A friend first introduced me to Rachel Starr Thomson’s website several years ago. I haven’t been able to keep up with all of her work, but Rachel is truly a gifted writer, an inspiring young woman, and a whole-hearted follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh, and she’s a fellow homeschool grad! I have been blessed by our virtual acquaintance and perhaps someday we will be able to meet in person! In the meantime, I want to share with you an excerpt from one of Rachel’s books that I pray you will find challenging and encouraging.
A Question of Security
by Rachel Starr Thomson
Excerpted from Letters to a Samuel Generation
I can remember it very clearly. Laying in bed in the dark, cool hours of the morning, listening to a clock tick away the minutes and wishing that my wide eyes would go to sleep already. I remember staring up at the planks of the high, wooden ceiling and watching the desert breeze rustle the curtains.
Mostly I remember the questions running through my head…
What if? What if this happens… what if that?
Only a few days before, I had heard from the Lord, telling me to leave home and go to teach school in Michigan. Not a very scary prospect, really, but for me it was a little nerve-racking. I’d never lived away from home. I’d never taught school. The thing worrying me most was the prospect of leaving the ministry I’d been involved with and going to a place where I knew the spiritual climate was not going to be so intense. A place where there would be a lot of dangers, spiritually speaking.
This same stomach-churning worry had come around to bother me at various times throughout my life. When I was younger, I couldn’t call someone on the phone without feeling sick. I’m not sure what I was afraid of, but I was. The first day of school felt the same way. So did going to youth group in California, right after my family moved west. They were little things, but they all set off the same little warning bells in my head. Something here is not safe.
Safety and security are terribly important to us as human beings. I can’t remember being born, but I imagine a baby is asking the same question as it enters the world… Is this safe?
God built this instinct for safety into us for a reason. After all, if we didn’t have it, we might have run ourselves off of the face of the earth a long time ago, jumping off cliffs because, well, it looked like fun at the time.
At the same time, God gave us the will to deny that instinct for safety. He built other desires into us as well – desires for freedom, for growth, for new horizons. And that’s a good thing, because He very rarely allows us to live in safety for long. It takes a crazy sort of courage to follow in the steps of the Lord; the same sort of courage it takes for a soldier to go into battle. Even if that soldier is guaranteed victory in the end, as we Christians are, there are no promises that the journey to the end will be a smooth one.
Take the pioneer missionaries of ages past for an example. When Gladys Aylward began saving her shillings for a train ride to China, she was not thinking in terms of security. If she had asked God if it would be safe or not, the answer would have to have been no. The tiny Englishwoman knew she would be facing hunger, cold, exhaustion and hostility as she attempted to preach the gospel in a far northern province of China. She did not expect to face the guns and terror of Japanese soldiers as World War II spread its influence even to her remote corner of the world. Faced with some of life’s hardest decisions, the missionary became a spy, a relief worker, and a mother to more than 200 orphans. Today, her legacy of courage and faithfulness to God is an inspiration to thousands of people, not to mention the descendants of those who first heard the gospel from her lips. Was it worthwhile for her to follow the call of God? Yes. Was it safe? Well, no, not exactly.
Is it dangerous to follow the Lord’s leading? Oh, yes. But we must ask ourselves – is safety what we truly ought to seek? Did God send us into this world to build walls around ourselves, or to go out and face the enemy? Most of us, in theory, would agree with the second statement. So why, when the marching orders come, is it so hard for us to step out on faith?
For me, the answer came clearly that sleepless summer night. I wrestled with my questions until the realization finally hit me that God would be in Michigan, too. What then was I really worried about? I realized that night that I was putting my faith in the wrong thing – in circumstances, instead of in the Living God.
Therein lies our problem, I think. We measure safety by circumstances, instead of seeking it under the Shadow of His Wings – the only place we are truly safe.
In the book of Jeremiah, the long-suffering prophet records a story that graphically illustrates this same principle. At the time the story takes place, most of the Jewish people had been removed from their homeland and taken into captivity in Babylon. The population of Judah was now made up of a few farmers and poverty-stricken people who were not judged any kind of threat to the Babylonians. An Israelite named Gedaliah was appointed to govern them.
Before long, refugees from the captivity began to straggle back into Judah from their hiding places in Moab, Ammon, Edom, and all of the surrounding countries. Included among them were soldiers who had been hiding in the fields, including a man named Johanan. Gedaliah was a good ruler, and the people of Israel slowly began to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives.
One day, Johanan approached Gedaliah with a rumor: that one of the soldiers, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, had been enlisted by the king of Ammon to assasinate the governor. Johanan offered to kill Ishmael first, but Gedaliah, believing that the rumor was false, refused to allow it.
Secure in his belief that Ishmael meant him no harm, Gedaliah and a number of other Israelites in Mizpah sat down to a friendly meal with the son of Nethaniah. When the time of fellowship was over, the treacherous Ishmael killed Gedaliah and all of the men that were with him. He and his fellows kidnapped a good number of Israelites and headed for Ammon.
It didn’t take the story long to reach the ears of Johanan, who rounded up a band of men and headed out after Ishmael. In a battle in the valley of Gibeon, Johanan rescued Ishmael’s captives and killed most of his men, although Ishmael himself escaped into the wilderness, eventually making it back to the land of the Ammonites.
All of this made the Jews realize just how precarious their position in their burned-out land was. There were very few of them, and their appointed governor, who had kept their conquerors happy, was dead. Their enemies, men like the king of Ammon, were on every side.
Frightened and shaken by Ammon’s nearly successful attempt to destroy them, the remnant of Israel approached the prophet Jeremiah with a request. “Inquire unto your God for us,” Johanan asked, “And we will do whatever he says.”
Jeremiah returned to them with the word of the Lord: “Be not afraid of the king of Babylon, of whom ye are afraid; be not afraid of him, saith the LORD: for I am with you to save you, and to deliver you from his hand. And I will shew mercies unto you, that he may have mercy upon you, and cause you to return to your own land. But if ye say, We will not dwell in this land neither obey the voice of the LORD your God, saying, No; but we will go into the land of Egypt, where we shall see no war, nor hear the sound of the trumpet, nor have hunger of bread; and there will we dwell: and now therefore hear the word of the LORD, ye remnant of Judah; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; if ye wholly set your faces to enter into Egypt, and go to sojourn there; then it shall come to pass, that the sword which ye feared, shall overtake you there in the land of Egypt, and the famine, whereof ye were afraid, shall follow close after you there in Egypt; and there ye shall die.” (Jer. 42:11-16)
It was a pronouncement that was hard for Johanan and the Israelites to accept. After all, telling them to stay in the land was a bit like telling Jews in the 20th century to stay in their ghettos while the Nazis closed in. The circumstances did not favour staying in Israel, certainly. Just over the border to the south, the land of Egypt beckoned.
The choice was clear: Put your trust in circumstances, or put it in God and obey.
Sadly, the Israelites had not yet learned the lesson that the captivity to Babylon was meant to teach them. Johanan became angry and accused Jeremiah of speaking falsely. “God has not said this to us,” they told him. “We are going to Egypt.”
Jeremiah went with them ; weeping all the way, I suspect. Egypt of that day had all the food and water the refugees would need; and a military to protect them. The government was friendly to them. It looked like a paradise.
Tragically, this “paradise” was nothing but a cruel mirage. For Egypt, too, was about to be judged – the sword of Babylon would fall across its pyramids just as surely as it fell on the wall of Jerusalem.
The Israelites of that day would have done well to remember the words of their father David, who, while he lived a life of dangers, tragedies, and triumphs, never forgot just where his safety lay: “My soul, wait thou only upon God: For my expectation is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation: He is my defence; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in my God. Trust in him at all times; ye people, Pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah.” (Psalm 62:5-8)
If God is directing your feet in a new path, you are likely to be weighing this age-old question – Where is my safety, truly? The circumstances may look daunting, and Egypt is just over the border, only a few steps back from obedience. Whatever the decision facing you is, remember the lesson of Jeremiah and Johanan: of trust in circumstances, or trust in God. His word is true, and He never fails.
I remind you, with David: Trust in Him at all times, ye people. God is a refuge for us.
Letters to a Samuel Generation is a collection of devotional essays written by Rachel Starr Thomson between the ages of 17 and 21. Each one encourages readers to become a “Samuel Generation” that knows God’s heart and mind, as the prophet Samuel was said to do. The text can be read online or ordered as a beautiful hardbound book from www.rachelstarrthomson.com/books/samuel-generation
About the Author
Rachel Starr Thomson is a writer, indie publisher, editor, and writing coach. She’s a homeschool graduate, a dweller in southern Canada, a lover of long walks, good books, hot tea, and rich fellowship, and a counter-cultural revolutionary who thinks we’d all be much better off if we pitched our television sets out the nearest window. Rachel’s published books include the Seventh World Trilogy, classic fantasy that readers have called “captivating” and “riveting storytelling”: Worlds Unseen, Burning Light, and The Advent. She’s also the author of Tales of the Heartily Homeschooled, Pieces of Grace (And What They Mean), Heart to Heart: Meeting With God in the Lord’s Prayer and Letters to a Samuel Generation.