In the past ten days, I have spoken at two women’s groups and used the story of Rahab, the pagan prostitute of the Old Testament, working in the flax on her rooftop as she waited for the Israelites to come to destroy the city of Jericho as an illustration of how to handle uncertainty. I stressed to both of these groups of women that the inspiration of Biblical stories is not primarily in the character or achievements of the human personalities occupying the foreground, but in the boundless grace, mercy, and forgiveness of the Heavenly Father who is working in the background. The blessing of biblical stories, I reminded them, is that they show us God’s faithfulness through people’s struggles and through the uncertainties of their lives.
In His word, God gives us many examples of His concern for us in EVERY situation we face as weak and needy human beings. Yet all of us STILL struggle. Too often, even as devout Christians we face our uncertain future with worry and anxiety. We are fearful, overwhelmed and sometimes angry. We feel frustrated and depressed. How can we have a correct understanding of who God is and what He is like and believe all the right things about God and still lack faith?
Exercising perseverance in the face of obstacles and disappointments is one of the hallmarks of a faithful person. Many of us who avoid selfishness, anger, and impurity fall prey to discouragement and despair. Yet, despair is, in a very real sense, denying that God is good, that what He chooses for us is good, and that He is able to fulfill all that He has promised.
Our postmodern culture sends messages to people about seizing control of our lives and learning to control others. We are told to achieve personal fulfillment through our own determined efforts. But when life falls apart as it inevitably will we need God’s strength; our own efforts are feeble indeed.
One of the challenges of our lives is to trust God when things seem hopeless or overwhelming, when it appears that there is no way out, when our dreams have died, when life seems empty and when everything is falling apart.
Yet, precisely at that point He is there. He will walk through it with us.
Ultimately, He will bring something good out of it all, if we are faithful and obedient. And, God is so great and so creative that no matter how tragic the events that we may encounter in life, He is able to take any tragedy and transform it into good.
Rahab’s life serves as a guideline for us when we face uncertainty. She illustrates the importance of putting one foot in front of the other when the pathway is uncertain and God’s leading unclear.
Rahab began the long, tedious process of developing fabric from flax even though she was convinced that her city was doomed! Logically, that didn’t make sense. But, perhaps, it was her way of coping with the uncertainty and sense of impending doom “just doing the next thing.” Putting one foot in front of the other is sometimes the only thing we are capable of doing in the face of an overwhelming crisis and sometimes that is exactly the right thing to do. Whatever prompted her to begin the flax project, Rahab teaches us that when we face uncertainty, we must be diligent and pursue excellence while we wait with confidence for God to work things out according to His plan for our lives.
At some point later in her life, perhaps in the quiet of the midnight hour as little Boaz lay nursing at her breast, Rahab may have been able to look back and marvel at the intricate beauty of God’s plan. But you can be sure that in the midst of it all she was racked by the same uncertainties that you and I face too often in our own crises.
As a person experienced in working with flax, Rahab knew that in order to get at the strong inner fibers that can be used to produce beautiful linen cloth, the outer layer of the stalk must be stripped away. She would have known how to carefully hammer away the rotted outer layer to expose what was of value underneath. Perhaps she marveled to see how the hardship of her life had been designed, not to destroy her, but to lay bare the strong fiber in her and to weave it into a grand and glorious design.
The traditional stain-glass window, pious picture of the contemplative saint at prayer tells only part of the story of what it means to be faithful. Faithfulness also means rolling up your sleeves, doing what needs to be done, and, by God’s grace, making it an act of sacrifice to Him.
Many a saint may look pious in retrospect, but in the heat of the moment, where action was imperative, most saints were merely gritty, ordinary human beings doing what needed doing all the while giving thanks to God that He entrusted them with the task.
Likewise, the vast majority of the time, you and I are not called for heroic martyrdom, either. Instead, we are called for the sweaty work of shouldering responsibility and doing the mundane tasks required to meet the needs of those who depend upon us. It’s the 2 a.m. feeding when you don’t see how you can pull yourself out of the bed. It’s the endless laundry, the meals, the committee meetings, or the two jobs. It’s coaching little league on top of working full-time. It’s teaching a Sunday School class on your only day off.
Further, it is a vision of these tasks as opportunities to please God!
It is true enough that Rahab had one heroic moment, but for the rest of her life, she was a wife and the mother of Boaz. BOTH were expressions of her faithfulness. Both stemmed from a correct understanding of who God is which is our starting point for understanding who we are and what we are to do and who we are to be.
Like those ugly geodes that look like ordinary rocks until they are broken open, sometimes it takes a blow to reveal what is on the inside. Inside the cavity of a geode are gorgeous crystals of various glittering colors that shine like jewels in the sunlight. A shattering blow can reveal what is inside a person much as a shattered stone can reveal crystals or dust at its core. When life brings a devastating or despairing situation as it inevitably does our inner character will be revealed as worthless dust or a strong, shining jewel.
The women at the two churches where I recently spoke were tremendously moved by the following poem written by my mother over 20 years ago. My mother and father are the ones who taught me the importance of trusting God. Mother is a beautiful, warm, gracious, generous, active and accomplished woman who looks far younger than her age. And, more importantly, as she prayed she would, at 80-years-of-age, mother reflects Christ’s image and is full of God’s graces.
THE OLD WOMAN IN MY FUTURE
Ruth Baird Shaw
Someday, somehow, somewhere in time
She’s waiting, I will see
An old woman, time is making
Time is making, out of me!
Will she be a sad complainer
A fretful tenant of the earth?
Or a kind, productive person
Filled with happiness and mirth?
Please be patient, God is making
Molding slowly, out of me
A shining portrait, He has promised.
Just you wait and see.
He is smoothing out the roughness
Polishing the dreary places
Filling life with joy and gladness
Pouring out His gifts and graces.
God remake me, in Your image.
I want to like her, when I see
That old woman, time is making.
Time is making, out of me.