The Bible is a wonderful work of literature, history, biography, and acts of God. Despite its profound content, it may, at times, be what the Bible doesn’t say that teaches us most. There are an abundance of unmentioned facts and details throughout the Bible. These can be discovered in the questions we are left asking and the areas where we are left wanting; who was that character, why was so little mentioned, how long did she have to wait before her life changed for the better? These are, for me, the gaps, waits, & and journeys.
Pondering the unspoken details of the Bible is a rich resource for teaching us the journey of faith. My reading of Genesis 12, and the example of faith expressed within the book, impacted my own journey from England to America. In this context, I did not come across the passage by chance, but I was travelling to work one day in 2001 when I asked God for a biblical example that would encourage me as Sue and I led our family into the unknown. All I heard Him say was Genesis, chapter 12. With hindsight, His answer was obvious: Genesis 12 is the story of a man leaving the land of His fathers and going on a journey to another country.
When I got to work that day in 2001, I immediately read Genesis chapter 12. The detail of that passage was so clear as I read of a place called Bethel, east of the mountains and even the mention of the giant trees. It was as if Northern California was in the Bible. For those who do not know, mountains to the North, West, and East surround Bethel Church. And on the coast—just 150 miles west of Redding—are the giant redwood trees.
However, the Bible doesn’t give us the details of Abraham’s journey, although I am sure there were cold, lonely, and frightening moments. Despite the lack of details, Abraham’s story is a reference point for all of us who are called to, and follow, a life of faith. Faith and the unknown are essential companions; otherwise we can no longer call it faith. Abraham shows us that it is the journey of faith—not arriving at a destination—that attracts heaven’s attention. Hebrews 11:8 reads, “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.”
I look forward someday, although not too soon, to learning the histories of the obscure Biblical characters, the ones whose journeys aren’t given in full detail; the ones that had to wait. Our Bible is understandably condensed, and it is easy to read the stories without embracing the waits. As humans, we can be so impatient. We have the ability to travel thousands of miles in a matter of hours, and yet we consider an extra hour or two layover in a comfortable airport to be disastrous. The heroes of our faith knew no such luxuries and as we read, their layovers could be as long as forty years.
When it came to my journey with cancer, there were to be several waits along the way. One-hour waits in the examination room, wondering if the Doctor had forgotten me; thankful for an iPhone to occupy me as I kept to my “no soul-searching agreement” and ignored the books and charts which filled the room. Then there were the days following the biopsies, the wait for surgery, the first pathology and the following blood tests, which accompany me for a full 5 years after the surgery.
Our globalized, fast food, instant communication world has trained us to be impatient. Waiting is no longer a way of life for the Western civilized world. Strawberries that used to be enjoyed during a short summer season are now available all year-round. Although, let it be known that you can never beat a naturally-ripened and freshly-picked English strawberry (perhaps with some clotted cream as you watch Wimbledon tennis).
The waits are realities. Every one, for me, was an individual challenge, giving me a choice of what to fill my thoughts with. What you fill your mind with while you wait will be, for all of us, the ultimate challenge. But my counselor, the book of Psalms, prepared me well. For some of the waits, I was able to leave my desk and go to the prayer chapel on the Bethel campus. For others, I would make myself busy; and for some, I had to find a way to press through just so I could go to sleep at night. He is a faithful God, and in my wife, he gave me a companion who would walk with me. And together, we would remind ourselves that He had never let us down before. Our lives had already included many periods of waiting: the almost four years of infertility before we were able to have our second son; a two-year green card application process. Out of those waiting seasons we were able to declare to each other that He has never let us down.
Gaps, similar to waiting periods, are those parts of a story that no one knows except you and God. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought of the Bible in this light, but there are many gaps in it. I sometimes wonder about Moses’ forty years with the sheep. What was this man—raised in the extravagant luxury of Pharaoh’s palace—thinking about in that season of his life? Or, what about Jesus Himself? The Bible recounts very few details of His early life, apart from some smaller incidents that took place in his youth. The remaining thirty years prior to the wedding in Canaan, we are left to wonder about. What were Simeon and Anna doing for all those years before Jesus showed up? How were they living their lives? How did they stay in touch with their God? What encouraged them to continue believing and hoping for the coming of their Messiah? I can only imagine what their gaps and waits were like. Unlike theirs, mine were not thirty or forty years in duration. In fact, it actually does feel as though what was prophesied over me came to pass: “This is going to be a bump in the road.” It was a deep bump, but it didn’t last too long.
And so, what do we do in the midst of our gaps and waits? The good news is, when life has you traveling and you don’t know where you’re going, He does. That is when we push aside what we don’t understand and allow the journey to take place. In the early days of 2008, I began a journey that changed me. And crazy though it is, although I would rather not have walked through it, I also wouldn’t swap the experience. Journeys like mine are the “walking the walk” seasons. It’s in these moments that talking the talk just won’t cut it. And it’s also in these moments that we begin to ask ourselves where we get the courage to walk the walk.
The truth is, we can’t walk alone. I love the revelation that you only need the fruits of the spirit when living in community. If you live in a cave, you can get by without them. You may have some issues with God, but our need for the fruits of the spirit only really comes to the forefront when we live in community. Not only that, but when crisis comes, it is those very fruits of the spirit released to you from the community, which help to sustain you.
I had my wife and my two wonderful sons, but I, the guy who doesn’t receive help very easily, had to learn how to receive. The Bethel team, the most amazing team on the planet, surrounded me. My best friend, Craig, who lives in San Diego, flew 750 miles for both the day of my diagnosis and surgery. Kris Vallotton, who doesn’t like hospitals, also came to the doctor with me to hear the results of my tests, believing and hoping it would be good news. These relationships are priceless at such times. To have this kind of strength added to you is absolutely invaluable.
We weren’t meant to walk this life alone: we were meant to journey in community. In fact, the purpose of heaven’s government is to create society and family. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit were present in heaven before the world was created. It was, and is, the most perfect society that has ever been: the original government of heaven and earth. From that place of relationship, the trinity had a vision and they created. And that’s what government is meant to be. It’s meant to be about relationships. It’s meant to be about a society. The trouble is, here on earth, we end up defining government as management and maintenance instead of relationship, creativity, and vision. We are meant to live with people around us who feed us out of their relationships, out of the glory that they have from heaven. That is what Jesus’ prayer in John 17:5 means: “”Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” He asked for this so that He could give it to us; that the world would know how we are meant to live life, in relationships of love, honor, and loyalty.
My doctor knew that there were two men in my life who would walk into a doctor’s office to sit by me while I received my diagnosis. That was a testimonyof love, relationship, and brotherly affection that the world needs to see. We were not meant to walk this life alone. But the truth is, you have to invest in your relationships before the crisis comes. Otherwise, there may not be relationships to experience when you need them most.
Have I put everything I’ve written about into practice? No. Do I understand all there is to understand about this life, this journey, and how best to walk it out? No. But I had an aggressive cancer and I had to do some things aggressively. There were some things that my wife and I knew to do: take communion as often as we could; walk together; and read Dodie Osteen’s book, “Healed of Cancer.” It’s a tiny little book with forty healing verses. Sue and I walked around the trails near our house, reading to each other, praying the verses over each other. We prayed the verses before we went to bed and prayed them when we got up in the morning. We did the things that we knew to do, and we did them as aggressively as we could. We got as much prayer as we could. I had the entire first-year class of the School of Supernatural Ministry at Bethel pray for me. It was amazing. The courage for the journey comes from relationships, from having people that can speak into your life. And it comes by doing the things that you know to do.
On this journey, I was given permission to not know, or even expect to know, all of the answers. I love the book written by the Mystics in the 13th century, “The Cloud of Unknowing.” The basic message of the book is that we should put the things that we do not understand in an imaginary cloud to the left or right of our view of God. In this way, none of our questions or doubts obscures our view of God. That is 700-year-old wisdom and yet, it stands the test of time. I have seen the importance of this truth played out as I have watched men and women stand in the midst of things that they do not understand, and yet, refuse to allow the pains and mysteries of life, which they do not have an answer for, get in the way of the goodness of God.
In the gaps, waits, and journeys of life, especially the traumatic and tragic ones, there will likely be many things, which we do not understand. We have been given permission to live with mystery, and to know that faithfulness is always rewarded, even if we do not reach what we believed was our destination. After all, the father of our faith, Abraham, appears to be given that title more as a result of the journey than an arrival at a destination.
(See Hebrews 11:10)