…walk with me
October 14, 2018
Scripture: Job 23:1-9, 16-17
The first disciples walked with Jesus, he was there each morning when they awoke and he was there to comfort and explain the trials of each day at nightfall. Truly they experienced times of great joy and wonder…and just as surely, they went through times of great fear and confusion. Times such as that night when a storm suddenly was upon them in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. You may remember that Jesus had stayed behind and was not there in the boat with them causing them to fear greatly for their lives, or again when Jesus determined to return to Jerusalem and the extreme trial and trouble they all knew was waiting there for him.
But at the end of each day, prior to the arrest of Jesus, the disciples were still there beside him, able to ask him what was truly going on all around them, receiving words of comfort, instruction, and assurance. The physical presence of Jesus there with them gave them a certain peace, and a certain framework that enabled them to keep walking and avoid being totally distracted or swallowed up in fear and worry. The disciples never needed to look far to find that in fact Jesus was still walking with them…they did not need to say to him, ‘walk with me’.
That however is not always the case with all of us. For, to many of us the whole idea of God being a real and present force in our lives is more often a hope and a wish rather than a thing we are absolutely sure is in fact the case. In fact, often the ‘awareness of the presence of the holy’ in or over our lives is something we have been told can only be known for sure through an act of faith. And sometimes that level of faith is itself hard to access, or hard to grasp.
And that is because for most if not all of us, life is anything but a sure thing filled with goodness and joy all the time. In fact, I would hold that for most of us, life seems more bent on presenting constant challenge and trial than peace and tranquility. And that trial, more often than not seemingly just a touch outside of our ability to cope with it. For each of us, who did not have the opportunity those first disciples had to walk daily in close proximity to Jesus, it seems that ‘walk with me’ could be a fair if not frequent prayer.
Over the years each one of us I am sure has had numerous times when our faith was deeply tested due to circumstances that were far outside of our control. Times when solutions or guidance in how we were to proceed, in how we were supposed to continue walking forward were just not there…when prayers sincerely prayed seemed to go on forever unanswered. Each of us has had times when we dealt with illness either minor or chronic…times when we worried over, or in fact lost a loved one who was dear to us…times when all about us, even up to the level of society as a whole, seemed to be presenting enormous and immovable obstacles to our peace or sense of well-being. All of us have had times I am sure when prayer and faith seemed to be insufficient, when what we needed, or what we so hoped for, just didn’t happen and we were forced to go on alone, finding or making our own way through the gathering darkness of disappointment or loss.
And it is in times such as those when I myself felt compelled to cry out…times when all other sources of comfort or assurance did not seem up to the task…and deep within I felt compelled to look heaven-ward. And hoping against hope and all available evidence I asked in the darkness, ‘walk with me’?
Where is Jesus when we most need him? Does the faith of our fathers and mothers really have the capacity to give us the comfort we need when all else seems to be going in a direction we are uncomfortable with, or that we feel deep within is not the correct one? Is it possible that when we most need Jesus to ‘walk with us’ that he happens to be ‘out of town’?
Many of you know of my work and career as a farmer at a local farm and estate for the past 30 or so years. And I have shared with some of you in the past some of the times when that experience was difficult or even troubling…times when I surely was asking for immediate help or guidance from this God of ours who seemed mysteriously silent.
We started the community farm project late in 1996 after I saw a similar project across the river. The farm’s owners had wanted to start such a venture and together we began to assess what we would need and who might be able to help in order for us to begin. And it was an exciting time to do so, good folks, good fun, and incredibly important and valid work.
And after five years the project was expanded to include a farm school component and my time as estate caretaker/farmer now educator became even more stretched and difficult as I sought to juggle the responsibilities of these three aspects of my job. On the one hand, my original responsibilities to care for the estate and equally to serve the elderly woman who owned the property was truly a joy and a delight as she loved me and my family deeply and treated me like she would a son. And the pull to create the growing and fascinating community farm project across the street was equally fulfilling as it called so deeply on all of my previous experience both in business and as an avid lover of the outdoors. And now we were seeking together to build a model and platform on which we could educate young people in the critical areas of food and environmental justice as well as in responsible stewardship of our natural resources.
Seldom were instances where ‘wondering where God was’ even came up…for all around me were multiple evidences of goodness, fellowship, and grace…everything seemed like it was going along nicely according to a wonderful hidden plan…and it was…until it wasn’t.
And that was the day when everything seemed to grind to a halt…when everything seemed to lose the moorings I had so come to rely upon. That was the day when the property and farm owner’s son came to me and told me he was relieving me of any and all responsibility for the farm and farm school, saying that he felt he himself, along with some new outside hires were needed in order to bring the project into his vision of where he thought it should be. He asked me instead to return to the other side of the road and to continue to care for and focus solely on his mother and her needs.
And I found myself completely confused and broken. This project, this enterprise into which I had invested so much of myself and my soul had suddenly and completely been taken away, and I was left wondering where in the world God had gone to, where in the world I was supposed to turn…I found myself asking, no pleading, ‘walk with me Lord’…’please walk with me’.
And somewhere in the few weeks prior to this I had come into contact with a new song which I had just learned and that was based upon scripture, the title of which was, ‘He who began a good work in you’. And the gist of the song was contained in the first line, ‘He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it’. And as I wandered about on the hill above the farm, wondering what had possibly gone wrong and where had Jesus gone, I found myself reflecting on and to a degree rejecting this song as I cried out within my soul, ‘Is it really possible? How is it that this could ever become ‘complete’ God?’ ‘How is this to be completed, if you have allowed what had become so meaningful, so fulfilling, and in many ways, so holy, to be so unceremoniously ripped away’? And that song seemed truly bitter in my soul…I just could not see how good could come out of this whatsoever and I wondered deeply where God had gone off to.
And I would love to be able to tell you that a miracle occurred and that all was returned to its previous place and that cosmic order was finally restored, at least for me. But that was not the case. In fact, just four or five months later this same owner’s son died suddenly and tragically while on vacation in Florida and the farm owner and family, or at least most of them, called me to a meeting, begging me to take over the farm and farm school again in the sudden absence of the son who had for whom it was a lifelong dream.
Sounds good right? Sounds like my prayer had been answered, admittedly in a very strange way, but it sounded as though I had been given an opportunity to ‘complete the good work’ I had previously been directing. Actually, in addition to asking me to pick up the reins and take over once again they also told me that they would not be able to provide any financial support whatsoever…basically meaning that I would have to double my efforts to seek to build a sustainable enterprise pretty much on my own efforts alone, including my own physical presence and ability.
But it seemed as though the door had re-opened somehow and I set to work, giving my all and more to complete the farm owner family’s dream of doing something good and right with their property.
And so again, it sort of seems that my prayer had been answered…unless you consider the strain these new responsibilities put both on myself as well as upon my wife. Life once again did move forward, but the difficulties of going it totally alone were great indeed. And so, while I knew God was near, I found myself still looking to see if he had drawn any closer in this time of great need and great struggle. And so it went as I sought to walk forward…not easy, not impossible, but not very fast. But I was doing my best and slowly it seemed that a light might be appearing at the end of a very long tunnel.
Until the day some months later when I was called to another meeting of the family, this time without my dear friend the property owner, present. And the meeting, held in a local lawyer’s office and directed solely by the lawyers themselves turned out to be a time of totally beating up on me and accusing me of seeking to manipulate the owner into greater support for the farm, a charge that was completely false and completely untrue. I was not permitted to talk or respond during the meeting and was told first that I was in the project simply for my own benefit, and secondly that, ‘I had to immediately resign as president of the Farm School Corporation and to step down, leaving the Board of Directors in charge’. I was told to have a letter attesting to the completion of these actions to the lawyer’s office within 48 hours and once again to assume a far lesser role.
And as I left the meeting after being summarily dismissed I could not believe what had happened. I could not believe that once again I had been treated in a way so unkind and uncaring by members of a family I had only, and for so long sought to faithfully serve. And I wondered again where God could have gone off to…and once again I found myself imploring Jesus to ‘walk with me’.
And I could go on and on, but the story sounds much the same…a life filled with moments of goodness and grace peppered with times of great sadness and turmoil…never getting to that place of feeling that all was good and that the stars had finally once and for all come into alignment. It was just not to be…and I kept wondering why it seemed that God had not walked with me when I needed him the most.
And the answer to that question finally came to me, although I can not tell you how or when…but at some point in my crying out, in my confusion, in my bitter times of what seemed to be unanswered prayer I came to the realization that not all prayers are going to be answered in the way we feel they need to be…not all prayers will turn out to give us the peace and closure we so long for, and feel we so desperately need.
And that is because God never promised to do everything we ask him to do…God never promised to pave the way before us with easy times or with whatever it is that we feel God must do in order for us to believe, or for us to ‘keep the faith’. In fact, the truth of the matter, a truth it took a long time for me to become aware of, is that I had my pronouns, or at least the grammatical ‘voice’ of my request reversed.
What I came to realize after many times of trial and extended periods of looking for God was that in fact it was not me talking to God at all when I echoed, ‘walk with me’, but rather it was the voice of God who was imploring me all along to ‘walk with him’!
And over time I have come into a much more peaceful place, in fact, over time and in the realization that God meant it when he said he ‘would never leave us or abandon us’, I have come into a deeper awareness of what it means to have a ‘peace that goes far beyond our understanding’.
In the absence of answers to our prayers, but in the presence of God…life can still go on…
…in the absence of what we feel we most need and even within the crucible of deep injury or loss, but in the abiding presence of our Lord…life can still be filled with hope and grace…
…in the absence of clarity and awareness of where our next footstep should next be placed, when the path ahead seems shrouded in darkness, when all seems pointless and sad, in the presence of our God of love…we are still cherished and embraced.
When deep within our hearts we hear the words, ‘walk with me’…know that they are not your own, but rather are being spoken by the One who gave his all that you might come into the awareness of just how much you are loved. Know that those words, though they may feel as though they are uttered by your own heart in deepest despair and loneliness are the same words Jesus whispers into your heart of hearts…
‘walk with me’, implores the Spirit of grace…
…let us ever say, ‘yes my Lord’…