Recently a friend was planning a canoe adventure. She had borrowed a GoPro action camera but mentioned she had run out of room on the memory card. I was pretty sure I had one sitting around at home, so I messaged her and told her. A few days later she stopped by to pick it up. I handed her the memory card with its adapter. She smiled, thanked me, and handed me something. I quickly glanced at it. She said, “This is for you.” In my hand was a small piece of weathered wood. And handwritten on it was a single word.
In that moment, that day, that week, this whole year… I don’t know if any other word would have touched me and resonated so deeply. And I quickly turned so she wouldn’t see the tears brimming in my eyes. I was at work, and I definitely had things I needed to be doing. Not at that exact moment, but it was a welcome diversion and an excuse to cut things short.
Smooth wood. Once jagged and rough, but worn smooth with time and the elements. The splintered edges show the grain of the wood, and a rougher texture, but no longer sharp. Already my mind was flipping back a few days, and to the book I’m currently reading (and will be sharing more about in a later post). How we cannot build really build a relationship with our Heavenly Father without first entering rest. It’s not in stuff we do or don’t do, it’s not in earning favor or avoiding the “bad things” which might negate any favor we thought we may have earned. That those moments of quiet are when God can come through and speak.
Now let me try to clarify something. As long as I’ve been a Christian I’ve heard people say “They heard God say….” or “God spoke to them…” and while almost always it was in reference to something within, a spiritual sense as opposed to an audible voice, the whole thing has in a vague way struck me as odd, and slightly uncomfortable in a way I don’t think I can pinpoint. I have had times where I’ve been fairly certain God was speaking to me, within me – a spiritual sense or nudge rather than specific words or phrases. I have had a very few of those where the message or sense was quite clear, but for the most part? A vague sense at best, along with a guess or intuition. I often tell people that for me, ‘hearing God’ is more like listening to a radio station as you drive out of range of that station. You might here the odd word clearly, or a snippet of music clearly – but for the most part you know there’s something there within the static, but not nearly enough to figure out what song is playing or what the person may be talking about.
That is until early last week. I was reading through said book, and the author recommended making a habit of going through a fairly specific prayer as a daily routine. Not because the prayer itself is anything amazing just because it was penned by the author – but as part of the rhythm of entering rest, and leaving space for meditation instead of a block of time wedged into your day (where you’re already thinking about what you need to do right after your “devotions”. And if I’m being honest, that sort of structure, especially reading someone else’s prayer and attempting to ‘pray’ while doing so – it felt very awkward, very odd, very stiff and not very “from the heart”. Again, not because of the way the prayer was written, but more because reading someone else’s words as my prayer just feels odd. Again, I don’t think I could explain it. And as part of this routine or ritual, he encourages you to specifically ask God for a scripture to read.
But that particular evening after reading a few chapters, I decided to give it a go. So I went to the back of the book, read the prayer through. Awkwardly, but as reverently and prayerfully as I could manage while still feeling that it felt very weird. And not really expecting much response, I prayerfully asked God if there was a scripture he wanted me to read.
Ezekiel 2 was about the clearest thing I’ve had my spirit feel in a very long time. I don’t think I’ve read Ezekiel, and if I have, it was many many moons ago in Bible School. Which prompted my reaction of
“Pardon?” not disrespectful. Just rather confused at that particular passage and that it had come through so clearly.
Do I need to spell it? I know you heard me. Ezekiel 2. (A definite smile in the voice, but with a very slight undertone of “this isn’t the time for games”. Not impatience, or annoyance, but somewhat stern.
1. And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” 2. And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.Ezekiel 2:1,6 ESV
At that moment, my poor mind was still scrambled and in shock that I heard God speak to me so clearly. But it grasped a few things – the whole chapter is only 10 verses, and it all kinda clicked. But verse 1 and 6 are the ones that lept of the screen for me.
– v.1 is 2 things. A call to action, and a promise. Stand…and I will… I must confess that part only clicked about halfway through my second time reading the chapter. So I stood, and thanked God for speaking, for His promise, and for meeting me despite all my doubts and misgivings. And continued to pray for several minutes. An action to take, but then a promise from God. Stand. And I will…..
– v6. This is where it got heavy. And it all hit within a nano second. So I’ll try to break it down as best as I can. First, “Be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words…” All my life I’ve battled fear, fear of what other people think of me, or might be thinking of me, or what they’ve said, or might be saying, or what they might say if I confront them…. And this verse? It. Speaks. Directly. To. That. Fear. I wish I could say that it completely removed that fear, but it hasn’t. And I don’t think this is going to be an overnight change. I’ll come back to the phrase about briers, thorns and scorpions in a bit. But the last part of v6 and indeed the whole chapter is about the prophet Ezekiel being called to speak against a rebellious house, Israel.
Now for the really weird part. if you can call it that. When I was quite young, in the church I grew up in, I have a vague memory of someone praying over me that I would become a prophet. I really didn’t want that, and to be honest I had pretty much forgotten about it. And when I say young, I mean like 10 years old or younger. And if I’m honest, it’s so vague and distant, I can’t be sure it’s actually a memory of something that happened or just some weird thing my brain concocted at some point…. But that fits this too. Along with the subtle, nagging feeling like I’m missing out on something… like I missed a connection, or that connection is coming yet and I can’t quite “feel right” until it does. If that makes any sense….
And as for the briers, thorns, and scorpions? Honestly? I’m not sure. But I do have a few reflections on that part.
– They’re all things found in the wilderness. They’re not usually found in someone’s nicely manicured flower garden. (My first thought was about John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey. And I’m not sure if there’s an insight there I’m supposed to connect, or if it’s just Bible trivia I knew).
– They’re not something you would find comfortable. They all poke and scratch and make you bleed. Not a place to find comfort, safety and curl up for a nap.
– Maybe there’s a connection to my social status. I’m blue collar. A little rough around the edges, and probably not what you would find next to the definition of “cultured” and “refined taste”.
– Perhaps there’s a tie-in with my mental health. It’s no secret that anxiety and depression have made a significant impact on my life, and that sometimes makes people uncomfortable.
And I come back to that word. Prophets aren’t born. They’re not due to DNA, or geneology, or some social standing. They’re not picked because they logged enough reward points, memorized enough verses, or have the most sound doctrine. No, they’re chosen.
One last thing. On the back of that piece of wood were also a few simple phrases.
Be kind to your mind
You are never alone
One day at a time, one step at a time, one breath at a time
And while I know the individual who blessed me with such a simple, yet profound gift is also a Christian, there’s no earthly way she had any clue about my experience earlier in the week. So it was only by chance – if it could even be called such – that she chose that particular word.