Twelve Years a Slave

Sometimes I wonder what happened to the others, to Jo-jo and the boy who hardly spoke and whose face I cannot remember, and Heather who would rather have been playing dodgeball that first evening.

A war was going on in a little side room in Glenshee those spring afternoons. Strangely enough, the only things I remember with any great clarity were Kenny’s warnings that it would be far from easy, the racing car green of the pamphlet in my hand, the presence of Jo-jo beside me on the sofa, and the vague notion that it was all far more important than any of us understood.

Heather didn’t come the second evening. The temptation of a lively game of nukemball was too much. But before dinner, Jo-jo and I had perched on my bunk, feet dangling and Bibles open. We were like two children raking through sand for buried treasure, grasping for the precious thing which seemed to have taken hold of us.

And yet it still eluded us and we found ourselves drawn away from the bright lights of the games hall to that little side room in search of something we couldn’t yet name.

It was the Easter holidays of 2005. My life had been claimed by a new master and I have been inextricably bound to him ever since.

The boy whose face I cannot remember has never crossed my path again – not that I’d know him if he did. As for Jo-jo and Heather, we fell out of touch within months. With all my soul I hope we meet again but that is not the point of the story.

The night I returned from camp, I knelt on my bed and smoothed a patch on my sheets for God to come and sit down (this was a very serious conversation you see) and mourned how I had wronged him, asking his forgiveness and promising to serve him.

Nowadays I marvel at how little i knew and how greatly I trusted but that is not a bad thing. I long for that simple faith.

This week marks something special for us all. It will be Easter on Sunday, the day on which the Serpent was crushed, the curtain was torn, and death died. But for this little one, it marks something more.

It is the celebration of twelve years a bondservant.

Through many dangers, toils and snares. . .

Kenny Macmillan was right. These twelve years have been under a faithful master and they have been abundantly good years but they have not been easy.

To say that I’ve never doubted God would be a blatant lie. I’ve been so angry with him and cried out with such pain that it has given the writer of Psalm 88 a run for his money.

Truthfully, there have been times when I have been on the brink of walking away, once in anger and once in exhaustion. As ever when I doubt, Peter’s words come back to me:

‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’ John 6.68

Here the healing begins. There are times when I feel ready to just lie down and sleep (to die is gain after all) but no bondservant exists to please themselves. They are there to obey their master.

Obedience continues to be very difficult to learn but in these dozen years, he has never let me down. In fact, if you can point to just one moment when God was not faithful, I will happily deny him on the spot.

Oh wait. . . you can’t. Not even in the many dangers, toils, and snares of this world because he is always faithful.

Don’t take my word or my meagre experience for it, ask anyone who belongs to him. The longer they have belonged to him, the more certainly they will be able to say he is faithful.

An Unexpected Journey

Little girls make plans but the Lord directs their steps. Never with all of my ten year old imagination could I have seen myself where I am now. She would have been shocked that I left school at sixteen to start with.

But what my younger self would see as bizarre, or possibly even failure, has become a precious testimony to grace. The timeline and content of my life often needs explanation and it doesn’t always make sense to me either but it does provide a wonderful opportunity to say isn’t God good?

I don’t pretend to understand my master’s ways or even be comfortable with them at times and many of you can testify to this. All I know is that whatever he asks, whatever happens, he is trustworthy and makes no mistakes.

Lamentations 3 fascinated me as a child. There was something about the darkness and the despair and the abandonment, the teeth broken with gravel and the sides pierced though with arrows, all culminating in the unexpected sweetness of the affirmation of God’s endless faithfulness and mercy.

The journey has been long and hard, and often unexpected. Sanctification is no walk in the park.Twelve years bound to Christ had taught me that he is faithful in it all. This truth gives me strength in the hard days and reminds me to be humble when all is well.

In all this time, there has been no morning where his mercies were not new, no occasion when his faithfulness was not great. You cannot want for a better master.

And can it be?

Charles Wesley penned one of the most beautiful hymns in the English language but God wrote the story that made the words so precious.

Once upon a time, my spirit lay ‘fast bound in sin and nature’s night.’ The truth of it was that I didn’t even care. I was perfectly happy in that rebellious state. It didn’t bother me (if it even occurred to me) that I had wronged God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Such is the default position of all people, we don’t care if we offend or disobey God, in fact we delight in it. Just so long as we are not as bad as the next person along, we can justify ourselves. God can’t judge me, I’m alright really.

It doesn’t work like that though. The next line of that verse runs thus:

‘Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,

I woke, the dungeon flamed with light.’

Only by God’s grace does he open our eyes so that we can see our bondage to sin so that we can see just how broken and helpless we are. It hurts to see that you are sinful. We are undeniably guilty of treason against our maker.

But ‘my chains fell off, my heart was free.’ God doesn’t open our eyes to sin only to leave us helpless in the knowledge  that he will judge us and that we deserve the wrath, he provides a way to be made right with him.

‘He left his Father’s throne above –

So free, so infinite his his grace –

Emptied himself of all but love

And bled for Adam’s helpless race.

Tis mercy all, immense and free,

For, O my God, it found out me!’

Someone had to bear the punishment for what we have done. We could never get to God on our own so he came to us, bearing the punishment. If we turn away from that life of sin, repenting of it and turning to serve Christ, we find God quick to forgive.

You can only have one master, God or sin. It has been twelve years since God gently woke me to this truth. Why he decided to call me (middle child, only girl) and not (yet) my brothers has always puzzled me but if it wasn’t the way it is, it wouldn’t be the way it is.

In all those years he has, in all things, been so very good. His mercies have been new every hour, his faithfulness boundless beyond what anyone can imagine and I rejoice in the day

‘My chains fell off, my heart was free

I rose, went forth, and followed thee.’

I have no idea where any of the people who stood with me at the narrow gate are now, not Jo-jo nor Kenny, nor the boy whose face eludes me. How much joy there will be if we meet again on the other side of eternity.

For now, give thanks with me for these twelve years a slave and if you don’t yet trust him, you must. The consequences of rejecting him are grave beyond measure but if you repent and trust him, you will find no master so faithful as him.

Here’s to twelve years more and, one day, to eternity.

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