Retrenchment (Re:Noun part 7)

Taking one’s side

If you’re suffering, don’t stop now!

I could regurgitate an endless list of platitudes and homilies designed to encourage the suffering individual. There are so many. I’ll just tell you my favorite: It’s the Sword Analogy. Are you familiar with it? The swordsmith heats his sword in the fire, then he hammers on it, then plunges it into the water to cool it down (see Isaiah 43:2 and  Psalm 39:10). This process is repeated hundreds of times. Fire, hammer, water. Rinse. Repeat. The end result is a blade with a razor sharp edge and a soft core. It can bend without breaking. Peter Carey, in his book Wrong About Japan notes that at the time of writing (2005), there was only one traditional sword-maker left in all of Japan.

“It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord.” (Lamentations 3:26)

Taking the plunge

So you’re going through a hard time, eh? What if God (and only God—He’s the arbiter) decided that your period of suffering was more of an ellipsis…? What would you do then? Would you give up and quit? Do you know God well enough to believe the best of Him when you’re in the middle of a blinding sandstorm? Let me remind you, once the sandstorm is over, you’re still in the wilderness. After all, the sword went through the forging process to go into battle.

Here’s a cup of cold water for you: Read Jeremiah chapter 35. It introduces us to a nomadic Hebrew tribe called the Rechabites. They were commanded by their patriarch Jonadab to live in the desert as well as to observe other monastic restrictions. They stayed true to their ascetic calling and God rewarded them greatly (verse 19). Many great figures of the Bible spent time in the desert: David (see Psalm 63:1), Elijah (1 Kings 17:5), John the Baptist (Mark 1:4), Jesus (Matthew 4:1), Paul (Galatians 4:17), etc.

I can’t tell you why you’re suffering, or when it will end. What I can say is that if you yield to God, he will adapt you—spiritually, mentally, physically—to the harsh conditions in which your particular desert-experience is taking place. And if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. You’ll also be qualified to help others who are in the same place. And there are billions of us out here (see 1 Peter 5:9).

“For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of Summer. Selah” (Psalm 32:4)

The prefix “xeri-” simply means “Adapted to conditions in which little-to-no water is present.” Or some such. When David says in 1 Chronicles (11:17), “Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem”, three of his men slipped through the garrison of the Philistines to do that very thing. Upon returning with the precious water, however, David does something drastic. Something that, to this day, I’m reminded of occasionally at indiscriminate times and places: “…but David would not drink of it, but poured it out to the Lord, And said, My God forbid it me, that I should do this thing: shall I drink the blood of these men that have put their lives in jeopardy? for with the jeopardy of their lives they brought it. Therefore he would not drink it.” (11:18b-19)

Taking a sip

“And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I ay unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42)

The former passage isn’t the only place in the Bible where blood is compared to water. Jesus’ shed blood is akin to the water from the rock at Horeb (see Exodus 17). That’s what it symbolizes. The atoning for our sin in the parched and dry desert of the world. If we stay here long enough, provided we keep our heart right before the Lord in worship and thanksgiving, and also in “the fellowship of His sufferings” (Philippians 3:10), i.e. inviting Him into our suffering, He’ll see to it we’re satisfied. More than satisfied.

“He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths.” (Psalm 78:15)

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.” (Psalm 23:6)

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