I was ready to die, and I was only eight years old. The sun was blazing down and the heat seemed inescapable as we walked through the desert in Arches National Monument. My steps became smaller and smaller, and I was beginning to show the signs of heat stroke. Sudden relief came my way when our father led us into the shade from one of the large rock fins which characterizes this landscape. What a difference that made! It was easily 10-15 degrees cooler, and we were out from under the oppressive sun’s rays. After cooling down, and having some water, we were able to regain our strength and hike back to our campground. We survived!
Having endured such an ordeal, one would think my memory would serve me well and never go back to that place. On the contrary, Arches (now a National Park) is one of my favorite places on the planet. For those who have never had the privilege, Arches is located in southeastern Utah, and features large sandstone monoliths (fins) from which freezing water and wind have carved holes in the rock to form natural arches. If you go there, the best way to experience this place is to get out of your car and go hiking – but it is best to go prepared: go early in the morning, and take lots of water!
I relay all this because this experience makes a passage in Isaiah come alive to me:
See, a king will reign in righteousness
and rulers will rule with justice.
Each one will be like a shelter from the wind
and a refuge from the storm,
like streams of water in the desert
and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.Isaiah 32:1-2
The beginning of this passage clearly is making references to Christ. It is ever so true that it is in his love, mercy and grace he provides us with relief in our own thirsty land. Yet the passage also mentions rulers, and says that “each one” will be a shelter – it is not the king alone. What Christ has done for us, we should also seek to do for others. After all, as Christians we are the hands and feet of Christ. We are called to be “the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.”
So, how can you be a shadow? Realize that in order to be a great shadow you have to be connected to a great rock. Your ability to love and serve others flows from the strength you obtain by being in a relationship with God and in fellowship with other believers. Also realize that being the shadow does not mean you completely rescue somebody from their situation. You just provide some relief which can help that person walk out of their situation on their own. Perhaps it is being a listening ear, providing a meal or a ride, taking on an extra chore or providing a word of encouragement. What we may think of as a small effort can give another person a great lift.
One dynamic which makes this passage so striking is realizing to whom it was written. Isaiah is writing to a people who are on the verge of facing exile. They will be taken from their homes and brought into a foreign land. They will suffer. And yet there is instruction here to provide relief for those who are suffering in the midst of your own suffering. The shadow in the desert that provides relief is in the desert itself. If you are having troubles in your life, it is oddly therapeutic to help others. It can relieve you from the pit of introspection which trouble can bring, and provides some strength and encouragement to deal with your own trouble.
So, whose shadow will you be today?