As I was preparing to board the plane heading to my long-term placement in South Africa, my dear friend had some precious advice.
“Remember, if you really want the best authentic experience live in the Zulu culture with the people and become part of their world as much as possible. Don’t remain on the outside looking in,” he said.
As director of the organization for many years I knew whatever he said was pure gold. This organization placed people all over the world and it was now going to support me in my sojourn to Africa. I never forgot his words and I did try to live them out from the moment I arrived.
This word “in” struck a chord. I quickly learned that living in is not at all the same as living among. Even though you may live in close proximity, living in is quite different. It means you gradually become a part, a piece of the fabric of the community. You are a member. It takes time and intention. The community sees you celebrate all the joys of each member and they see your broken heart as you share all the tragedies that befall them too. You are informed about the movements and activities within, the growth or lack thereof. You are privy to changes and boldly take part in those actions and decisions. You are heard. You are included. You are valued. You are not an onlooker.
There are other benefits too when you live within a group. Safety and security is found within as is your identity. Shelter is available, a place of comfort and solace when life is out of control. Your heart and mind finds rest above the din of the world. An unspeakable peace floods your being as you rise to that level. You understand that you are set apart from the rest of the world and when troubles come, as they always do, you run into that shelter more and more. This is home. This is where you feel more untouchable than anywhere else.
“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” Psalm 91:1
Many of us dabble on the fringe of that untouchable place. We live inside and outside of it with great frequency. It’s like repeatedly stepping back and forth over a line. However as we mature we understand that this position, this home, this secret place of the Most High is the only place of true peace, safety and security. It is a place which we intentionally chose to inhabit. To lodge, to dwell, to abide in this secret place means every moment is lived there. No more back and forth.
But why then is it secret? Could it be that it seems to be a hidden dwelling because only a few really find? Could it be secret because the plane on which you find it, this secret place, requires tremendous effort to be reached? Therefore it is seemingly hidden because only a few truly seek it so only a few ever truly find it.
Think of Paul. On his last journey, probably in his 60’s by then, he pressed onward, just as Jesus did, to his inevitable death. Unflinching and undeterred, despite the pleadings of his friends not to go, he appears untouchable, unflappable in the face of his unknown fate. He had loads of enemies, those who wanted him dead and gone yet cheerfully he moved forward!
“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” Philippians 1:21
What a statement! And he is in prison when he writes this! I am convinced that Paul found this Secret Place. Paul was untouchable. He could not be harmed by anything that could possibly happen to him here on earth, life or death. He was living under the shadow of the Almighty in a fortress like no other absolutely unreachable!
This I find astounding! Paul’s life was not his own. He had given it to Christ long ago. Now in this secret untouchable place he is ready to accept his fate through faith and not just accept, but he seems to be writing this epistle joyfully. I believe Paul found this secret place just as Job had in 13:15 “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” I see no greater faith than this!
So do I trust the Potter no matter what? Jeremiah 18
Paul and Job both were human as Jesus was fully human. I’m sure they prayed for family and friends, for blessings and healings as we all do. Still unspeakable hardship plagued them until great tragedy finally befell them, yet this diamond-strength faith they had made them untouchable. They rose above life on this plane. They trusted the Potter explicitly….even when His answer was no, rescue is not coming. I wonder if in that state if they even prayed for rescue any longer. Because within such ultimate faith there sheltered under his wings, they knew the fulfilled promises are not in the answers we desire or the rescue we desperately seek will come, but rather in knowing he is always right beside us, in knowing we will finally see him face-to-face. What if therein lies the total fulfilment of all his promises? That is the goal!