The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tunnel of Fear

“Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” – Matthew 7:14


Have you ever had to undergo an MRI; a Magnetic Resonance Imaging test? I always thought of myself as fearless and unflappable. Going for an MRI changed all that. An MRI is a test that enables doctors to see what is going on inside your body. It’s a test that takes a picture of blood flow and any damage that may have occurred from stroke or other disease related issues.

My opportunity to undergo such a test took place after being admitted to the hospital for a TIA or Transient Ischemic Attack; in layman’s terms a mini-stroke. Admission into the hospital for observation and to determine after affects is required in such situations. I then underwent CAT scans, an echocardiogram, tests on my carotid artery, blood tests, EKGs, the works. But the big test I would have to undergo was the MRI. When I first heard of it my response was to think so what? No big deal; piece of cake. I was not prepared for what lay ahead. I was about to learn a mighty important and real lesson.

Let me provide some background. The night before going for my MRI was filled with periodic nurse inquiries and sleep depriving interruptions. But I have to say my nurses really were a blessing; they all get an A+ from me. My heart rate was monitored and blood pressure regularly taken. I was fitted with anti-blood clotting sleeves for my calves that inflated and deflated every few minutes. There were the flashing lights and sounds of bells and whistles of those machines. None of this made for relaxation let alone sleep. All of it, I understand, was for my good. Sometimes discomfort is necessary for your good.  I was pretty exhausted but glad and looking forward to going for my MRI as soon as possible. My good doctors were doing their due diligence to minister to my medical needs. Hopefully an MRI would show no lasting problems, meet the doctor’s requirements for me, and pave the way to get out of the hospital. I felt pretty good despite all that was going on.  

It was at the crack of dawn. I was sleep deprived and ready to do just about anything to secure my release. The nurse entered the room and said, “Ready to go? We have you scheduled for your MRI.” I said, “Definitely!” not fully realizing what lay ahead. “Let’s do it!” I said; a poor unwitting soul about to face a test of faith. I was transferred to a gurney and wheeled through the hospital corridors, into the elevator, down to the basement of the hospital, through some more corridors and into the MRI room.

First thing I see upon entering the room was a vault like door which I surmised was where I would have to go. Wonder why that room has a door like a bank vault? I thought. I quickly put any negative thoughts out of my mind. Let’s get this over with.  

“What is your name and date of birth?” the MRI tech asked. This was a standard question asked by all the techies before every test I took to assure the person getting the test was the person who was supposed to get the particular test. I confirmed my name and birthdate and we were good to go. A few more preparations by the techie in an adjacent command center room and I was wheeled through the vault door into the room with the MRI machine.

Now if you’ve never taken an MRI you really can’t appreciate the experience. Words aren’t going to be adequate here. I guess there are some people who have no problem submitting to the MRI procedure, but I’m not one of them. All I can tell you is that I learned things about myself that I never knew before. I learned about panic as I saw and then was wheeled toward a tunnel of fear called an MRI machine. My eyes probably got a bit bigger as it became apparent I was going to be strapped down and pushed into this thing.

I was brought over to a long plastic slab and asked to transfer over from the gurney to the slab. I say “slab” as in a slab in a morgue because that’s exactly what came to my mind. This entire circumstance had brought me face to face with my own mortality. When we’re young the thought of life as we know it ending or of, dare I say it, “death” is really something we just pay lip-service to. But as we age and we see these “earthen vessels” in which God has placed His treasure become more and more earthen, well, we are awakened with a cold bucket of the water of reality (2 Cor. 4:7a). It’s at that point where we discover if what we have been living for, what we have been teaching and preaching is for us only theory or reality. It can be a scary lesson that involves fear. But it is a necessary process so that we can learn, “the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:7b).

“Okay, lay there. Lift your legs” they said as they put a pillow like piece to bend my knees up. “Do you want to listen to music?” the techie said. Music? Sure, can’t hurt. “What kind of music do you have?” I inquired. “A local Rock station” was the offer. My blood pressure and anxiety level was creeping up a bit at this point and I didn’t think listening to Rock ‘n Roll from the world was what I needed. I declined.

“Got anything else to listen to?” I asked. “Nope, that’s all we got. It’s a new set up and we only have one station.” I was told. The techie then offered me some ear plugs. He explained, “It gets a little noisy when the machine is working; kind of like a loud banging of a steam piston engine.” Thoughts began to materialize in my mind - Oh, that’s interesting, especially in light of that tiny little hole you are apparently going to try in fit me into; a steam piston engine; like laying down in front of an oncoming train!

Well, I gulped and lay down on the plastic slab. I settled for regular ear plugs. I was doing pretty well though apprehensive to say the least. I lay back; flat on my back. My knees bent upward; totally defenseless. “Here, hold on to this,” he said and gave me a rubber smushy grip on the end of a long wire chord. “If you have a problem just squeeze this and I’ll stop” he said. I gave him a tentative “okay” look as he fit me into place.

Last but not least the techie said, “Now I have to put this cage over your head.” It was literally a cage that he then fit over my head, centimeters from my nose. He then literally locked it in place on the table slab I was laying on. That was it! I have never felt anything in my life that I would describe as “panic,” but I did then. For about two seconds I was in place. Then before he could leave I said, “Wait a minute bro. I don’t think I can do this. Let me out.” “Are you sure?” He queried. I said, “Yeah, let me out.” He was very compliant. I tried to gather myself but I just couldn’t proceed. He asked me if I was sure I couldn’t do it and if I wanted to wait a bit before nixing the procedure. There was usually a long waiting list for MRIs. It might be a while before I would get another opportunity. I was sure it was a no go. I didn’t much care about waiting on line for an MRI.

But as I sat waiting for the attendant to come and take me away, a sense of humiliation and failure came over me. I overheard the techie calling back to my ICU (Intensive Care Unit) nurse to tell him I was unable to take the test. Medication to calm me was considered but dismissed since I had exhibited a low heart rate the previous night. I was wheeled back to my room.

Once back in my room further consultation with medical staff brought up an alternative to the MRI, the “Open MRI” which is less confining. I opted to give that a try. But as I was left alone in my hospital room I thought about what just happened. My mind wandered. I thought about and had a new appreciation for those soldiers during the Vietnam War who would crawl into holes in pursuit of the enemy. I thought about and had a whole new appreciation for cave explorers and anyone willing to squeeze into a tight spot to rescue people or for any reason.

But I was still a bit perplexed about what had happened to me. I went into this test fearless and came out the other end, well, not fearless. I had been in narrow places before. I had been through the Temple tunnel and Hezekiah’s tunnel on Israel trips and had no problem. Those were tight narrow places. Why was this MRI so insurmountable? What was wrong with me? This wasn’t “normal” for me. Was there something to learn here? Where was the Lord in all this? Was there a lesson the Lord wanted to teach or reteach me?

I was cleared to leave and was discharged from the hospital with a host of neurological and cardiological testing in my immediate future. In the days that followed I brought my inability to take the MRI before the Lord. It really bothered me. “Father, how come I couldn’t take that test?” My resistance to taking the test was as close to an involuntary psychological feeling as I have ever had. As I prayed and pondered scripture truth came to mind. In Christ God’s peace is to rule us (Col. 3:5). I wouldn’t consider what happened to me sin, but in the Spirit we are not to be dominated in any way (Rom. 6:9, 14). In Christ, we can be more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37-39). Jesus is there in every situation (Heb. 13:5).

In meditating on all of this before the Lord He brought to mind that human beings are a trichotomy: body, mind and spirit. “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul [mind], and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it” (1 Thess. 5:23-24). All three of these human compartments, “spirit, soul, and body,” are related and interconnected. Without Christ the mind and body rule in sin. They go unchecked in a human whose spirit is dead. But when a person is regenerated by the grace of God through the work of the Holy Spirit and faith in Christ the Holy Spirit enters the person and gives life, spiritual life and power to the “born again” person. The person once ruled and dominated by mind and body alone, undergoes a holy inversion where now the spirit empowered by the Spirit rules the mind and body.

All of this is necessary so that we learn the reality of the inspired words: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18).  God uses the temporal to teach us eternal truths. He prepares us to live eternally by lessons learned in the temporal world now.

I believe the Spirit working in our spirit can help us rule our body and mind. That caused me to consider that, “I can do all things” including taking an MRI, “through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). And so I purposed to submit to the MRI, first the “open” less confining option, but then also the regular MRI if determined necessary by my neurologist.

After my release from the hospital my first follow up test was, you guessed it, the MRI. I prayed and trusted the Lord. I went for the test. This time, met with some empathetic attendants and some available worship music, with eyes shut and focused in faith on the Lord, I was able to undergo the MRI. Whew! Glad that’s over. If I in Christ can do that, I feel I can do just about anything.

Through faith in the Lord we can be more than conquerors. For me to take that test, enter the tunnel of fear, which had previously caused me great stress was personal proof of His presence and power. But the day after the test the Lord spoke to me in my devotional time and brought me a bit deeper still. He brought me to consider the particulars of my circumstances.

I just happened to be prayerfully reading, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it” (Mat. 7:13). The word “narrow” caught my attention and reminded me of the narrowness of the MRI machine. The Lord was beginning to speak. This passage of scripture was no coincidence; it was a divine appointment, a God-incident in my life.  I had to enter into something the Lord had for me and it necessitated passing through a “narrow” gate.

As I continued to read His still small voice turned the volume up. I went on to read, “Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Mat. 7:14). The word “difficult” caught my eye. It is defined in my marginal note as meaning “confined.” Confined! The Lord was bringing my MRI experience and the “narrow . . . difficult” gate together to illustrate a point. What’s the point? The point is that God’s will and ways can lead us into tight situations. What happened to me was according to His will. Why? Confining places can tempt us to fear and even panic but there is a purpose for His doing so. God allows us to enter situations where our resources, our “courage” our capabilities are completely inadequate, completely absent. Why does He allow this? So that we are forced through those narrow places to a place where we learn the only way through is to trust Him.

Fear and faith are diametrically opposed to one another. If our faith is to grow and be strengthened it must be tested. A faith untested cannot be trusted. A faith tested can be trusted. We must go from mere theoretical faith to the reality of practical experiential faith. Faith is tested with fear. Abraham (Gen. 12 and 22), Isaac (Gen. 26), Jacob (Gen. 32), Joseph (Gen. 37), Moses (Exodus 3 and following), Joshua (Joshua 1), Gideon (Judges 6), the Apostles (Mark 14:50) and a host of others were allowed by God to face fears in the process of building faith. In each case God was present and revealed Himself in faith building ways to those He had allowed to come face to face with fear. Fear is a necessary part of God building faith.

God allows us to face fears so that we will be brought to a place where we have to choose. Faith involves decision. We must choose to either let fear overcome us or choose to trust Him in faith. We overcome our fears through faith in Him. Each time we do overcome fear in faith our faith is strengthened, our courage is empowered.

The only way to get through a life that is often confining to the point of producing panic and fear is TO TRUST JESUS. That is a powerful lesson. That is a necessary lesson I have been aware of but had reaffirmed by the Lord. The next time God allows you to face a confining fearful situation, understand it is a place of opportunity. It is a place to learn He is real, He is there, and if you trust Him, He is able and will bring you through the narrow confining fear filled holes of life. The tunnel of fear is no match for Him. He’s right there with you. He was right there with me. And I thank Him for being there. I thank Him for my tunnel of fear.

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