Never Alone.

He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
Daniel‬ ‭3:25‬

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
—But who is that on the other side of you?

T.S. Eliot’s words in his poem, The Wasteland, were inspired by the account of three adventurers; Sir Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean, and Frank Worsley.

The God who is with us on the mountain

In 1916, on a rescue mission, Shackleton, Crean and Worsley crossed the rugged glaciers and uncharted mountains of South Georgia Island. Their 36 hour journey tested their strength and endurance. Three men, tied together with frayed ropes, braved deep crevasses, icy ledges, and deep valleys with nothing more than heroic will and a carpenter’s adze.

Their story, which began when their ship was destroyed by ice in 1914, has been hailed as one of the greatest feats of survival in all of history. The full account of their suffering and survival can be found in Alfred Lansing’s book Endurance. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It is one of the few books that I have read multiple times in the past few years.

As Shackleton, Crean and Worsley traversed South Georgia Island, they perceived the presence of a fourth person among them. Each man, unprompted by the other, shared at different times that they felt as if they were accompanied by someone they could not see.

Shackleton shared this with one of his biographers:

When I look back at those days I have no doubt that Providence guided us, not only across those snow-fields, but across the storm-white sea that separated Elephant Island from our landing-place on South Georgia. I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.

Frank Worsley later shared with Shackleton, “Boss, I had a curious feeling on the march that there was another person with us.

Tom Crean later confessed to the same strange sensation. Each of the three men had come to the same conclusion independently of the others: that they had been in company with another being.

The God who is with us when we are at the end of our rope

We can never be certain about what the trio who crossed the South Georgia Island mountains experienced. But one thing we can be certain of, when we feel alone and abandoned, God is right beside us.

God’s promise is to never leave us for forsake us.

When we meet with the end of our strength, God’s provision and mercy are there for us.

When we find ourselves in uncharted territory, God is there to guide us back to green pastures and still water.

The God who was with his children in the furnace

Shackleton’s, Crean’s and Worsley’s experience is not unique. When God’s people were exiled to Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar tried to force them to worship an idol of his own making.

“As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
Daniel‬ ‭3:5-6‬ ‭

There were three, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who defied the order of the king and risked their lives in order to be faithful to God.

When the king heard about their disobedience, he summoned them and asked them:

“Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up?”
‭‭Daniel‬ ‭3:14‬ ‭

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego responded courageously:

“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majestyʼs hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Daniel‬ ‭3:16-18‬ ‭

The furious king had them bound and thrown into a furnace that was 7 times hotter than normal. The furnace was so hot that some of the men who carried them to their execution were overcome, and perished, because of the intense heat.

But as King Nebuchadnezzar watched this execution, he noticed something extraordinary: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, rather than being consumed by the flames, were walking around in the furnace, unharmed, and in the presence of a fourth person.

He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
Daniel‬ ‭3:25‬ ‭

The king ordered Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to come out of the furnace. They had been so completely protected from that their clothes were not scorched, nor did they smell of fire or smoke.

King Nebuchadnezzar was so moved that made a decree that the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be honored among all of the people of Babylon.

Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the kingʼs command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”
‭Daniel‬ ‭3:28-29‬ ‭

The ONE Who Stands Beside Us

Whether we see him or not, he is with us.

On icy slopes, or in the furnace, he is our constant companion.

In chaos and in calm, God is among us.

If you are struggling to perceive God in your life, start with trust. God shows himself faithful to those who are faithful enough to believe. Our struggles, especially those that would cause us to doubt, are faith-growing opportunities.

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Tether yourself to the one who stands beside you by taking a little bit of his word with you along today’s stretch of your journey. Consider Psalm 121. I’ve leaned on it, and learned from it, through many uncertain moments.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭121:1-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬