See the wider picture

About 150 years ago a man known as Trapper John lived in a remote forest at the northern edge of Canada. This real life "Grizzly Adams" figure had as his closest friend a German Shepherd dog called Duke. Every few days he and Duke would take an overnight trek to check the traps. Selling animal pelts at the trading post in the distant town sustained their simple life. Trapper John and Duke had shared each others company for over 10 years and the dog loved the man, often protecting him from wild animals. Duke even seemed to listen attentively to his master when he shared his feelings as they sat by the camp fire.

On one trip to town Trapper John met a young woman who was new to the Territory. She had started working at the trading post and they were instantly attracted to each other. Gradually the two of them fell in love and they got married in the following Spring. After the wedding she moved her few possessions out to the trapper’s cabin in the woods and started to turn it into a real home. Sadly tragedy struck within the year. As his wife was giving birth to a beautiful baby girl complications developed and the mother died leaving her husband heart broken.

When the funeral was over a kind family in the town took care of the infant until, after a year, Trapper John felt strong enough to take her back to his cabin. Now he was faced with the challenge of raising a child while sustaining their existence with trapping. During his overnight walks to the traps he would leave Duke to guard the sleeping baby knowing that he would protect her if she was in any danger. On one such trip however, a tragedy was only just averted.

Returning back to the cabin in the early morning after checking the traps, John came to the top of the hill overlooking the cabin. To his horror he noticed that the front door of the cabin was open. Throwing down his pelts, he raced to the open door to check on his daughter. As he entered the cabin he saw the baby’s bed covered in blood. He glanced round and saw Duke cowering in the corner also covered in blood. Instantly he assumed Duke had killed the child so he cocked his rifle and screamed "you killed my child" "you killed my child". John’s anguished roar thankfully awoke the baby who gave a little cry. John looked again in the direction of the child and suddenly noticed a dead bobcat behind her bed. The child was unharmed- Duke had saved her life. In a heartbreaking moment of understanding John realised he had almost killed the one who had saved his daughter.

This incident very nearly ended in tragedy all because Trapper John had failed to take time to properly review the situation before him. It was only due to the baby’s cry that his canine friend was saved rather than by any powers of thought or deduction on his part.

Unfortunately many people today are similar to this trapper when it comes to Godly matters. They are so caught up "in the moment" that they don’t take time to think about the wider picture. Like John they make instant assumptions without any real thought and unless something catches their attention like the baby’s cry, they make profound spiritual errors.

There are countless people who have been harmed by false spiritual assumptions they have made, all because they didn’t take time to look at this wider picture. For instance, when trouble came along, some people instantly assumed that God was to blame for their situation. They didn’t take time out to see that in fact God was their Companion in sorrow, not the cause of such sorrow. Or again, some people have been put off attending church because when they went to a certain church they were disappointed by the service or by the people and they automatically assumed that all churches were the same! Then again, some people have turned from God all because He didn’t grant them a particular prayer request. Perhaps the prayer was for a certain job or for a certain person to marry. The Almighty Alone knew what was best for them in the long run yet when their request was denied they refused to see this bigger picture and instantly assumed God didn’t love them.

People who don’t take time to reflect on the wider picture of life, miss out on so many of God’s blessings. False assumptions blight their character and they fail to experience that inner joy and peace which the Lord promises to those who really follow Him. One of the greatest tragedies to befall anyone is for them to go though their entire life without ever really thinking about and perceiving the bigger picture of their existence in God. They don’t realise that they have a loving Heavenly Father yearning for them to know Him personally, they don’t perceive what the Cross is all about; "That God so loved the world [them] that He gave His only Son…" to die for their sins, (John Ch3v16) and they don’t understand that "God is Love". (1st JohnCh4v16) . Owing to all their false assumptions and lack of thought and reflection they have denied themselves the most beautiful love relationship it is possible to have; a creature with his Loving Creator.

Some years ago I came across a moving illustration of this lack of perception, which is one of the most dramatic stories I have ever read. It is one of those stories which once read, is never forgotten and is a stark reminder of just how important it is to think about the bigger picture of life.

The first part of the story is set in a remote corner of the Scottish Highlands around 170 years ago. A young mother lived on a farm in a remote glen with her small child. Her husband had recently died and she was struggling to manage without any help. She had fallen behind with her rent and so early one morning she set off to pay it. Her croft was so remote it would be evening time before she would reach the house of her cousin and then the next day, pay what she owed. On her back she carried her only child. The mountain track went along a beautiful loch, passed through a forest and along the shore of a solitary lake. After that it went up a narrow gorge before finally coming to civilisation. The total distance was some 15 miles across mountainous terrain.

The morning on which she left gave promise of being a good day. Before noon however, a sudden change took place. Northward the sky turned black, masses of clouds came down and it started to rain. The rain then turned to sleet and then to snow. The snow gradually filled every hollow and whitened every rock. Her cousin got more and more anxious. When she failed to arrive by the following morning her cousin went around the village pleading for help to look for her. Soon twelve men began a search. The shepherd on the mountain could give no information about her except that beyond his hut there was no shelter, just snowdrifts many feet deep.

It was a difficult task to look for her but after some hours a cry went up from one of the searchers. Crouched beneath a huge granite boulder they discovered the dead body of the young widow. She was entombed by the snow. A portion of a tartan cloak which appeared above the surface of the snow had led to her discovery. But what had become of her child? And indeed what had become of her clothes? Apart from the tattered garment, she was totally naked. For a moment it was suggested that she had been murdered and stripped of her clothing, but the idea was soon dismissed. There had only been one murder in the region in over a century. She had evidently died where sat, bent double and frozen to death due to lack of clothing.

What had happened?

The mystery was soon solved. A searcher found the child alive in a sheltered nook in a rock very near to where his mother lay dead. The child lay in a bed of heather and fern and was swathed all over with the clothing his mother had stripped off herself to save the child. It was a pure example of sacrificial love. At the funeral the Rev MacLeod was hardly able to speak for tears as he endeavoured to express the woman’s worth and love and to pray for her poor orphan boy.

The second part of this story is set in Glasgow about 50 years later. It is often said that truth is stranger than fiction and this is because God’s Providential Hand is always mysteriously at work behind the scenes of human affairs.

The son of the minister who had conducted the young widow’s funeral also went into the ministry and on one occasion he was invited to be guest preacher at a church in Glasgow. At that time there had been a heavy fall of snow and so the congregation was quite small. As he sat in the vestry waiting for the service to begin, he suddenly remembered the incident of the widow and her child whom he himself had known personally when he was growing up. Although he had his sermon carefully prepared, he sensed the Lord wanted him to put his sermon to one side and instead tell the congregation the story of this woman and her love for her child.

After he told the story he then added "If that child is still alive, what would you think of him if he did not cherish his mother’s memory? What would you think of him if the sight of her clothes which she wrapped around him in order to save his life at the cost of her own did not touch his heart and fill him with gratitude and love too deep for words? And what hearts have you, as we think of Jesus’ Sacrifice for us on the Cross? Does not the thought of the Cross, the nails and scourge make our hearts glow with deepest love and with adoring gratitude? The minister finished the service and thought no more about it.

About two weeks later he was sent a message from a dying man who urgently wanted to see him. When the minister arrived at the man’s house, the dying man seized him by the hand. Gazing intently into the minister’s face, with great emotion he said "You do not recognise me, but I knew you and your father before you. I have been a wanderer in many lands and as a soldier I fought for my king and country. But I forgot my God. Though I have been in this city for some years I never entered a church.

The other Sunday I was walking passed a church when a heavy shower of snow came on. I entered the hall for shelter, not I am ashamed to say with the intention of worshipping God or hearing a sermon. When the congregation began to sing a hymn I thought I would get warm so I went into a seat near the door." At this the old soldier’s voice faltered. "Then I heard you tell that story of the widow and her son." He burst into tears and then cried out in anguish "I am that son!"

After a few moments he continued "Never did I forget my mother’s love. Though I never saw her, her memory is dear to me and I want to be buried beside her. But what breaks my heart, what covers me with shame is this, while I recognised my mother’s love, until you pointed it out, I never realised the deep love of Christ in giving Himself for me. I never realised His love in going to the Cross. I confess it, I confess it." His eyes were streaming with tears. Then pressing the minister’s hand to his chest he added "It was God Who made you tell that story to help me see my Saviour’s love. My dear mother did not die in vain." The man died peacefully the next day.

Only at the end of his days and due to Divine Intervention, did this old soldier suddenly see the bigger picture of life and realise the depth of God’s love for him. Many people are similar. They go through their life without ever sensing God’s Love, either because like Trapper John they have jumped to wrong conclusions about Him or because, like the old soldier they never took proper time to reflect on the Saviour’s Love. No wonder such people feel empty within.

In Psalm 46v10 it commands "Be still and know that I Am God" and in Psalms 1v2, 63v6, 77v12 and 143v5 it describes the righteous person as one who "reflects on the works of God day and night". Let us make sure that we properly reflect on "the wider picture of life". If we do this regularly it will ensure that we don’t miss out on the Greatest Love relationship it is possible to have.