“Uphold my steps in Your paths. That my footsteps may not slip”. Psalm 17:5
This morning was one of those crisp, icy, sun-drenched winter mornings. As I walked down the canal towpath, the water was like a mirror perfectly reflecting the bright blue sky. The dull tarmac had been transformed into a diamond-brick-road as the frost forced me to slow down and walk circumspectly. At my now careful pace, it was much easier to notice things; things that would be missed at haste. Surely the slippery road of 2020 has compelled us all to ease off the throttle – I wonder have we resisted or complied? It is a well-established principle that solitude and rest produce revelation.
At my new easy stride, I acquired a companion: a robin flew by my side and then rested close to the fence beside me. However, what was most noteworthy was what the little bird had chosen as his perch – a gnarled coil of rusty barbed wire. It seemed curious to my mind to see such a beautiful little creature choosing to rest on such a hostile seat. Then the phrase came to me “on the wire”. The expression can describe birds roosting on the telegraph lines or a tightrope walker balancing on a cable. Haven’t we all learned our own balancing act in the last 12 months? Some, I’m afraid, have fallen off the wire, no longer able to endure. Some have jumped off in utter despair. Others have frozen in fear and have lost momentum completely.
As we peer into the misty unknown of 2021, apprehension is natural. How can we be like the robin: perched in peace upon a landing that could have easily impaled him? I guess the answer is simple as it is profound – trust. We must enter this year with a conscious and practical trust in our heavenly Father to take care of us even when we are surrounded by many twisted and imminent threats. It is such a trust that found expression in King David’s desperate prayer of the heart: “Uphold my steps in Your paths. That my footsteps may not slip” (Psalm 17:5).
Another King, George VI, a reluctant King who ascended the throne due to his brother’s abdication, gave his first Christmas Day speech to the British Empire in 1939. The King also had a severe speech impediment that meant he was terrified of public speaking. In the midst of World War II and facing his own personal insecurities as sovereign he spoke to his people. After a few deep breaths, he began to speak. He measured his words carefully as he spoke slowly and yet determinedly:
“A new year is at hand. We cannot tell what it will bring. If it brings peace, how thankful we shall all be. If it brings us continued struggle we shall remain undaunted.”
Near the end of his speech, he read from a poem that was given to him by his 13-year-old daughter Princess Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth II). He said,
“I feel that we may all find a message of encouragement in the lines which, in my closing words, I would like to say to you:
“I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’”
(The Gate of the Year, by Minnie Haskins 1908)
He finished by saying,
“May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.”
If you find yourself at the gate of 2021, trembling, wobbling, on the wire, uncertain of how to face the unknown – ‘put your hand into the Hand of God’ and be at peace in the midst of potential peril, like our friend, the robin.