2 Kings 18:21 “…You are trusting in the staff of this broken reed, Egypt, on which if a man leans, it will go into his hand and pierce it.”
Rabshakeh the Assyrian told King Hezekiah that trusting in the king of Egypt was like leaning on a “bruised reed” that would crumble and wound his hand. Life has many “bruised reeds” that may look inviting to lean on, but in reality, they are neither stable nor reliable.
The Apostle Paul warns Timothy not to lean on “science [knowledge] falsely so called.” (1 Timothy 6:21) Truth is a very stable foundation but false knowledge is a “bruised reed.” In verses 9 and 10 Paul warns of the fallacy of riches and the “love of money,” these too are “bruised reeds.” He continues in verse 17 with a warning against the “bruised reeds” of pride, arrogance and “trusting in uncertain riches.”
Carnal pleasure, another “bruised reed,” is very temporary and may come with unexpected, unwanted, and unpleasant baggage, such as disappointment, guilt, shame, and sometimes the chains of addiction.
In Matthew 24, Jesus shares with His disciples an outline of the chaos and destruction at the end of this present world. Then in verse 35 He reminds us that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
God, His truth, and His righteousness are a sure foundation, offering unfailing and eternal, stability in a world of “bruised reeds.”
“Roll away the stone.” It was a simple command, but Lazarus's friends gave the usual protests: “He’s already dead.” “He’s been in there too long.” “He’s pretty smelly at this point.” But Jesus would not move forward with the miracle until the stone was rolled away.
On the surface, it seems like an odd request. If you know the story of Lazarus, as soon as the stone was rolled away, Jesus said, “Lazarus, come forth,” and a man who had been dead for three days came walking out of the tomb. If Jesus could bring Lazarus back to life, why did He need Lazarus’ friends to roll the stone away? Couldn’t He have moved the stone with His little finger? Or with just a look or a word? But Lazarus’ friends were the ones who sealed the grave, and so they had to be the ones to roll the stone away.
In our own lives, there are hurts and fears that we hide away. We beg Jesus to see us, to help us, and to heal what is broken. There is not a cry that He does not hear or a life He does not want to save, but He asks one thing of us: “Roll away the stone.” Could He do it Himself? Of course. He would have no trouble forcing His way into your heart and into your life. But that simply is not His way.
We often have a lot of excuses as to why we keep our pain hidden away: “My hope is already dead.” “It’s just been too long — I can’t imagine a different life.” “I’m too ashamed." But He sees and loves through every excuse. He can bring new life from even the most hopeless of situations, if only we will roll away the stone.
If nature hates a vacuum, then no story exists without a setting to provide context. Entire genres of literature are formed around settings and how people react to them. Stories set in small towns might have quirky characters. Stories set in jungles might be adventurous. Stories set in urban locations might be edgy.
Your story, then, has a setting – a backdrop against which everything plays out. As our Author writes, He calls us out of the setting where our story has unfolded, leading us into something new. In every great story, the protagonist leaves a familiar setting, perhaps a location, a relationship, or even a mindset.
The greatest stories of our lives are painted on the backdrop of the unknown.
It can be frightening to leave one setting for another – to answer the call of the wild, even when we are unhappy in our current setting – but it is only by doing so that we allow our story to unfold.
Stories that play out forever in the same setting are stories that linger at the threshold between the dynamic and the stagnant. That threshold becomes a place of quicksand where untold stories collect and are held captive.
If our stories are to unfold, we must have the confidence to walk into the setting that our Author has prepared for us, resting in the confidence that the pen never leaves His hand and He knows exactly what He is doing.
Ephesians 6:16 highlights one of the most important pieces of weaponry a Christian should carry:
”Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.”
When we think of the way the shield was used in battle, one of the most beautiful demonstrations was a Roman tactic. When fighting as a group, a phalanx of soldiers could position their shields so as to form an enclosure around themselves, called a testudo (tortoise).
This is what faith does – when our stories and lives are joined to those who have come before us, we are linked to a heritage that cannot be easily overcome. We are joined with people who currently are a part of the faith but also with every single person who has come before us. When one of us struggles or falls, the others come around that person in their defense.
Sometimes we face situations we’ve never faced before. It’s in that moment that the enemy comes in like a flood and we don’t know what to do.
But then a story comes to mind – we remember what Abraham or Moses did in that situation. In these moments, our faith is to be joined to the faith of others. When our one shield combines with others, we position our faith around the body of believers and we can help one another. When someone among us is weak, we can shield them momentarily until they are strong enough to stand again.
Faith is our belief but it is also our identity.
Of all of the things it could be to us, how beautiful it is that faith is our shield.
“Faith begins where Reason sinks exhausted.” (Albert Pike)
To the untrained eye, it had to be the most unorthodox move in the armed history. The fact that a kid with no combat training had squared off against a giant even the king’s most would not challenge was one thing. But to do it without a shield? The battalion must have whispered to one another as he walked by. Hadn’t the king provided him with armor? But David won one of the most decisive victories in military history, all without the aid of a shield – to the untrained eye, at least.
So why did David reject the armor of his king? Perhaps, being as covenant-minded as he was, he recalled God’s words to Abraham as Saul’s men adjusted the ill-fitting armor:
“I am your shield, and your exceeding great reward.” (Genesis 15:1)
Perhaps he realized that with God as a shield, Saul’s armor was not so necessary after all.
Years later, David, now king, would find himself on the run from a son who had not only betrayed him but who had also amassed an army against him. Perhaps he thought back to that same moment with Goliath – the moment he had prepared for battle by laying aside his terrestrial shield, when he wrote in Psalm 3:3, “
Thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.”
As we move through life, we tend to collect pieces of armor to keep us safe from all manner of pain and injuries, physical and personal. Even so, even our greatest armor cannot always keep us safe. Still, as we face our greatest battles, we can cast our eyes to the hills and exchange our earthly shields for a divine one that will never fail not only to defend us but also to lift us in our hour of greatest need.
It must have been terrifying – possibly one of the most frightening moments of her life. She had been in a similar spot just before meeting the king. She had had no idea how he would feel about her and whether he would love her or shun her. But somehow this moment was worse. She was attempting to see His Majesty without having an invitation. Even though she was married to him, if his temper was fowl on that particular occasion it could cost her her life.
And so Esther made her way to the throne room, heart pounding with each tentative step. Would he send her to her death? Her eyes were fixed on the golden scepter in his hand. If he raised it, she would be granted an audience. If not, it could mean her death. She prayed silently to the God who had seen her people through every trial through the years. She needed His help now more than ever – the fate of the entire Jewish nation hinged on this moment. And then the king saw her. He immediately raised the scepter and welcomed her into his presence. It was a pivotal moment. It signaled the beginning of salvation for God’s people.
There is something intimidating about walking into the presence of royalty. Whether they are surrounded by armed guards or have a scepter that signals our life or death, monarchs are famously unapproachable.
And yet the King of Kings makes Himself available to us at any moment. We do not have to wait for a scepter to be raised or for a special audience to be granted. In fact, our King pursues us. He leaves His throne to reach for us in our lowest and darkest moments. We have the incredible privilege to be able to walk into His presence whenever we need Him. What an awesome God we serve!