The site: Johnston canyon, Banff National Forest, Alberta, Canada

The surroundings: Enormous trees, lush vegetation, cool clear air. A pine-quilted path muting our steps. Chipmunks scampering effortlessly across the rocks. The strident call of a mountain jay echoing across the rising walls of the canyon. Canyon walls obscuring the sky from view.

My response: Lost in wonder, awe and praise to my God. Eyes feasting on the magnificent display of nature around me. Ears savoring sounds of the mighty rushing river beside me. My soul reveling in the beauty splashed across the canvas before me . . . until I saw the sign:

There is hardly any sky here. 

The air is cool and full of the sound of the water.

Everything is water and rock:

water carving rock,

water breaking rock,

water carrying rock away.

The shapes you will see in this canyon are always changing. 

The rock dictates where the creek will run,

 but it is the water that decides

what rock will stay or go,

and whether it will go now or later.

A sign unlike any other I had ever seen. For though most signs give directions, facts or historical information, this one gave almost a philosophical description of the canyon. The river. The water.

Over time, unrelenting torrents had burrowed their way into the ground, carving cliffs, carrying away layer after layer of rock. Forming our pathway far below the rim of this canyon.

A canyon the sign said had been shaped by the power of rushing water. Yet if I were to hold a few droplets of water in the palm of one hand and a rock in the other, how outrageous and unfeasible it would seem. Water chiseling through rock . . . water deciding which rocks go and which stay. Really??

Pondering that thought, I looked out across the river and noticed a small piece of land jutting out into the river. Strangely out of place, nestled beside rock walls torn into place by the raging river, there it sat, unscathed and beautiful. Oblivious to the surging flood melt of last winter’s snowfall.

Beauty simply refusing to be destroyed set against the backdrop of beauty created out of destruction, the power of years of pounding waters. Though quick to admire those phenomenon in nature, I am afraid we might cower at the thought of beauty created out of destruction in the spiritual realm.

But maybe the work of the waters in Johnston Canyon might just be a picture of the work of the Spirit of God in our hearts and lives.

For Scripture tells us that Christ gives water springing up to eternal life (John 4:14). And when we drink in of the waters of eternal life through the grace of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit begins to move through our lives. Honing us. Healing and restoring us. Transforming our spirits and shaping us into the people we were created to be. People whom God has gifted and wants to use to touch others.

But how often we say we want to give God our whole lives, then balk when we realize that trusting God completely gives His Spirit permission to refine, change, shape us. Gives God permission to dictate which tools He will use to bring us more and more in line with the image of Jesus and shape us into people out of whose innermost beings will flow rivers of living water. (John 7:38)

Surely the ground in the canyon had no choice. Though standing firm for years upon years at some point, without permission, the relentless ongoing surge of water began to wear down even the strongest rocks in its path. Carrying away some for work downstream. Leaving some, who though disfigured from their original shapes, now lend overwhelming beauty to those who walk here. Speak loudly of their Creator. And stand as a monument of victory in the midst of struggle.

As Christians we do get to choose whether to submit ourselves fully unto the Lord. Whether to give over all areas of our lives. An easy concept when life is good. But when we come up against the hard things of life – tragedy – death – suffering – starvation across the globe – abject poverty and its effects on the lives of its children – loss – grief – pain . . . those things force us to make a choice. Blame God. Question God’s Sovereignty. Rail in anger. Sink into despair and hopelessness. Determine to life in our own power.

Or willingly step into the unknown, clinging tightly to God. Resting in the knowledge that God will walk with us every step of our journey. Determining to accept the work of God’s hand even when it hurts. And believing in God’s ultimate goodness, God’s faithfulness to us through all our days.

For God’s purposes in us are not only for us. And our responses to suffering will shape who we become and whether we will be windows through which others can see our Savior, be encouraged to press on, or even decide to trust in God’s ultimate grace and love.

So when the work is hard, when the pains of life rage and threaten to destroy us, may we run to our God, our Redeemer and . . . draw near with confidence to the throne of grace . . . receive mercy and find grace to help in {our} time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

God’s promise. My experience.

My friends, our God is there . . . with us, always. Breathing life back into the darkness of our souls. Providing strength for our trials. And when we relinquish ourselves into God’s carving, breaking, changing work in us, even though inexplicable and incomprehensible at times, God will use us to bring His light and love to others.

For our God sees a much bigger picture than we do. So even when the work at times seems unbearable, seems to have no end in sight and doesn’t make any sense, still I believe that God is always there, working to bring good out of it all. I believe that God ultimately has our best, our eternal best in mind. And I believe that the finished product in you and in me will not only be one of beauty but also one of great eternal value and fruit.

For when it is God who dictates which ‘rocks’ in our lives will stay, which will go and which will be reshaped, we can know that God is working to release the image of Christ in us. A work that will not be completed until that day we are with Him in glory.But oh, what aglorious work it is and will be!

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work

in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1: 6