I’ve just come back from Kalbarri, a popular holiday spot about 500km north of Perth.
When there I enjoy walking along the edge of its famous steep cut river gorges. Unaccompanied in the still of morning I couldn’t but marvel at how the towering cliffs were mirrored in the waters below. It looked as if the steep striated crags were immersed in a pool of mercury giving an amazing sense of depth.
It was a “real world” experience far surpassing the superficial chatter of drone flying tourists I’d encountered but a few minutes before. Technologically driven dispositions of hurriedness can never capture the witness of God in nature or scripture to the profound wisdom which is in Christ (Romans chapter 11 verses 33 to 36). But it’s what happened shortly after that has taught me an unforgettable lesson
The New Testament contains a lot of baptismal language and it always refers to being plunged into the life of Jesus (Romans chapter 6 verses 1 to 4). Dying and rising with Christ is no metaphor but the very restructuring of reality through which God births a coming new creation (2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 17).
Completely unexpectedly I was about to have my own immersion experience in the wilderness. Moving off the beaten track beyond the sight and sound of I fell from a ledge into the waters of the Murchison River and was soaked from head to foot. My immediate response was a real thankfulness that I hadn’t taken the plunge at a spot where the rocks beneath the shallow waters would have cracked my skull.
If this immersion wasn’t deep enough for me things were about to become much more intense. It’s tough trying to move with saturated clothing but it’s much tougher if you’re impelled to move upwards. Confronted by sheer cliff faces along the river I had no choice but a climb to the summit.
Desperation brings Depth
These aren’t temperate wooded slopes but wilderness gorges with little vegetation, littered with loose stones and peppered with overhangs. Falling from any point of the ascent could be fatal. Repeatedly I tried to sensibly steer a way out of my predicament but there seemed no end of slippery slopes and impassable rock faces; death by misadventure was presenting itself as a distinct possibility.
Knowing these gorges have a recent history of claiming the lives of climbers my fears became deeper and deeper; but so did my prayers! Finally, helped in part through following feral goat tracks, I managed to clamber exhausted to the top. Bedraggled, somewhat bloodied, covered in spider web but richly grateful to a prayer answering God. “If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence.
When I thought, “My foot slips,” your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up.” (Psalm 94 verses 17 to 18). This wasn’t just a needless adventure in the life of someone old enough to know better, it was an in-depth spiritual lesson.
God wants You Dead
The “Father of glory” (Romans chapter 6 verse 4) didn’t desire to have me die physically, but he was working to kill in me something much more deeply ingrained than flesh and bone. Crucifixion with Christ (Galatians chapter 2 verse 20) means a painful death to self-sufficiency. All of us have places in our lives where we deeply treasure our independence.
A truth best exposed when we are faced with circumstances which force us to rely on God who alone can deliver us. The sure sign of the seriousness of such situations is the stark reality of fear. As the disciples fear for their lives in the midst of a storm prepared them to witness the greater power of Jesus to deliver them (Mark chapter 4 verses 35 to 41), so grace will work through our fears again and again to teach us of God’s faithfulness.
Without such fears spiritual depth is impossible. But affluence and absence of persecution make such times of desperate need increasingly rare.
Yet if the Lord could surprisingly raise his Son from death he has surprising ways to break our stubborn self-reliance and to drive us to depend on him at depths previously unimaginable. As Jesus needed the terrors of Gethsemane and Calvary to “perfect” his Sonship (Hebrews chapter 5 verse 8) we all need to be personal fear-inducing encounters. I thank God for the unexpected mercy of such an unforgettable encounter in the West Australian wilderness.
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 7 grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.
John Yates’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/john-yates.html