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AfterWords | Tremble and Trust (March 3, 2024)

AfterWords is a series of community-contributed reflections intended to further the conversations that begin during Parish sermons.

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A 3-Minute Read
by Kristin Hill

There’s that part in driver’s ed, after all the basics, when they try to prepare you for hypotheticals you might encounter as a new driver. They give instructions for driving in different road conditions and various terrains and try to talk you through different scenarios. And if you’ve ever taught a kid to drive, you know one of the hardest lessons to teach is what to do if your car hits a slick patch of water and you begin to hydroplane.

The tricky part is getting a new driver to believe, and then somehow remember when the moment inevitably comes, that if you hydroplane, you must avoid your natural urge to panic and brake. If you brake, you can cause your vehicle to spin completely out of control. The advice is to remain calm. Take your foot off the accelerator. Slow down. Steer into the skid. If you have to, you can lightly pump the brake but literally lean into the direction your car is sliding. Your body will want to slam on the brakes, but that won’t get you out of it, at all.

You’ve got to deny your instincts here and surrender to the process.

The advice sounds counter-intuitive. You almost have to experience it for yourself, to understand how it would work.

And that’s maybe where we find ourselves today. In the Mark 8 passage we’ve been studying, the words of Jesus are a daunting invitation… “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

In seasons of pain, confusion, or even suffering, it can be easy to assume something is wrong or things have gottenterribly off course. Instead of leaning in and listening closely to the heart of the Father, it can be easy to think, “Surely this isn’t God’s plan.”

Suffering, pain, and grief give way to our soul’s deep desire for a different outcome. We may not actually rebuke God with the words from our mouths as Peter did, but we can certainly take on his heart when the shadows grow dark.

It is easy to associate suffering or pain with something that is wrong and needs to be fixed.

But what if the very instinct that rises up in us in those moments, can be the very thing that prevents what our souls are actually longing for?

When every instinct screams to slam on the brakes! Fix it! Course-correct! Take control! What if we deny the urge to brake, and we lean into it, instead? What if we let go? What if we allow ourselves to surrender the control and just submit to the process, trusting that what we’ve heard is true? What if laying down the desires and instincts of self and taking up the cross of Christ, looks like that kind of surrender?

In his book When God’s Ways Make No Sense, Larry Crabb says that when Christians experience a season when God’s thoughts and ways make no sense to us, we are confronted with three options. We can resist and run, we can distort and deny, or we can tremble and trust.

He says, “… Tremble before the incomprehensible God and trust that He is good… Gaze on the cross. Remember Christ’s death. Nowhere is the love of the incomprehensible God more fully and clearly displayed.”

The heart of Jesus’ message here is clear… in the Kingdom of God, hard doesn’t necessarily equal wrong. Following Jesus might look like a journey filled with pain, suffering, confusion, sorrow, or even death. It seems like taking up a cross usually does. But what we perceive to be punishment or pruning, might actually be provision and protection. The upside-down ways of the Kingdom and the sovereignty of God often work in ways we cannot see or understand.

The days of Lent lead to the Crucifixion… but then they also lead to the Resurrection. The road to death is also the road to life.

The temptation comes when we stop listening to the Father’s voice and listen instead to the tempting voices offering control, comfort, ease, relief, answers, security, or even happiness over the deep, refining work of choosing the Father’s will above our own.

The Message version of the words of Jesus in Mark 8:34 put it like this—

“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how.”

The enemy of this world will always be there enticing us with the possibility of comfort and control, but the words of Jesus draw us back to the Father’s heart. To take up the cross of Christ may bring the death of lesser loves, but that same cross also brings new life.

Jesus is present in our sufferings, refining us in our surrender, and sustaining us with His nearness. In His presence, there is fullness of joy.

There is always an opportunity to tremble, and yet also, to trust.

The voice of Jesus is always calling us back to Himself, offering the invitation to take up our cross and follow Him in surrender, leaning in as He brings His presence and His rest, walking with us, right down the narrow road that leads to life.

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