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To Push on the Rock ~ Chapter 9 (El Fin!)

“I’ve never heard someone talk about ministry like this.” Will picked up a handful of rocks and sifted them through his fingers. “When I wanted to do ministry, I never thought it would be this hard, this vulnerable. I didn’t think about hurting or harming the people I preached to, or sharing myself. I just thought about preaching, the thing itself”—he gave a little laugh—“and the results, of course. Now, I don’t know. I don’t know what I should be doing. I don’t know if I even want to do any ministry.”

Moses gave him a compassionate look. “It’s a lot to take in. At the end of the day though, you only have to answer one question.”

“Really? All that death and suffering and weakness can be boiled down to one question?”

Moses nodded. “Do you want to follow Jesus or not?”

“I already said yes to that question the day I told God that I wanted Jesus’ death to pay for my sin,” Will said, his brow creased in a puzzled frown.

“Solomon said yes at the beginning of his life too.(174) But life is not lived in a moment,” Moses said, holding Will’s gaze. “Life is lived moment by moment from the day you’re born to the day you die. And following Jesus is not done in a single moment. Every moment you have to decide. Don’t put it off.”

Will tried to imagine preaching or building the bridge. Follow Jesus, yes, but build a bridge . . . or even preach . . . .

“You can’t follow and lead at the same time,” Moses said. “If you follow, it means you go wherever God leads you.”

Will made a face. “I know. I know. It just seems so overwhelming.”

“Is it overwhelming to follow God in this moment?”

“If that means sitting here, not exactly, although I’m not a fan of this hole.”

“Neither am I. I’m truly sorry that we ended up out here. It’s another place pride has taken me that I didn’t want to go. I hope you can learn from my sin. Following God is far from easy, and it’s often painful, and it may not be where you want to go, but He always takes you where you really need to go. Don’t—” his face paled—“don’t make the same mistakes I have. I know I was going about it the wrong way, but that’s really all I was trying to do tonight. I have regrets that I’ll carry for the rest of my life. I’d hate for you to end up carrying the same ones.”

Will gave a slight nod. He’d seen the depth of Moses’ drive when Moses had followed him out here. “Can I ask what happened? What did you do, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Moses’ mouth went dry. “I waited to obey. And, well, you know from my book that even when I began to obey with my hands, I refused to obey with my heart.”

“Everybody sins—” Will began.

Moses slashed a hand downwards. “I know that. You think I don’t know that? But imagine you found out that someone died because they couldn’t get to a doctor in time because you didn’t build your bridge. Imagine how you’d feel then.”

“Someone died because you waited to obey?” Will asked, his eyes wide.

Moses looked down. “I don’t know. I don’t know what the cost was. I know that my obedience has often had larger ripples than I ever dreamed of. I know that disobedience has done the same.” He raised his gaze to meet Will’s. “Please. Please don’t wait.”

Will stared at him. Something seemed off somehow. He didn’t even know what it was. He’d felt uncomfortable before when Moses had talked about his regrets. He’d assumed it was just discomfort with the depth of Moses’ emotion, but now it almost felt like talking to two different people. He didn’t know how to talk to this person, the man who was consumed with regret. He hesitated. “Can I say something?”

“Go ahead,” Moses said.

“Something seems wrong about what you just said. What about you arguing that Paul’s sin made him the perfect man for the job? What about all that stuff you said about God’s love?”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know what I mean. You just seem so—different when you talk about regret than when you talk about ministry. I always thought regret was a wasted emotion. You can’t change the past. Why bother agonizing over it?”

“I used to think that too, back when I was young and thoughtless, back before I’d come face-to-face with the consequences of my sin. Sometimes you just can’t help regret, and if it keeps you from making the same mistakes—”

“But what if it causes you to make new ones? I mean, look at what happened tonight.”

“It was my pride that got us here,” Moses said, his voice harsh.

Will ran a hand through his hair. “I thought you said you came out here because you wanted to keep me from making the same mistakes you did, because you didn’t want me to carry the same regrets.”

“I did. I do,” Moses said testily.

“I’m not trying to attack you. I just don’t understand,” Will said. How could he get through to Moses? “Wait! I have an idea. I’ll be you and you be me. No, I mean I’ll be me and you be you,” he said.

“I don’t follow.”

“Let’s imagine someone did die because I haven’t built my bridge.” Will could feel a shiver go through his soul. Please God, please don’t let that be true. “You be you talking about ministry. How does death, suffering, and weakness fit into my unbuilt bridge and the consequences?”

“It doesn’t. Not doing ministry is not ministry,” Moses said flatly.

Will gave him an exasperated look. “Please. Humor me. I know that your book has changed me. You wouldn’t have a book without your story, your mistakes. Shared suffering, remember? I might need to know this stuff for later.”

Moses glared at him. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, boy! Obey now so you won’t have a later!”

Will’s eyes widened. Who was this man?

“Fine,” Moses said and calmed himself with visible effort. “Death. Not obeying is not dying to self. There’s no self-sacrifice in sin.”

“But what about in regret? Is there obedience in regret?”

“Paul says that godly sorrow leads to repentance—to change.(175) I know that I’ve changed because I don’t want to repeat the same regrets.”

Will tried to imagine how he’d feel years after he’d found out that his actions really had killed someone. He’d do things differently all right. And yet . . . “Lots of things have made me change. My father makes me do things differently all the time. Is change the only way to tell if you’ve repented?” Will asked.

“Depends on the type of change.”

“Even if I go home and build my bridge tomorrow, assuming that we get out of this hole, what do I do about the last six months? I can’t erase them. Is my lack of obedience going to wreck my life?” Will sat up straight as a thought hit him. “Wait a minute! That’s it!”

“What’s it?”

“Is it going to wreck my life?” Will said, enunciating each word. “In your book, you said destruction comes from sin and Satan. That’s what Jesus says in John 10:10, right?”

“So?”

“So, if regret destroys something, it can’t be from God!”

Moses stared at him. What was the boy trying to say? “I’m not sure I agree. Why do you think regret will destroy your life?”

“Look at you. You talk about your regret like it’s a heavy burden, and you’re afraid of repeating your mistakes.” He gasped. “Afraid. Suffering plus fear. That’s why your regret is so strong—because it’s bondage.”

Moses felt like his head was spinning. It was so much harder to argue with his own words. “I don’t—I’m not sure that that’s really accurate.”

“Okay. You’re the one who keeps talking about how God’s love changes things from the inside out. Where does love fit into regret?”

“Well, if I love God, then I’ll obey Him.”(176)

“How does that involve regret? I can obey without regret,” Will said, his voice full of challenge.

“Yes, but regret has made me zealous to obey. I know the weight of my actions, the consequences I’ll have to bear, and I don’t want to make the same mistakes. It’s like burning yourself on a hot stove—the pain of the burn reminds you to be careful with the stove. Regret is that pain.”

“Could there be two ways of handling the burn though? Tell me about fear and love. How can I handle the pain of the past six months with love?”

Moses threw his hands in the air. “You can’t change the past six months. If you add fear to that, you’ll try to do things differently. If you add love, you’ll try to do things differently.”

“So the same action, but the character of the act is totally different.” Will thought for a moment. “Suffering is a result of sin, right? My sin, my lack of obedience, caused suffering—that’s the consequences of sin.” He swallowed hard. Hopefully not too much suffering, although even a little suffering . . . Oh Lord, what have I done? “But didn’t you say that God is redeeming suffering?”

“I did.”

“So is He redeeming the consequences of my sin or not?”

“He is . . . .”

“So where’s the Gospel in regret?”

“I don’t know!” Moses raised his eyes to the heavens. “I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it from that angle before. Regret just is. It’s there, like being sad or lonely or tired or hungry. It’s how we’re made.”

“But the Gospel is in those things. I heard a sermon once about how our feelings point us towards the Gospel in some fashion. ‘Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.’(177) God comforting our grief because of the Gospel. Our grief driving us to reach out for God’s comfort. ‘God sets the lonely in families.’(178) Through the Gospel, we become part of God’s family.(179) We’re never alone again. Being tired reminds us that we’re not made for a broken world. It can prompt us to think about eternity and whether we want the Gospel or not. Physical hunger is a metaphor for how our souls hunger for God.” He paused, then continued, “Where’s the Gospel in regret?”

“The cross means Jesus has paid for my sin, and He’s redeeming the suffering I’ve caused,” Moses said, keeping his voice even with an effort. “Regret calls me to count the cost of my sin, to remember how much Jesus paid.”

Will shook his head. “I don’t buy that. I see you counting the cost of your sin, but I haven’t seen anything about God redeeming the consequences of your sin—the suffering.”

Moses’ hands clenched convulsively, but he forced himself to stay seated. Will was just a boy—a boy who hadn’t had the kind of experiences he’d had.

“Back to my bridge,” Will continued. “Couldn’t God do that with my bridge? Couldn’t I ask Him to fill in the brokenness with His love, like kintsuko?”

“Kintsugi.” The kid had a point. God was in the business of redeeming suffering, and Will’s sin had caused suffering. Maybe it worked for other people—people whose sin hadn’t caused as much suffering as his had. He couldn’t tell anymore. He just knew he was so tired—tired of making the same mistakes over and over, tired of carrying his regrets, tired of trying to move past them. But that was him. Focus on Will. Do the job you’re supposed to do, he told himself. “I don’t see why not,” Moses said thoughtfully.

“And if God fills in the cracks, then I don’t have to worry about them anymore, do I?”

“I guess not.”

“And that would mean I could stop carrying it around, which means I don’t hang onto regret, right?”

“Theoretically.”

Will’s eyes narrowed. “Then why couldn’t you do that?”

Moses’ eyes slid closed. Will had no idea what he was talking about. He alone knew the depth of his sin. His plate wasn’t just cracked—it was shattered. “I don’t know. I’ll have to give it some thought.”

“Oh, I see. So what’s good for the pot isn’t good for the kettle? If God takes care of my sin, why would He treat your sin any differently?”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Moses said, slamming his hand down on his thigh. “I knew better. I knew I was sinning.” The muscles in his jaw tightened. “And sin has consequences.”

“You think I didn’t know better?” Will said. “I convinced myself that I was hallucinating, but in the end, I only came out into these damn mountains to get God off my back.” He took a deep breath. “Is the Gospel for you or not?”

“Just leave it alone, Will,” Moses ground out.

“No! Is the Gospel for you or not? I need to know! Because if it’s not for you, maybe it’s not for me. Maybe regret is the way to go. Maybe I have screwed up so badly that it can’t be fixed!” Will yelled.

Moses forced a smile. “Of course the Gospel is for me.”

“You don’t mean that. Or if you do, you only mean part of the Gospel—the part about getting to spend eternity with God, not the part about having full redemption of the suffering your sin caused, now, here, before God gets rid of sin and suffering forever.”

Moses pinched the bridge of his nose. Now was not the time for this. Not when he was too tired to keep a rein on his temper. “I’m tired, Will. Let’s talk about this later. You may be used to staying up all night, but I’m not. I’m not as young as I used to be.”

“Why are you doing this? How can part of the Gospel be true and not all of it? How can you pick and choose your truths? If it’s true, doesn’t it have to all be true?” Will picked up his Bible. “Doesn’t this have to be either all true or all false?”

“It’s true that the message is so integrated throughout the Bible that you can’t really cut out passages, if that’s what you’re getting at,”(180) Moses said. “Now can we talk about this later? Maybe we can catch a few winks before morning.”

“Then answer my question: does the whole Gospel apply to you or not?” Will demanded.

“Yes! Okay, yes! Are you happy now?”

“Then why are you so afraid of your sin?”

Moses turned away. Afraid of his sin! How dare that pup treat him this way! How dare he—Moses slumped, the anger ebbing out of him as reality hit his soul—how dare Will tell him the truth? He was afraid of his sin, afraid with every fiber of his being. That’s what came of not knowing what exactly the results of his sin were, but knowing they were probably disastrous. What if people had died as a direct result of his disobedience? Wasn’t that worth some regret? But then . . . Lord, I am afraid. I’m afraid of what I’ve done and not done. I’m afraid that I’ve ruined something. But is that really a bad thing? Isn’t regret just one of the consequences of my sin? Lord, show me. Will’s question echoed in the recesses of his mind: “Does the whole Gospel apply to you or not?” Why hadn’t he ever thought about it that way? Why hadn’t he ever seen that he didn’t accept the whole Gospel? If the Gospel applied to his regrets . . . Maybe this could be more than just for Will. Maybe this could be for him. Maybe the Gospel could change his regrets. Tears filled his throat. The Gospel could change his regrets. Love could change his regrets. He turned back to Will. “You’re right,” he said, forcing the words past the lump in his throat. “I am afraid.”

Will put a hand on Moses’ shoulder. “I need you. Tell me about regret.”

“Well, I think you’re right: regret is the right action, but the wrong motive, the plus fear instead of love,” Moses said quietly.

“And it seems like it does something,” Will added. “You almost seem like two different people—the man who believes in embodying the Gospel, who talks about love transforming every blessed thing, and the man who’s consumed with his regrets.”

“Hmm . . . . .” Moses forced himself to think about his regrets and then about God’s love. “I know when I think about my regrets, it’s like my sin happened yesterday. I guess I’ve dealt with that by trying not to think about it and trying to be someone who doesn’t make those kinds of mistakes.”

Will nodded. “Yeah, I don’t like thinking about my mistakes either. Who does?”

 ‘Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered,’ ”(181) Moses whispered. “David did. I mean, I don’t know that he liked thinking about his mistakes, but he sure liked thinking about God’s forgiveness. There’s real praise in Psalms 32 and 51, despite bearing the full weight of murdering Uriah and stealing Uriah’s wife.”(182) He stared into the fire. Why don’t I feel that? If God has forgiven me and redeemed the consequences of my sin . . . . He passed a hand over his eyes. “Maybe I’m too tired to think clearly right now, Will.”

“No, I think you’re on to something. Maybe it’s like your story? Don’t think about how you feel or what your experiences seem to be saying; start with what God says is true. Start with the Gospel. Maybe re-tell me what suffering does?” Will suggested.

“Why don’t you tell me?”

“Okay. Well—well—” Will fingered a piece of the broken branch. Where to start?

“I find it helps to think in terms of how God uses suffering generally and then in me and in my relationships with Him and others.”

“Okay,” Will said. He cleared his throat. This almost felt like a test to see how much he could actually remember. “God is using suffering to display His character to the world because it takes skill to turn something broken into something beautiful. It’s where the world is breaking so that’s where He’s mending. My sin and your sin is where He’s mending. He’s redeeming it from the inside out through love. He’s sifting the consequences so that only those He uses for good get through. I guess that means that I can trust Him to use the consequences of even my sin for good. So far, so good?”

“Sounds like you were listening.”

Will frowned. “Does regret fit into those ideas? It seems like regret doesn’t leave room for God to redeem anything.”

“You might have a point,” Moses said after a minute. “Regret is sort of like being in mourning your whole life, and the only way to avoid it is to deny your sin or to run away from the truth.”

“No wonder it feels like your sin happened yesterday! Regret must be keeping you, or at least a part of you, frozen in time, unable to heal. Maybe that’s the plus fear. Fear of moving on? Fear of making the same mistakes? Fear of what the consequences of your sin might be? If you never do anything, you’ll never do the same wrong thing.” Will stood up and began to pace out the four steps he could manage in the confined space. “Regret is fueled by fear and unbelief. Regret is pre-judging the consequences, deciding there’s no way for God to work them out for good, acting like we know the whole story, instead of waiting to see God’s perspective.”

Moses stared at him. Out of the mouth of babes, he thought wryly. “You’re right. I guess that part of me has been isolated. I never realized that I believed such opposing things,” he said.

“It’s like you said: things can look the same on the outside, but be totally different on the inside. Regret looks okay from the outside. It’s only on the inside where you can see the difference.”

“Indeed. You have been listening. Regret still seems like you’re doing something about your sin because you feel bad about it,” Moses mused. “However, that’s just a front; in reality, you’re not dealing with it. You’re not letting God transform it with His love, and you’re not growing in that area. I guess I needed you, Will. I’ve never had someone notice my inconsistency, probably because no one has churned up those things quite the way you have. Thanks for being the furnace.”

“I’m sorry—”

“I’m not. I needed this. I hope I never get too old or too stubborn to keep growing.”

“So what are you going to do?”

“Repent. Change what I’ve been doing. I’ve been in bondage to my sin for far too long.”

“But what does that look like? What is repentance?” Will rubbed a hand across his forehead. “I don’t mean to pry. I just have the feeling this is a lesson I need to know.”

“Well, it’s like you said: regret is fear-based. Because of it, I’ve let my sin define me. I’ve spent years trying to prove to myself that I wasn’t the man I’d been, the man who refused to listen and obey. I should have been listening to who God says I am. I should have been focusing on His love and His ability to work things for good, instead of focusing on myself and my sin. “

“Oh right! Like that p, q, therefore r thing.”

“Exactly.” Moses held Will’s gaze. “I’ve been like the Pharisees, driven by my fear and my pride and that’s why my ‘ministry’ to you was so destructive. I’m so sorry, Will. I was trying so hard to control you, to keep you from making the same mistakes and to atone for my own mistakes. I wasn’t loving you. Will you forgive me?”

Will sat down next to Moses. “Yes. Maybe God can fill in both of our mistakes with some of that kintsugi gold . . . .”

Moses patted Will’s hand. “I’m pretty sure He can if we surrender them to Him.”

“So what do I do? About my bridge, I mean. I may have hurt someone that I’ve never even met. How do I fix things when I don’t even know what needs fixed?”

“Same thing you’d do if you hurt someone you did know—repent, love, ask God what you should do, then listen and obey. True repentance involves change. You can’t keep on doing what you’ve been doing. I’m afraid you know what that means you’d have to do.”

Will sighed. “Go build my bridge.”

“Exactly.”

Will stared at the ground. It was the conclusion he’d already been coming to, but that didn’t make it any easier.

“I just had a thought,” Moses said.

“What?”

“Maybe it’s my propensity towards pride that’s at fault.”

“How so?”

“Regret has a lot of self in it. You know, in the past, I’ve always used the consequences of my obedience as the measure of how disastrous my disobedience was. But maybe that’s the wrong measure. I mean, sin is always a disaster, so I’m not trying to downplay my disobedience. But—well, obedience is empowered by God. My disobedience comes from me alone. I’ve been so convinced that I had the power to really mess up the world. Maybe my influence is a lot smaller than I want to believe.”

Will straightened. “Yeah. Yeah. And if God is sifting the consequences, redeeming even our sin, maybe He can work out my unbuilt bridge.”

“And maybe He can work out the consequences of my sin too,” Moses said softly.

Will took a deep breath. “I guess we won’t know unless we ask.”

“You’re right. I’ll go first.” Moses looked up at the sky. “God, thank You for sending this young man to teach an old dog new tricks. Forgive me for my fear and my unbelief, for trying to carry the weight of my sin day after day. God, I don’t know exactly how things should change, but You do. Show me if there’s anything I need to do about the damage I’ve caused. Thank You for making me human and small enough that I don’t have the power to make giant changes apart from You. Please fill in those breaks with Your love. Redeem the suffering my sin has caused. Change me. Reach into those places I’ve kept unchanged and make them reflect You. Thank You for Will. Please give him a rich ministry, full of the adventure of obeying You. Please get us out of this hole in Your own perfect time. In Jesus’ Name, amen.”

Will cleared his throat. “Um, Lord, You know that I’m scared. I’m scared to lose myself and go build that bridge. I’m scared not to build it. I’m scared that I’ve messed things up so badly that they can’t be fixed. I’m scared that I’ve hurt people permanently. But God, all this stuff we’ve been talking about with the Gospel and how You intervene in suffering—” his voice broke—“Please forgive me. Help me to be different. Change my heart to obey even when I don’t want to. Help me to build that bridge. And please, God, redeem the consequences of my sin. You are my only hope. Thank You for sending me out here to meet Moses. Please bless him and his ministry too. In Your Name, amen.”

Both men sniffed a moment.

Moses straightened, his load lighter than it had been in ages. The peace of God seemed almost a tangible thing here in this pit.

Will suddenly knew that it was going to be okay. God had nagged and dragged him into a corner—well, a hole—but for the first time, he knew things would be all right.

Moses gripped Will’s shoulder. “Thank you, son. You don’t know what this means to me.”

Will gave him a small smile. “I think I might have some idea. Thank you for writing your book and waiting for me and coming after me. Thank you for blazing the trail.”

“You’re welcome—although you know that it wasn’t really me. I would never have done all that if God hadn’t told me too—well, except for coming after you,” Moses added with a wink.

“Right. So now what?”

“Now we keep waiting. The sun’s up. After a while, it’ll be high in the sky, and then we’ll be able to see if there’s a way we can get ourselves out of this hole. If nothing else, eventually my wife will get worried. I imagine she’ll send someone to look for me. Whether they’ll find us or not is another matter.” Moses pulled his pack into his lap. “I think I might have some rations left from my last outing. Breakfast?”

“Your wife? Did you marry Rose?”

Moses smiled reminiscently. “No. It’s like I said in my story: Rose would never have been happy with a life of ministry. And looking back, I’m not sure that we really loved each other anyway. We thought we were in love, but my choice to follow God just showed that when push came to shove, our relationship couldn’t cut it. She actually did go on to marry Bob and move to the city. She got the things she wanted.”

“Wow. That must have really rankled.”

“Not once I came to terms with the idea of ministry as heart obedience. Rose would have kept me from being the man God designed me to be, from doing the good works He prepared in advance just for me. I have no regrets in that department,” Moses said with a twinkle. “My wife gave herself to God before we got married. She has her own ministry.”

“Huh. So being called to ministry doesn’t mean I’m doomed to singleness?”

“Nope, only if God blesses you with singleness. Marriage is a gift when you’re married to someone who can be your ally.(183) Singleness is a gift too—more time and energy to pour into your relationship with God and others.(184) More time for ministry. Just follow wherever God gifts you. I will say that I couldn’t have done my ministry if I hadn’t married someone with the same level of commitment to following God and the same understanding that ministry doesn’t always have immediate visible results.”

“So where did you find this woman?”

Moses grinned. “In a hole like this one. I married Tehya.”

“Tehya?”

Moses nodded.

“Wait. The Tehya? From your story?”

“Yup. Funny how that all worked out, isn’t it?”

Will stared at him. “So if you hadn’t obeyed—“

“I would have missed out on one of the biggest blessings I have in my life.” Moses shook his head. “Or maybe not. Maybe God would have filled in that crack and rescued her some other way and brought us together later. Who knows?”

“Moses! Moses! Where are you?” a feminine voice called.

Moses leveraged himself into a standing position. “Speaking of Tehya—” He cupped his hands around his mouth and looked up. “Down here, dear!”

(174) 1 Kings 3:1-15

(175) 2 Cor. 7:10

(176) John 14:21

(177) Matt. 5:4 NIV

(178) Ps. 68:6 NIV

(179) John 1:12-13

(180) 2 Tim. 3:16; Missler, Cosmic Codes, 308.

(181) Ps. 32:1 NIV

(182) Psalm 51 superscription; 2 Sam. 11

(183) Dan Allender, Intimate Allies, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1995). Jim & Sarah Sumner, Just How Married Do You Want to Be?: Practicing Oneness in Marriage (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2008).

(184) 1 Cor. 7:1,7, 32-35

To Push on the Rock
By Elizabeth Frerichs
© Elizabeth Frerichs 2015

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