Life can be brutal. It can raise us up in triumph at one moment and then dash us to despair in the next. Our difficulties may last a few hours, a few weeks, or sometimes many years. 1987 was a brutal year in my life. It was one of those years fraught with crisis, illness, injury, and grief at every turn. No matter what I did, or how I tried to persevere, I ended the year broken and beaten by the storms that battered my family, my church, and my own soul…
Bob began the year of chaos in the spring when he severely injured his thumb while working on our sprinkler system. It would be weeks before we knew if it would heal properly, which it did and we were grateful. During the summer, our beloved church went through an agonizing split in its membership resulting in Bob submitting his resignation from the church staff. In the midst of the church conflict, Bryant (then 4) was hospitalized for three days when he acquired a life threatening infection. Hour after hour people from both sides of the church conflict stopped by to visit us at the hospital to encourage us, but it all rendered me completely overwhelmed. The night Bryant was released from the hospital I woke with a raging ear infection that destroyed elaborate reconstructive surgery done on my ear when I was seventeen. Our year of suffering not yet complete, I experienced what would be the second of three devastating miscarriages at the end of the summer.
Broken, battered, and too weary to continue fighting the “good fight of faith,” I just wanted to check out of my responsibilities and run away. My heart had frozen. Getting back on my feet seemed impossible and irrelevant after experiencing so much heartache at one time, but I knew I had to get back up. It was then that I discovered God’s merciful provision of a “baggage claim department” in the Old Testament book of Joshua.
Joshua has been a favorite hero of mine since I was in college. I often return to his book when I lose my way or become discouraged. There I find the promise of God’s presence and the courage to go on. In 1987, I also found the baggage claim department just when I needed it most.
Joshua was given the responsibility to conquer and occupy the Promised Land. As Commander-in-Chief, Joshua organized his troops for battle. Scripture describes the responsibilities of spies, pacesetters, people of war, and strangely enough, those who stayed behind with the baggage. As the fighting men went off to battle, the baggage claim warriors stayed behind manning their post. It was an important duty in Joshua’s army and was also used during King David’s time.
Warriors serving in the baggage claim were there for a variety of reasons. Some, no doubt, were assigned to protect the baggage, but others checked in periodically because of fear, fatigue, and failure on the frontline.
1. CHECKING INTO BAGGAGE CLAIM
The Suitcase of Fear
One mention of baggage claim is recorded in 1 Samuel 10:22. Israel clamored for a king to rule over her like the other nations had. The prophet, Samuel, appointed Saul to be the first king in response to Israel’s fervent demands.
Although Samuel had prepared Saul for the monarchy, Saul was terrified. Verse 22 of chapter 10 says, “Therefore, they inquired further of the Lord, ‘Has the man come here yet?’ And the Lord said, ‘Behold, he is hiding himself by the baggage.’” Saul checked into baggage claim because he was afraid. Perhaps he didn’t feel qualified to lead God’s people and was fearful of the expectations of the assignment. Whatever the reason, the new king was cowering in the baggage claim.
Several years ago I was asked to lead a women’s Bible study group. Ordinarily I love teaching, but this time I panicked. All of the women were older than I was…some of them twenty to thirty years older. The task seemed overwhelming, so I hid myself in the “baggage claim” by becoming involved in children’s ministries instead. However, my smokescreen did not work and I again was encouraged to take the leadership of the women’s group. I nervously agreed, and I’m so glad I did! The women became a joy and delight to me and I learned so much from them during our time together.
The Suitcase of Fatigue
1 Samuel 30:10 records that one third of King David’s men checked into baggage claim because they were too tired to fight. “…for two hundred men who were too exhausted to cross the brook Besor remained behind.” The rest continued on to battle another enemy. Although the exhausted men were highly skilled warriors, they had grown weary from their last battle and legitimately needed rest.
Battle fatigue. It robs the soldier of energy, focus and perspective. Soldiers who suffer from battle fatigue often do so after completing an intense, hard-won, successful campaign. Should it surprise us, then, that a Christian’s greatest vulnerability to fatigue is right after his or her greatest victory?
“Victory” is particularly difficult for me to handle. I am most tempted to grow weary and lose heart right after I teach a Sunday school class, share my faith with someone in crisis, or meaningfully engage with people who don’t share my faith in Christ. If that sounds strange, it’s not. Discouragement after victory of one of Satan’s most effective weapons against us. By heaping discouragement on us, Satan tries to steal away our joy when others respond positively to the Gospel. If he can do this, he has effectively removed us from being a continued threat. He’s so cunning. When a battle has been particularly intense, I now know to make a brief stop by baggage claim to restore my energy as well as my perspective.
The Suitcase of Failure
All armies experience casualties and defeat. Most injuries suffered during battle come from the enemy, but unfortunately, some are caused by the soldier’s own army in the form of “friendly fire.” Still other injuries may be self-inflicted. Minor injuries need only a short time to heal before the soldier is returned to full duty. More serious ones may render a soldier unable to ever return to combat again.
The most severe injury I suffered in my Christian walk came from one of my dearest friends. She and I shared a common faith, as well as, many other common interests. Perhaps her greatest strength was her ability to think independently, which I appreciated very much. She never accepted anything as truth until she verified it for herself. Her pursuit of accuracy was a great challenge to me and is partly responsible for my own intense desire to study Scripture. Time passed. I moved away, and eventually we grew apart. We tried to keep in touch, but it became apparent that her greatest strength was also becoming her greatest weakness. Her desire to prove everything, made it difficult for her to trust or have “faith” in anything. She rejected her walk with Christ and began pursuing a life without Him.
Deep personal grief followed for me as I wrestled with her decision and my own failure to offer her more hope in the midst of her struggle. Satan used this season of my grief to cast doubt on my own commitment to Christ. I spent several months in despair questioning my own faith and doubting all I had believed. Severely injured, I crawled into the baggage claim to heal.
2. FINDING A FRIEND IN BAGGAGE CLAIM
After Israel suffered great humiliation and defeat at the battle of Ai, Joshua was told to go again and conquer the city. Joshua 8:9,10 depicts a tender and compassionate scene as Joshua, the Commander-in-Chief, spends the night among his soldiers. Joshua knew his army was afraid of the soldiers at Ai, so he came alongside his men to give them courage. As morning dawned, it was Joshua who “mustered,” or called his fighting troops to battle. What an encouragement his presence must have been to those who were going into battle against an enemy who had already defeated them once!
How precious is the tender ministry of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter. When there is no fight left in me, the Holy Spirit comes alongside to “muster” me back into battle. He summons me and calls me by name. It is the Holy Spirit who gives me the courage to face an enemy who might have overpowered me in the past, and it is the Holy Spirit who gives me strength. When I am afraid, the Holy Spirit promises His peace; when I am tired, He restores my soul; and when I am injured, He cares for me as He does the sparrow.
3. CHECKING OUT OF BAGGAGE CLAIM
To be sure, our earthly battles will not be fought without injury. The consequence of living in a fallen world and fighting such a formidable enemy may leave unmistakable scars in our lives. My life is full of scars, and I’m sure yours is too. Restoring the brokenhearted is God’s miraculous work and will take time. The Christian’s greatest contribution to this healing process is patience. Patient waiting for God to work His will His way will ensure a complete return to action with no setbacks.
Earlier this year I spent some time in baggage claim after some intense combat. With no constraints on my time, I met with the Lord every day for one, two and sometimes three hours. I asked the Lord to restore me, so He began the painful process of walking me through what was hindering our relationship. Some of it was just my human weakness, but much of it was sin I had allowed to creep into my life. Pain in the baggage claim can be excruciating as the Lord cuts away damage and disease, but the joy that follows makes it so worthwhile. There is no peace like the peace that comes in restoration.
Putting aside those things that would threaten to keep us imprisoned in the baggage claim forever, we “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Hebrews 12:2) This is the hope of the baggage claim! God doesn’t want us to just keep making laps around a conveyor belt with no forward momentum. He wants to claim us as His own and take us out of the terminal for a life of adventure. If we get stranded in our present sufferings, we will miss all that He intends, and we will miss the message of our afflictions, which is God’s purpose of conforming us to the likeness of our own Commander-in-Chief – Jesus.
Throughout our journey, there will be times of fear, fatigue, and failure that may render us unfit for battle. When those times come, the baggage claim department may serve the wounded warrior well. After health and strength return, the soldier will, once again, be summoned to the frontline to face the Enemy who has already been defeated by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Satan has already been defeated, so he doesn’t need to defeat you!
4. HOW DO WE CHECK OUT OF BAGGAGE CLAIM?
- Past failure – “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.” Philippians 3:13
- Past Sin – “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside ever encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” Hebrews 12:1
- Hurts by others – “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32
- Your great enemy – “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12
- Your role models – “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” Hebrews 13:7
- Your Great Commander-in-Chief – “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:2
© Copyright, 2012 by Donna Tallman.