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Emmanuel Church, Plymouth
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St Paul's, Efford
Tony's Reflection 21
Is potholing a hobby that has ever appealed to you?
As someone who enjoyed childhood summer holiday trips to Kent's cavern, it is easy to appreciate the cold, damp beauty of a large spacious cave, especially on a hot day. The fascination of the water glistening on the walls. Stalactites grown over thousands of years. The sheer blackness when the tour guide turns off the lights. The sense of reassurance when those same lights came back on again.
Tourist trips to a cave are one thing, but potholing is quite another. Surrounded by absolute blackness. Rock pressing in on your body from above and below. Crawling and slithering along endlessly. Nowhere to go if the tunnel should flood. If the dreaded water comes you cannot run, you cannot even stand. You are totally hemmed in. Stuck.
Can you imagine what it must be like, to be stuck in a pothole and to hear the gurgling and bubbling of floodwater coming at you? You are in trouble.
Our verse from Psalm 91 talks about being in trouble, too. Last week, we heard God saying, "He shall call upon me and I will answer him." The next part of verse 15 says this:
"I will be with him in trouble. I will deliver him …"
The Hebrew word for "trouble" means being hemmed in on all sides. There is no escape. You are like the potholer, stuck in a tunnel, who hears the floodwater splashing towards him. You are shut in and there is no way out.
There are times when the troubles of life hem us in. We cannot find an exit. We are pressured on every side. All is dark. But it is not hopeless. The person who knows what it is to "dwell in the secret place with God” is never without hope.
In that dark, constrained place, we call out to God and he answers. That God will answer when we call is the promise we heard last week.
What sort of answer does he give?
Go back to our potholing scenario. Imagine you are lost and stuck in a narrow, dark tunnel. What sort of help would you like? A distant voice up on the surface, coming through a loudspeaker? An experienced caver, there in the pothole with you? The choice is obvious…
Where is God when you are in trouble, hemmed in, with darkness all round? He is not shouting instructions at you from the distance of heaven. He is there in that trouble, with you.
He is close enough to feel your fear. He understands the chill in your bones. More than that, he is there with miracle-working power.
It would be precious, to imagine God there, in that pothole with you, gently coaxing you, to push, pull and heave yourself out. That is a very good illustration of how God does rescue us sometimes. There are times when he delivers us by giving the strength and the know-how to claw our way out of trouble.
On other occasions God hears our prayer and does something more spectacular. He shows his amazing power by rescuing us, in a moment. He comes close to us and unleashes his miracle-power into our hearts and into our circumstances. Troubles disappear overnight.
Whichever way God may choose to deliver you when you are in trouble, the result is the same. It is just as sure and certain. You are rescued.
The Psalm promises us, "I
That word for "deliver" is a fascinating one. It gives us a beautiful and vivid picture of God's rescue. It's basic meaning is "to strip something away". If "trouble" is where you feel hemmed in by stresses, strains and fears, unable to move, then deliverance is when God "strips away" all those things that surround you.
Imagine yourself in that pothole, hemmed in, cold dark rock pressing in around you on every side. Then, take in this picture in your mind's eye … not just the sight, but the feelings too … of having all of that darkness, coldness and hardness of the rock, pressing in on you from every side, simply stripped away. You are out in an open place. You take a deep breath of dry, fresh air. Daylight is bright and the colours around you are soothingly vivid. You cherish the warmth of the sun, gently caressing your skin.
Can you feel the relief? God has "stripped away" your troubles.
Perhaps your circumstances have completely changed. Maybe you have a new strength to handle the same circumstances. Whichever way you look at it, you are no longer in the dark, cold, fearful hemmed in place. There is light, warmth and you have freedom and confidence to move forward.
This deliverance isn't something we might get, if we are lucky. It's a promise, for all who know what it is to "dwell in the secret place" and call out to God.
You call. He answers. He delivers you.
A cast-iron promise.