himself strong, when I was trying so hard to do the right thing — but He hadn’t. There was, unbelievably to me, no rescue. The stress continued without justice, without relief.
Some get to this same place and quietly turn away from God, hard as steel, becoming spiritually indifferent, quietly abdicating without a big scene, opting out. Others, like myself, respond in a dramatic violent outburst. Both are equally sin.
The ancient greek word used for sin in The New Testament is hamartia, which is an archery term used of an arrow that misses its mark. 
Whether we opt out of the process, turning away, not trusting God or we violently crash and burn — it is the same . Our “flight” becomes like the illustration above when we are being energized by wrong thinking, not-truth that is a far departure from God.
Notice how the flight path is not gold but green: representing carnal, fallen, human thinking. “Stinking thinking” is always going to pull us down and keep us from flying gloriously true.
As a man thinks, so he is.
Not only will we utterly fail to break through to a fresh revelation of God, not only will we fail to fly gloriously true, but:
our behavior will become a gross affirmation of our worst fault for everyone to see.
* * *
Last week, I didn’t just find myself in an uncontrollable nosedive…. but I drove that plane full throttle into the ground, not giving a fig how badly the thing blew up. I knew I was going against everything right — but I was tired of doing what is right. I had now become the antithesis of my point of strength.
The ugly energy coloring my thought-life, my victim mentality, the false argument I was listening to in my mind — that it had been such a long, unfair battle with so little help — led me to the conclusion as I powered into my nosedive, “this is God’s fault for not being there for me.” (Woops….Whose fault?!!)
This illustration doesn’t begin to tell how ugly the consequences of crashing and burning can be. It doesn’t show the wreckage left behind or how it feels to come to your senses feeling disemboweled — ashamed and reeling with sorrow — too late. It doesn’t tell how sin, even after it has been forgiven, still leaves a scar.
After crashing and burning, if you walk away (and some don’t), you and everyone involved will have new wounds to deal with. And most likely, you will suffer a broken relationship with someone who, no matter how badly they have behaved in the past, is now clearly more righteous than you.
When I crashed and burned, it was not the stressor that caused it — but the mindset I permitted — as I sought to manage the stress. The critical temper of mind, the self-righteousness took hold in me because I was neither pouring out my frustration to God nor listening for the course correction of His counsel.
I was unable to transcend the stress, because I was not abiding in my Lord, and His word was not abiding in me.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.
Last week I was often in my Bible, but I was not in Him, nor His word in me.
The result was my crash and burn. All of my effort to do the right thing was being done in the wrong energy, denying the divine strength that only He could bring to fruition. My crash was the irremediable outcome that can only be cast into the fire and burned.
Had I been abiding in His word, and His word in me, my wonderful counsellor, the mighty God, the Prince of Peace would have been able to walk me through the stress the right way. He would have helped me to recognize and refute the false thinking that was coloring me, keeping me from flying true.
Looking back at my devotionals the last two days before “I lost it,” I SEE what He was saying, how He was warning me:
“It is impossible to enter into communion with God when you are in a critical temper; it makes you hard and vindictive and cruel, and leaves you with the flattering unction that you are a superior person.” “My critic, my irritant, my troubler will do wonders for my heart if only I will learn to forbear. . . The crowning truth of my relationship to my troubler–regardless of what he may say or do to me–is “God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20)” 
Meekness is not weakness . . . but (accepting) God’s dealings witih me without bitterness.'” Meekness says God is always right, I must always accept what He sends me, and I must always do it with gladness of heart. . . Bitterness is always the opposite of meekenss; its constant cry is, “It isn’t fair!” 
God needed to take me into that gulf to show me the defect keeping me from flying gloriously true –to show me what needs to die so that something better might live.
He sends words to help me climb out of the wreckage stronger not weaker, humbled but not broken, rightly judged but not forsaken, loved not abandoned. And as I begin to recognize and respond to His words once more, I realize I am home again.
But I’ve changed. I’m better able to think as He thinks, to see as He sees.
 Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers.