Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Gaining Hinds' Feet on High Places

Photo Credit: Noel Zia Lee
A couple of weeks ago my good friend, Charles Gilmer, led our Impact leadership team in a brief devotional from the Old Testament book of Habakuk.  We looked at Chapter 3 and focused especially on verse 19:
"The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places."
You may not be familiar with the actual scriptural reference but you may recognize the title from Hannah Hurnard's 1955 book, Hinds' Feet on High Places.  I was first introduced to Hurnard's classic through the Christian rock group, Jars of Clay, who based the title of their sophomore album, Much Afraid, on the main character from the book.

Even though I've owned a copy of Hinds' Feet for a number of years, I had never read it until last week.  The time my team spent examining the Habakuk passage motivated me enough to read the book on a recent flight and it ministered to me deeply.

Hinds' Feet on High Places is a fictional tale which describes the Christian life in allegory and tells the story of Much-Afraid, a lame and disfigured woman who desires to travel to the high places with the Chief Shepherd (who she tends sheep for), but lives in bondage to fear.  She lives in the Valley of Humiliation, along with her Fearing Relatives and dreads her arranged marriage to her cousin, Craven Fear.

Eventually, she expresses her wishes to the Shepherd to be given hinds' feet and travel to the high places with him.  He agrees to take her to the top of the mountain but he first chooses two traveling companions for her -- Suffering and Sorrow -- who will be by her side each step of the way.

On her journey to the high places, a number of her Fearing cousins -- like Pride and Self-Pity and Bitterness -- try to stop her from reaching the high places.  In addition to obstacles caused by her family, her travels to the high places take her along a difficult route as she has to spend time in a desert (where she discovers a flower called "Acceptance with Joy"), along the Sea of Loneliness, in the Forest of Danger and Tribulation, and mired in the Valley of Loss.

Though frightened much of the way, Much-Afraid chooses to believe the promises of the Shepherd and trust that the way he has chosen for her will lead to the high places.  At each step of completion along the way, she collects a stone of remembrance.  And along with each portion of the journey completed, she finds herself getting stronger and stronger.  After some time, she comes to an altar where she must lay her life down so that human love is removed from her heart and the Shepherd's love is allowed to blossom. 

As a result of her altar experience, she finds that the Shepherd has healed her and given her hinds' feet.  Even though she is now free to enjoy being in the Shepherd's presence and living in the high places away from her dreadful family, the Shepherd's love, which has now taken root in her heart, causes her to view her family differently.  She begins to understand the sadness in which they live and desires to travel down to the valley so that maybe she might point them to the Shepherd that has so changed her.

Much-Afraid learns that her traveling companions, Sorrow and Suffering, were needed for her to get to the high places.  They helped her build her strength and deal with the attacks of those seeking to do her harm.  In reaching the high places, she has learned to accept her trials with joy and to not hold bitterness towards her family.  Although she can also climb back to the high places at any time since she now has hinds' feet, she chooses to live in the valley with her family to show them a different way of life.

The Shepherd's love has so gripped her heart that she can't help but love those that were once like her.  Even more, the Shepherd gives Much-Afraid a new name and calls her "Grace and Glory" since "the old things have gone and the new has come." She, who was once dominated by fear, is now motivated by grace and the glory of the Shepherd. 

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