My dear friend Gordon Gower is a fellow-preacher and elder of the church in Arizona. We’ve known each other far longer than we care to admit, and we share a passion for adventure. Gordon is a spelunker – a cave explorer – and took me along with him to explore a commercial cavern in Texas. He was a friend of the operator and had permission to “go off the beaten path.”
I remember slithering through mud and water in a room the size of a gymnasium (but it was only 18 inches high!) In one corner, Gordon found a new passage leading off of that room. It was barely big enough to poke your head through. Spelunkers are a strange lot, and they believe if you can get your head through a hole, then surely the rest of your body can follow. Gordon wiggled out of sight. I had no choice but to follow along behind. It was a narrow, muddy, torturous passage, but we inched through it. Suddenly, we popped out behind a stalagmite in the middle of a tour group on the main trail in the beautiful, commercial part of the cavern.
I will never forget the expressions of horror on the faces of some of the sweet, well-coiffured, well-dressed ladies as two troglodytes stood up caked with ghastly mud, with only the mud saving us from total embarrassment. Our coveralls were torn into ribbons that loosely hung from our bruised bodies. The flame of Gordon’s miner’s lamp danced and hissed on top of his helmet. Then a concerned look crossed his face. He asked the tourists, “Didn’t they tell you to wear old clothes before you started the tour?” With that, we walked briskly out through the turnstile.
Gordon and I have spent many nights together under the stars climbing mountains in Colorado. We’ve hiked for miles with heavy packs, and that brings me to the focus of today’s meditation. I remember one winter while we were snowshoeing on the side of a 14,000-foot peak. I was exhausted and began coughing up blood. We needed to get back down quickly. Gordon reached over and took the heavy tent off of my pack and put it on his back. He took my load. The Bible calls that sunantilambanō (συναντιλαμβανω).
The Apostle Paul uses that word to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:26. It is most often translated as “helps” in English as in “the Spirit helps us in our weakness,” but it is much more picturesque than that. Kenneth Wuest (Word Studies) says:
The word speaks of the action of a person coming to another’s aid by taking hold over against that person, of the load he is carrying. The person helping does not take the entire load, but helps the other person in his endeavor.
In other words, the Holy Spirit doesn’t do the work for us, completely relieving us of our duties and burdens. Instead, the Spirit lightens our load and strengthens our backs. Changing the metaphor, the Spirit is like a parent helping a child do her homework. The parent doesn’t do the homework for them but instead guides and explains the problem so the child can experience the joy of success.
God doesn’t always provide us a way out, but he will always provide us with a way through!