Glory in the Face

By Mike Wilkins

The Face of Christ and the Strength to Face Anything

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  • Feb27Mon

    Heavy Knapsacks on Parade?

    February 27, 2017

    Someone reading “Glory in the Face” might be persuaded that a parade is an instructive picture of the life of a follower of Christ. But Charles Spurgeon, one of my “Final Five Dead Men,” might have disapproved of the metaphor. He once wrote, “God often takes away our comforts and our privileges in order to make us better Christians. He trains his soldiers not in tents of ease and luxury, but by turning them out and subjecting them to forced marches and hard service. He makes them ford through streams, and swim through rivers, and climb mountains, and walk many long miles with heavy knapsacks of sorrow.” Hm. Less than three months after the publication of my extensive use of the parade image, it seems to me that, from Spurgeon’s point of view, real life for a Christian is comprised of too many “forced marches” and “hard service” with “heavy knapsacks” to be described as a parade. 

    If Spurgeon is right about this, then life as a Christian is not much like a canoe trip either—except  for the portages. The very first canoe trip that Deb and I took together was in 1978, when we were still newlyweds. Neither of us had any previous canoe-tripping experience, but that didn’t stop us from planning an intense four-day paddling and portaging experience in Algonquin Park. In those days, I was training for my first marathon, so when I spotted on a map an isolated 50 kilometer route with portages totalling 20 kilometers, I quickly (but naively) reasoned that, since in those days I could run 20K in about 90 minutes, we should easily be able to fit 20 kilometers of portaging into one Long Weekend. Talk about “forced marches” with “heavy knapsacks.” The truth is, by Saturday night we had completed just 11 of our planned 50 kilometers. Since we had to be back in our workplaces by Tuesday morning, we spent Sunday and Monday retracing our steps, heavy knapsacks, rented aluminum canoe, and all.

    Charles Spurgeon was a man with a profound understanding of the Scriptures. So were two of my other “Dead Men: John Owen and Jonathan Edwards; and that was not the only thing these men had in common. All three lived their lives burdened by “knapsacks of sorrow”: heartbreaking church conflicts and controversies, family and church life sadly marred by sudden and unexpected deaths, and many extremely painful health problems (in Spurgeon’s case: rheumatism, gout and Bright’s disease.) But these men persevered. As they did, they experienced more and more of the grace of God, and over the years were increasingly strengthened by the many gracious gifts that God gave them.

    So then, in what ways is life as a Christian like walking in a parade? And in what ways does it resemble a “forced march” with a “heavy knapsack”? These perhaps are questions worth some reflection. I invite you to comment. (Or email me directly under the heading “Ask the Author.”) I will be very happy to hear from you either way.