The flaming torch I held lit up the night as the rain, driven by the wind, lashed at our faces. We were climbing a hill to stand at the foot of 3 crosses perched on the edge of a cliff. It was the beginning of a men’s ministry weekend at Lee Abbey on the North Devon coast.
Our speaker began to talk. Slowly the worries and anxieties leading up to the weekend faded as God came into focus. The raw power of nature amplified the retelling of Jesus’s crucifixion.
We were invited to pick up a nail from the foot of the cross and to think about what Jesus’s torturous death meant for us. The nails were a physical a reminder of the cost Jesus paid and a challenge to us. He paid a horrific cost in order to make right our relationship with God. Honouring His sacrifice had to mean more that plodding through life with a weekly Karaoke session at church. Were we prepared to pay a cost and be the men Christ wanted us to be?
I returned to the pile of nails to pick up 3 more, 1 each for my wife, son and daughter. I knew that the cost God was asking me to pay was also a cost my family would have to pay as well.
I looked for 3 nails like mine yet though those on the ground were identical to each other none were like mine. It was unique amongst the nails that lay at the foot of the cross. It stood slightly apart from the rest. I held my family of nails tightly in my hands; they were to accompany me throughout the weekend.
Talks were interspersed with activities, each brought a challenge and a lesson from God. Discerning just what He was trying to tell us would become almost overwhelming, and certainly not possible over the course of a single weekend.
Sitting on the beach at sunset the next day we were taken back to after the resurrection. As the disciples fished Peter saw Jesus on the shore and jumped into the water to get to Him. Jesus asked if he loved Him, not once but three times. Jesus was drawing out the pain that Peter felt from denying Jesus 3 times as He was led to the cross.
As we watched the sun set and listened to the waves crash against the rocks, we were challenged to respond to the question Jesus had repeatedly asked Peter. I took myself off to the far side of the bay, away from everyone else. I became Peter.
“Do you love me?”, Jesus asked.
“…I don’t know”, I replied. I was shocked by what I had just said. It wasn’t was I was supposed to have said.
“Do you love me?”, Jesus asked again.
“…yes, but I am afraid to love you”, I replied.
“Do you love me?”, Jesus asked once more.
“Yes, I love you”, I said with a greater sense of confidence.
“Then trust me”.
I needed some help. I sought out a trusted friend, a friend who had been part of so many milestone events in my journey of faith. As we turned away from the group and faced the waves the tears began to fall from my eyes.
The potential cost my son might have to pay, the cost that I had paid as a child (see my previous post), had highlighted a bigger issue that God knew needed dealing with: trust.
If you love someone you should be able to trust them. I thought I loved Jesus but I was struggling to trust Him. If I couldn’t trust Him I was going to struggle to be able to let Him transform and prepare me for the path ahead.
“…we became aware that God was expecting something from us… and we would like to pay close attention to the vocation that God places in the heart of every Christian… so running away from God’s call is out of the question”, Brother Roger, Taize Community.
We gathered at the crosses once more for communion. As I sought out a space to reflect on Brother Roger’s words I saw a tree which reminded me of Jonah. He had initially run away from God’s call but repented and did as he had been asked, yet afterwards felt anger at the Lord’s compassion on Nineveh.
I wasn’t angry with God but the tree did provide a welcomed shelter from the noise of the buffeting wind that rocked the crosses in front of me.
In the stillness I felt Jesus ask me, “So, do you trust me?”.
My replay came, “Yes, I trust you… but I am afraid”.
I stayed underneath that tree for a while, staring at the crosses ahead of me. When I left I did so knowing that Jesus meets us where we are. He feels what I feel, he understands my fears. He will minister to me if I let Him and He will provide not just what I need but what my son, my daughter and my wife needs.
There was much more that happened during the weekend away. There was much more that God had to tell me about ministry and fellowship, about challenging preconceptions and the wisdom of my wife but that is not for this post.
I decided against going to the final activity of the weekend. God had proved His point, I knew that I needed to improve my ability to trust Him. Work done, I was given a parting gift: it was time to revel in His the beauty and power of the landscape He had placed in front of me.