~ A Prayer Story ~
- Part Two -
(Click here for Part One)
The soft but vibrant hues of twilight's colors were falling through a brilliant crimson sky, through the forest onto the earth. Old man still stood in the same place, but now facing the west. Hiker could hear him praying from the Psalms. "There are some who ask, 'Who will be good to us? Let your kindness, Lord, shine brightly on us. You brought me more happiness than a rich harvest of grain and grapes. I can lie down and sleep soundly because you, Lord, will keep me safe.'" (Psalm 4:6-8)
Hiker waited for old man to end his prayers. Looking up from his seat upon the rock, hiker informed old man, "Yes, I am ready to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, fearing no evil."
Old man smiled as usual and walked to hiker with his Bible in his outstretched hand. "Take this holy book. It will speak to you and for you." Hiker was overwhelmed at the gift and could barely utter, "Thank you." Old man pointed down the steep slope bordering the trail. "There's the valley," was all he said as he softly walked away, down the trail, leaving hiker alone in near darkness.
Hiker prayed, "Lord, prepare and guide me through this valley." As the sky darkened, the breeze grew stronger. The Bible on his lap flipped open, and Hiker stared down at the pages. "While you are in the world, you will have to suffer persecution. But cheer up! I have defeated the world." (John 16:33) "I will send you the Spirit who comes from the Father and shows what is true. The Spirit will help you and will tell you about me." (John 16:26) "God's Spirit makes us loving, happy, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self controlled... God's Spirit has given us life and so we should follow the Spirit." (Galatians 5:22-25)
Hiker closed the Bible and stood up, holding the holy book high over his head, praying, "Thank you, Father, for this vital and precious food for my soul! Indeed, Holy Spirit, fill me completely. I will follow you. I pray for patience, faith, and self control in the name and for the sake of my Savior, the Christ! Yes, though I walk through, not in or about, but through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and staff comfort me."
He quickly wrapped the holy book in a plastic bag he pulled from his pack and wrapped himself in his poncho, for the night sky was now strobing with lightning and dripping with torrents of rain and bone piercing winds. He descended deeper into the valley, looking for a level area of ground upon which to sleep awhile.
As the distance between him and the security of the trail grew, the words of Jesus echoed in his mind, drowning out even the thunder: "Go in through the narrow gate. The gate to destruction is wide, and the road that leads there is easy to follow. Many people go through that gate. But the gate to life is very narrow. The road that leads there is so hard to follow that only a few people find it." (Matthew 7:13-14)
The slope into the dark valley was quickly transforming into a mud slide. Hiker could work his way down carefully by holding onto trees, often losing his footing and lying in the rushing muddy water, clenching tightly the holy book in his left hand. He could only keep hugging that saving tree with his right arm as walking was futile.
Night should have evaporated into day, but dawn brought only a clouded haze into the valley of shadows. Hiker still could not see more than a few yards ahead, and was growing colder and weaker. If only he could free himself from his heavy pack without losing grip of the tree. The arm whose hand still clenched the Bible pulled free of one shoulder strap. While wrapping his left arm around the tree, hiker unclipped the waist strap and shook off the other shoulder strap. The pack rested against the tree for only a moment, then slid away in the mud.
After a few seconds, hiker was startled upon watching the pack disappear into a short silence, then hearing the unmistakable thump of his backpack crashing to a quick stop. Hiker now understood the gravity of his situation. His grip on his life-saving tree was keeping him from sliding off and beyond the edge of a cliff, to injury or death!
Hiker's weakness grew as his mind lost hope. The rain continued as the slope down to the cliff turned increasingly into a slow waterfall of mud. Hiker held onto the tree and the holy book with all his strength, a limited human strength dwindling quickly along with his hope.
The contours of the Bible were a comfort in hiker's hand under his rain poncho. He was reminded of scriptures he had read many times, but never took on life until this moment. "The Lord gives strength to those who are weary. Even young people get tired, then stumble and fall. But those who wait upon and trust the Lord will find new strength. They will be strong like eagles soaring upward on wings; they will walk and run without getting tired." (Isaiah 40:29-31) "I am the Lord your God. I am holding your hand, so don't be afraid, I am here to help you." (Isaiah 41:13)
In response, hiker prayed, "Save me, God! I am about to drown. I am sinking deep in the mud, and my feet are slipping. I am about to be swept under by a mighty flood. I am worn out from crying, and my throat is dry. I have waited for you 'till my eyes are blurred... Answer me, Lord! You are kind and good. Pay attention to me! You are truly merciful. Don't turn away from me. I am your servant, and I am in trouble. Please hurry and help!..." (Psalm 69:1-3, 16-17) Hiker remembered praying this before nearby.
The rain settled into a soft drizzle. In it, hiker could hear the Lord responding, "Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you your heart's desire. Let the Lord lead you and trust him to help. And he will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday. Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for him... If you do what the Lord wants, He will hold your hand, and if you stumble, you still won't fall." (Psalm 37:4-7, 13-14)
The Psalms were dear to hiker's heart. In this valley these words came alive! Delight yourself in the Lord! The declaration could have just stopped there, but it continues with a promise. How odd, hiker thought. He needed to reason to delight himself in his Lord any more than he needed a reason to delight himself in his son. But the psalmist continued with the added consequence of delighting in God, the giving of our heart's desires. God is indeed awesome!
Hiker's meditation in God's word had hiker forget he was cold, wet, and weak. He suddenly realized his challenging and life threatening circumstances didn't determine how he felt in his spirit. God's Spirit in him spoke over the diminishing drizzle: "Don't worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God. Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with the peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel." (Philippians 4:6-7)
Hiker felt warmed by a curious, pervasive, peace and contentment through his soul. The rain of the past twenty hours was slowing down, though the midday hours were as dark as the twilight. As he rested more deeply and faithfully (full of faith) in the Lord, hiker realized his patience, self control and perseverance had grown tremendously. "Thank you for answering my prayers, my Lord and my God!" he shouted into the misty forest.
Hiker was not able to sleep at all, still wrapping his arm around his tree, but he could feel surges of energy pulsate in his body. The shrill of an eagle circling above the cliff just below him in the soft drizzle made him smile with remembrance and gratitude of God's promise and presence. Hiker was new renewed with strength and peace. He felt no fear and could have easily pulled himself up from the muddy earth. But his self control and patience called upon him to wait on the Lord a little longer. Hiker was content to be still in God's awesome presence.
The drizzling rain stopped as the sun peeked through fast moving clouds. Hiker could see further into the valley and knew it was time to continue walking through. Carefully removing the holy book from the protective cover, hiker prayed for guidance. "Lord, you are my Shepherd. I shall lack nothing. I desire to lie down in your green pastures, to be led to still waters, for you to restore my soul and lead me in the paths of righteousness for your name's sake."
He flipped through the pages of the Psalms and stopped, reading, "Live under the protection of God Most High and stay in the shadow of God All Powerful. Then you will say to the Lord, 'You are my fortress, my place of safety; you are my God and I trust you...' God will command his angels to protect you wherever you go. They will carry you in their arms, and you won't hurt your feet on the stones. You will overpower the strongest lions and most deadly snakes. The Lord says, 'If you love me and truly know who I am, I will rescue you and keep you safe. When you are in trouble, call out to me. I will answer and be there to protect and honor you. You will live a long life and see my saving power.'" (Psalm 91:1-2, 11-16)
Hiker shouted, "Thank you!" in joy. He pulled himself to his feet and smiled at the realization that he lost everything except the clothes he was wearing and the words of God in his hand and heart. He was now completely dependent on God, body, mind and spirit. And hiker knew this is exactly what God wants, total dependency, trust and surrender. That's the relationship between the sheep and the Shepherd.
Although the valley slope was still treacherously slick, hiker's footsteps were now guided and secure. He approached the edge of the cliff that swallowed his backpack and had been waiting for him all night and day. He heard God's Spirit within him calling. Holding the Bible in both hands, it fell open to the book of Ephesians and hiker read God's message: "Let the mighty strength of the Lord make you strong. Put on all the armor that God gives, so you can defend yourself against the devil's tricks. We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and power in the spiritual world. So put on all the armor that God gives.... Let your faith be like a shield, and you will be able to stop all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Let God's saving power be like a helmet, and for a sword use God's message that comes from the Spirit. Never stop praying, especially for others. Always pray by the power of the Spirit." (Ephesians 6:10-13, 16-18).
So hiker stood at the edge of the cliff, looking up at the constantly moving array of clouds and streaming sunlight, praying for many others, for faith, for the full armor of God. Then hiker looked back down over the edge of the cliff and delighted again in the Lord. His eyes and heart feasted on the wondrous view of a great expanse of rich green fields and forests, crisscrossed by numerous streams and lakes. Fearless and full of the strength of the Holy Spirit, hiker gleefully worked his way around the cliff, down into this beckoning paradise. After drinking deeply from the living waters, hiker rolled over on his back for a much needed sleep in the Lord's care.
"Suddenly, an angel woke him up and said, 'Get up and eat.'" (1 Kings 18:5) Hiker opened his eyes to see old man smiling at him. "I must be dreaming," he thought. He smiled back at old man. "My journey was dangerous and challenging," hiker explained. Old man replied, "You prayed for that and God provided." "I don't understand, sir." Old man continued, "When you pray for patience, perseverance, self control, faith, for more of God in your life, how else is our Lord to answer your prayers without giving you the circumstances that demand the exercise of patience, perseverance, self control, faith and the utter reliance on and surrender to God?" Of course, hiker understood there was no other way.
Hiker needed to tell old man a true story. "Two brothers were exploring the forest river not far from here. One of them was like the prodigal, wayward son, spending his inheritance on earthly treasures of no eternal value. The other was redeemed by the Christ and kept his treasures in the kingdom of God. He was patient, living, kind, self controlled, faithful and full of the Holy Spirit.
"One night, as they camped on a small island in the river nearby here, torrential rains came and the swift waters rose quickly, tearing their canoe away along with anything unsecured. Near the island's center was a small rock projecting about six feet high, with enough space at the top for one person to sit. The older brother was the one devoted to Christ, and he insisted the other take the top of the rock and escape the rising river. The younger brother protested, exclaiming they should either live together or die together.
"The older brother explained, 'The Lord is my Shepherd. I have no wants... I will fear no evil for He is with me... Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will live in the house of the Lord forever. You stay on the safety of this rock' he was now yelling above the roar of the rushing, crushing water. 'Brother, I know I will join my Lord in the heavens once I leave this earth. I am safe in this river. You, brother, need to keep living until you cry out to Christ in surrender and love, and ask Him to live in you and you in Him, forever! Then you and me will live together forever in His kingdom.'
"That brother listened tearfully from the top of the rock, then watched his older brother slip away in the force of the fast moving water. The brother on the rock did devote his self and his life to Christ. That's why I love Psalm 23. That's why I came here, to where this story happened.'"
Old man was touched by the story, but not surprised. He rested on his knees, resting his eyes on hiker, and said, "I know this story well. That man is so grateful for his brother's love and sacrifice that led him to embrace the Lord Christ as his God and his Redeemer."
"That's so true. How can you know this?" hiker asked.
"You are the brother who was left on the rock, aren't you?"
"Yes," hiker stammered.
"And I'm the brother who left you there."
They both embraced in jubilant silence. Hiker prayed his thanks to God: "You, Lord, treat me to a feast, in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, honoring me. You fill my cup until it overflows. Your kindness and love will always be with me each day of my life, and I will live forever in your house, Lord." (Psalm 23)
This two-part special edition weekly reflection has been published in its entirety at www.prayergear.com/prayerstory.html
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
Weekly Reflections © November 28, 2000
Responses are welcome at: Reflections@prayergear.com
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