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“We need three strong volunteers,” I said to the congregation for our Sunday children’s message. Hesitantly, (I have a reputation for embarrassing folks.) three men came forward. I placed them side by side and announced: “You are to be a wall. No matter what I say or do, you must not let me through. Do you understand?” At this point they gave me suspicious looks but nodded in agreement.
So with a theatrical flourish, I waved my hand toward the three men and announced: “Children, pretend these men are a wall. I am about to walk right through that wall. Do you know why? Because I am a positive thinker and fill my mind regularly with happy thoughts. Do you believe I can do it?”
Several children grinned and nodded their heads while a few shook their heads vigorously from side to side. However, the three men had a different look: serious. They were not going to let me through. With a happy smile on my face, I confidently strode toward the wall and bounced backwards like rubber ball. The children were laughing and even the men forming the wall were starting to grin.
“What happened?” I asked. “What did I do wrong? I was thinking happy thoughts?” Several kids started shouting directions. “Hit the wall with your fist. Go under their legs.” Finally, one of the boys said, “Go way back and run to the wall as fast as you can.”
“You’re right!” I answered. “That’s exactly what I need to do! Keep thinking happy thoughts, then I step way back, run fast and crash right through that old wall. After all, with determination and a positive attitude we can do anything — right?!” The kids began shouting and laughing but the men looked grim.
While running toward the wall, I assumed everyone knew this was only a children’s lesson. I had no intention of crashing through the three men who made up that wall. At the last second, I would pretend to bounce off the wall and go on with the story. Unfortunately, one of the men didn’t get the point.
The center “wall guy” who must have played linebacker on his school football team put arms to chest in his best blocking stance and let me have it, so to speak. All I remember is the sensation of flying through the air backwards before crashing to the floor. For several long moments there was an eerie silence as four hundred people collectively held their breath, wondering if their pastor was still alive?
The story was supposed to illustrate our need for God. Determination and a positive attitude are wonderful attributes but will only take you so far. Occasionally, you find yourself up against a wall with nowhere to go. This was supposed to be a lesson on putting our faith in God’s willingness and ability to show us another way through, over or around any wall or obstacle, no matter how big or small.
I only expected to encounter a wall, not be smashed in mid-flight. Walls don’t do that. Do they? We expect a few obstacles in our lives but it’s the full-blown tragedies that hit us by surprise and knock us to the ground. Determination and positive attitude can’t help us here: we need something more.
1 Peter is written for people facing enormous walls. Many are new Christians facing social contempt and outright persecution. They are desperately looking for a hopeful sign from Peter that God will continue to love them and see them through. Peter promises a wonderful inheritance and a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“So, be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” – 1 Peter 1:6-7
• Be glad. There is wonderful joy ahead.
• Though you must endure many trials for a little while.
• These trials test us as fire tests pure gold.
• When your faith remains strong, it will bring you much praise and glory.
Joy is possible even when facing hardship. Though we face many walls, many trials, they will make us stronger not weaker and eventually through Christ we will overcome. “Through Christ you have come to trust in God. And you have placed your faith and hope in God because he raised Christ from the dead and gave him great glory.” – 1 Peter 1:21
Could this be God’s unexpected lesson of the story? As I lay on the ground with the wind knocked out, checking to see if my body parts were still attached, I knew what needed to be done. No one wanted me hurt, especially the man who hit me. Everyone was holding their breath, praying and waiting.
I prayed for strength, slowly stood up, looked at the man who hit me, shook my head and smiled. Four hundred people erupted in laughter and applause. It was not the lesson, I intended but it may be the best lesson of all. When life knocks you down, remember God will answer your prayers and give you the strength to stand up and smile. It may not get you through a wall but it could get you through life.