When I was attending Ozark Christian College I took several extra music classes because they interested me and I hoped they would help my career. One of my assignments was to do some arranging of a previously published song. The task was to do a different arrangement without altering the melody so I chose an old hymn that was new to me—Come Thou Fount. As I labored, guitar in hand, over the notes and the score, I arranged the song for a duet between me and my girlfriend, Shannon. She actually changed what I wrote and made it better. Over many years now she (now wife) and I have sung that song together in public and, in some of our darkest times, in private. There is so much of that song I enjoy but there is a phrase at the end that has rung true for me since I heard it for the first time, “Let Thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wand’ring heart to Thee.” As a farm boy, the idea of fetters made good sense to me and I instantly saw the wisdom of that phrase.
A hobble or a fetter for a horse (or milk cow) is something you put on their legs that allows them to walk slowly, but not to run or kick. Prisons use fetters on people for the same purpose. When I heard that song for the first time, I sang those lyrics as a prayer because of my severe temptations to not just fall into sin but to run after it! I need to see that God’s goodness is what I really want in life. It is His kindness that leads to repentance, after all. Since then, I have broadened that prayer to include my own struggle with wanting new jobs, different scenery or less responsibility. Sometimes it was a prayer that was needed to curb my desire for a new adventure! Lately, it even has meant asking God to put fetters on my heart that I might not get out of step with Him in my present location. In fact, asking God to help me by fettering me with His goodness has become a spiritual discipline I use. The truth is I really need it.
I need this because no matter how hard I try, something (I know who) is always trying to creep into my heart and mind to say that my desires, wants, dreams and perceived needs are, well… important! And everyone I know has this same issue but it seems to be manifested in different ways. Some people want health at all costs. Others want to be near family no matter what. Some want to know what’s coming around the corner. Regardless of the ways that we display it, in the end what happens is that this life, this world, these feelings and these hopes begin to seem like what is most real. God, despite his immanence, can easily be pushed into the shadows by what we want or think we deserve. What happens is that I begin to equate the status of my existence with the quality or quantity of God’s love for me. Whether I like it or not, my culturally-shaped understanding of love (CS Lewis is listening) has taught me that if someone loves me, they want me to be happy. When life is hard there is a sly voice that whines out a sense of doubt regarding God’s love. As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned more about the way God loves us through those seasons of hurt.
For me, the moments that are most immediately jarring in this respect is when our family has had to move from one location/ministry to another. That process usually reveals a great deal of what I might have been putting my hope in. Moving is always a mixture of hope and loss. Losing networks, rhythms, homes (that carry memories and experience) and friends can sometimes trump the hope of God’s call on our lives. Part of this for me is that as I get older, I know that when God leads people in mission, it usually hurts for a while. David, Nehemiah, Abraham, Jesus, Paul, Thomas, the Church Fathers, Wycliff, Zinzendorf, J. H. Taylor, Lillias Trotter etc…all had to live a life where they learned to love God while on some kind of pilgrimage. And it hurts, and its great—at the same time.
When we first moved to the middle of Illinois, we did not really know anyone. As soon as we arrived Brian, Chantell, Ryder, Rylee and Regan Mills adopted us into their lives. They showed us around town, invited us to church (where we still attend) and helped us ease the reverse culture shock of moving from Mexico City (35 million) to Lincoln, IL (15,000). Like us, they had no local family and, as time went on, we became family for each other. Brian and I worked together. We camped together, we served our community together and did short-term relief work together. Shannon became a favorite of Regan and we spent a lot of time at the hospital together. When sweet Regs went to be with Jesus, we were blessed to be together. I will never forget the words of the Psalms that knit our lives and hearts together that day. They are friends who became like family.
God has called Brian to be the Senior Pastor of Hope Church in Springfield IL (good for them, tough for us) and so the Mills are moving. We love that God is giving them new opportunities to serve and a new place to live, decorate and create memories. We will (for sure) see them as often as we are able. But, we know it won’t be exactly the same. When they moved out of their house in Lincoln, we made sure to come ready to tote, lift, laugh and eat. As we were moving, I happened to grab a piece of artwork that was made for Chantell by one of the girls she has discipled. I put it in my suburban without thinking. As I came back with another armful of stuff, I suddenly noticed what a poignant and hopeful picture this was for me.
I was reminded that all along my journey in life God has used that same phrase to call me to Himself. History and experience shows that when His presence is with His people, every house or prison cell can be a palace; every road trip can be home and each transition is a chance to re-establish our anchor in the presence and love of God. For me, this photo op was a moment that helped me joyously ask again for fetters.
Our family has moved many times. I suspect we’ll probably have to move some more. There is no permanent rest here. What this picture reminds me to do is to practice making the goodness of God my anchor and home. Please don’t misunderstand or imagine I don’t value my community or neighborhood. The more I love God’s will for my life, the more I see my surroundings with love and hope. This photo was a holy moment for me. The Mills family is a holy community for us. All of it is permeated by one: Jesus.
My prayer for you today is that you would look to Jesus and find your joy there, regardless of your station on the journey. May God give peace and love to you.