Pastor Malcolm Smith, who was at that time a pastor in rural Ireland, tells the story of an Irishman whose farm had been ravaged by fire. The day after the blaze, Malcolm and the farmer ambled through the smoldering remains of the property surveying the black wasteland that just yesterday had been verdant and full of life.
They came across what looked like a pile of burned rags. The farmer kicked the clump and bubbling up from the ashes came — baby chicks! What looked like a pile of rags was actually the remains of a mother hen who had gathered her babies under her wings and bravely faced the flames.
I imagine myself in her place. (Now let me first say, I know that chickens aren't very smart. In fact, I had a couple of roosters once, and when I cleaned their cage, if I did not put it back exactly as it had been before, they could not get out. When I opened the door, the chickens, like feathered MMA wrestlers, would slam themselves against the bars of the cage where the door used to be. Even so, like all of God's creatures, chickens still have a strong instinct to live.)
I suppose the mother hen's first impulse was to run, leading her chicks through the maze of flames, scrambling frantically through a labyrinth of dead ends. But at some point, she was surrounded by fire with no way of escape. She gathered her chicks under her body and waited. Two choices. Her life or the chicks?
Most mothers would have made the same choice, I imagine. But I wonder if time slowed down in that moment. Did she waver? How did she quell her instincts to run? What is it like to resign oneself to death?
I believe that the hardest choices are not so much sacrifices and self denial, as choosing what we want the most. The hen must have wanted to save herself. But she wanted to save her babies even more. That is all dying to self means. Ironically, it is choosing what we ultimately want.
So the hen chose. She chose what she wanted the most, and that was to protect her chicks at any cost. Even the cost of death by fire.
As the two men watched the reborn, yellow chicks scurry pac-man-like over the blackened earth, a promise came to life for Malcolm:
"For the joy set before Him, he endured the cross." (Hebrews 12:2) Do you wonder what that joy was? Freedom from the evil of earth? Freedom from finite, human limitations to be God again? Being crowned King of kings and Lord of lords, to whom every creature will one day bow?
No, the joy Jesus died for is relationship: God longs for each one of us to know Him because He loves us with a mother's love. (Psalm 131) What the God of the universe wants more than life itself is to know you. He wants to be more than your Lord, He wants to be your father and mother, your brother, your lover, and your friend.
So, my dear friend,
"I pray that out of [God's] glorious riches
he may strengthen you with power
through his Spirit in your inner being,
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,
may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people,
to grasp how wide and long and high and deep
is the love of Christ,
and to know this love that surpasses knowledge
—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
according to his power that is at work within us,
to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus
throughout all generations, for ever and ever!
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