The Lions – Releasing Possibility

When the Going Gets Tough!

By Chris Spicer
3 minute read.

Let’s face it, whether you’re involved in church, commerce or a charitable enterprise, the last two years have been tough. What with the COVID pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis, behind all the razzamatazz of a commercialized Christmas, society is facing a perfect storm. Feuding nations, food and fuel bills rocketing out of control plus the uncertainty of what 2023 might bring – many will be cutting back on the expense of celebrating the birthday of humanity’s ultimate bringer of hope – Jesus Christ.

So, what if in the light of this present climate we take a closer look at the lyrics of an ancient Christmas Carol and see how it resonates with our present times. The 19th Century song in question is commonly known as Good King Wenceslas. First written to be sung on St Stephens day [Boxing Day], the essence of the carol is one of giving rather than receiving. With a charitable company operating a policy of ‘social distancing’ and a ‘poor man … gathering [his] winter fuel [allowance],’ this seems a perfect scenario that could so easily be a caricature of the struggles society is presently facing.

While no one would argue with the sentiments of the song,
it’s the carrier of good news that catches my attention!

Faithfully following his master’s call, the servant sets out with the best of intentions to journey in a way that mirrors the kindness of his Lord. But, at some point in the journey, the going gets tough and he is at risk of falling victim of his surroundings. The original songwriter, an English Anglican Priest by the name of John Mason Neale, puts it like this:

Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart I know not how
 I can go no longer.

Though the language is ancient, the sentiments speak of a present reality. A willing, well-meaning servant became so overwhelmed with his surroundings, that he was ready to give up and go home. In the words of the apostle Paul, he had become, ‘weary in well doing.’ [i] Not that becoming ‘fatigued’ is in any way wrong – Jesus himself became ‘wearied with his journey.’[ii] It is more our response to those feelings of emotional, physical and spiritual weariness that matters.

When tough times cause tiredness and a tendency to give up,
something has to change.

The imagery behind the original biblical word translated ‘weary’ is the idea of loosing our grip on things. Like a ship might slip its moorings; or a bow-string might lose its tension; or a fighter might drop their guard. The weary servant in the song is questioning his ability as to whether or not he could continue in his journey. To which his master responded:

Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.

It is as if the servant had tried to strike out on his own to make his own way in life and was now facing the severity of the storm alone. To come to the end of ourselves is a good place to begin. The opening statement of Jesus’ kingdom manifesto puts it like this, ‘You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule,’ [iii]

It’s the phrase ‘Mark my footsteps’ that somehow resonates down the centuries to those readers who might be struggling to make headway in those storms we are presently facing. It is as if the eternal way-maker – Jesus – is calling weary followers to get back in step; to stop trying to make it on their own. For the God we serve is the one who ‘goes before us.’ [iv] He is the one who initiated life’s journey and has provided sufficient  grace for our success. It is He who sets the pace that will enable us to reach our destination. So, for those feeling overwhelmed by the adverse conditions we are currently facing and ready to give up, maybe this is a moment in time when we need to get back in-time and in-tune with a loving heavenly father in whose footsteps we are called to follow. With that, I am reminded of this:

‘My lack of piano practice was blatantly obvious to my incredibly patient, kind-hearted music teacher. Miss Smith was an accomplished musician sourcing a small income from offering piano lessons. As a senior citizen trying her best to make proficient pianists out of her protegee’s, her encouraging words all too often fell on deaf ears. Anyone with a shred of musical skill could tell that I was murdering Ludwig van Beethoven’s first movement of his Moonlight Sonata. I was out of tune and out of time. To quote a famous comedian, ‘I was playing all the right notes, but maybe not in the right order!

This was a much-needed ‘Metronome Moment’. Using the small wooden pyramid shaped box that sat on top of the upright grand piano, it was hoped that some measure of musical melody could be restored to my erratic playing. This clockwork machine, no taller than an average book, produced an audible click from its swinging arm.  The Metronome was intended to restore some semblance of rhythm to my reckless attempt to replicate what the original composer intended. 

[v]“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me-watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly,”

Maybe this is a Christ-like version of a ‘Metronome Moment.’ Taking time out in order to restore some semblance of rhythms to our manic lives. To learn ‘the unforced rhythms of grace’ will require, as Jesus said, a need to ‘walk with’ and ‘work with’ the one who lived in perfect harmony with his heavenly father.’ [vi] To hear our kind-hearted king say, ‘Mark my footsteps.’

For those entrepreneurial thinkers who, with the best of intentions, started an adventure of faith with fortitude and now find themselves wanting to give up – maybe this is a Metronome Moment. What if over the Christmas and New Year period we press the pause button on what has become more of a slow-slog than a sprint and, in so doing, take-stock by asking ourselves whether or not we have:

  • Gone off Piste
  • Struck-out on our own
  • Become independent rather than interdependent
  • Dropped our guard and suffered a knockout-blow
  • Become no longer in-time or in-tune with Gods rhythm of grace
  • Lost the tension necessary to harmonize God’s original intention with our actions

Maybe it is time to ‘Mark [God’s] footsteps’ in the snow – to get back in line with Him. To re-calibrate our activities with God’s original intention, that first caused us to set-out on this venture. Or in the language of so many self-help books and managerial motivational talks, ‘When the going gets tough, the tough get going!’

PRAYER: ‘Heavenly Father, you are the kind-hearted king who I willingly follow. However, honesty demands that I acknowledge that I have become weary in well-doing, I’ve dropped my guard, tended to go-it-alone and lost that spiritual tension that use to drive me onwards. Help me today to ‘mark your footsteps’ for my life, to get back in line with your grace and go at the pace you have set for me and those things you have called me to carry to this generation. Amen.’

Chris Spicer 2022

[i] Galatians 6:9

[ii] John 4:5, KJV

[iii] Matthew 5:3, MSG

[iv] Deuteronomy 31:8

[v] Matthew 11:28-30 MSG

[vi] Extract from my forthcoming book ‘If You’re Not Dead, then God’s Not Done.’