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In the Noisy Ark and the Smelly Lions’ Den (Or how to jump into a Bible Story)

I had been teaching a church group of four middle-schoolers. We were reading through “The Orange Book,” also known as Children, Can You Hear Me? By Brad Jersak. It’s a children’s picture book that I picked up at age 28 while sitting on my best friend’s bedside rug and realized, “My whole life would be different if someone had found and read this book to me when I was a kid.” The colorful pages teach children that they can see and hear Jesus with their hearts and dialogue with Him all day long. They defy the lie that that hearing God’s voice is too dangerous for kids. I’m starting to think the opposite is true: it’s too dangerous for kids to face life without it.

Since I can’t go back in time and give my childhood self that truth (I had to go on a many-year journey to gain it in harder ways), I jump at every opportunity to read that book to the real kids in my life (although adults often love it even more!). This group had just finished the page where we imagined meeting Jesus standing at the foot of His cross, gave Him all our burdens, and asked Him what He wanted to give us in exchange. The next picture showed a modern little girl sitting beside Daniel in the lions’ den and chatting with a grinning Jesus, who was laughing while holding the lions in a headlock. The book invited the children to imagine entering their favorite Bible story. Where were they in the story? Were they one of the characters? Where was Jesus in the story? What was He doing? What was He saying? How would they interact with Him in the story? I planned to read the story of Daniel and the lions and have us all try it.

To complicate matters, I was teaching in a language I’d only been learning for less than three years. My language teacher came every day and coached me as I practiced the lesson on her. And every time we went through the “imagine you are in the lions’ den with Daniel” part, the Holy Spirit really did show us each something. One day my teacher found herself in the den asking God “What did I do wrong?” and unearthing the lie that she believed her suffering was always her own fault, while I was discovering that when Jesus held the lions back from harming me, I could see that they were abused, starving lions and feel compassion for them. Another day I was telling Jesus I didn’t deserve to be rescued because I hadn’t been faithful like Daniel, and He was holding out a pierced hand insisting that He wanted to save me. Or I was grousing that even though I knew He’d save me from the lions, I had hurt my ankle being thrown into the den and why couldn’t He save me from that too? Meanwhile my teacher had discovered the den was full of angels and light and they were having a worship party all night long and it was the funnest place to be (event though she couldn’t sleep because the ground was covered in lion poop!).

The experience was different for each of the two of us on each of the four days, leading us to a total of eight different revelations in the lions’ den! (I got a ninth one when I did it again along with the kids!). I had never actually done this “jump into the story” stuff on purpose before, and it seemed that the Lord had an infinite number of ways to encounter us in one dark, smelly, cramped den full of lions!

In my literal life, I was still living in that apartment with the four women in two total rooms. It could be physically uncomfortable. It could be emotionally uncomfortable. They were not, praise the Lord, hostile as lions, but sometimes we felt afraid of one another. I was facing the ugly truth that I loved people until they scared me, and then my love went out like a candle and the fear took over. Lately, all my efforts to make friendly conversation with the newest roommate had been met with silence or grunts. Was she just tired after work and wanting to be alone? Or was she mad at me about something and not telling me? Did I need to ask her? If I asked her and she wasn’t upset about anything, would she think I was a paranoid weirdo? If I asked her and she HAD been harboring frustration and resentment, would she blow up and hurt me? And if I did nothing, stopped trying, and continued to feel safer and happier when she wasn’t home and then feel guilty that I felt that way, would I go through the rest of my life giving up on relationships when I stopped feeling safe? And if I was this messed up inside, what was I doing in another country trying to help other people anyway?

I told two of my closest friends about it on an international phone call: “I’m learning to jump into Bible stories, and I’m freaked out about being freaked out about whether my roommate is mad at me!” They wisely suggested I apply lesson A to situation B and ask Jesus if there was a Bible verse or story He wanted to show me about my roommate situation. I did, right there on the phone. And immediately I found myself on Noah’s ark. The conditions were cramped. The floor was moving. The animals were loud all night. The smells were horrible. The people couldn’t go outside and get away from each other for well over forty days and forty nights.

I wondered, how did they respond to those conditions? Were they mature enough to maintain healthy communication and boundaries and strong connection with each other? Or were they tiptoeing around each other on eggshells or at each other’s throats the whole time? We’re never told. Because in the end, it doesn’t change the plot. They went into the ark and God shut the door and they survived the flood. Their attitudes and words and behavior towards each other, sinful or not sinful, as important as that is, did not change the plotline that they were being saved together.

Sitting with the phone in my hand and my eyes closed, I told my friends what I was seeing. “Walk around and look for more,” they urged me. “Ask the characters what is helping them handle this.” So I kept looking. I immediately saw Noah sitting down, leaning on his staff, his white beard long and his face sad. He shook his head and whispered,

“All those years that I was building the ark and everyone was mocking me, I thought my life would get easier when the flood came and my work mattered and I was vindicated and proven to have heard God rightly. But oh how I wish I had been wrong! How horrible it was for me and my family to see everyone else we’d ever known perish!”

I reported back to my friends on the phone what I was learning: “The cramped conditions are not what is difficult for them. It’s the trauma of having seen everyone else they ever knew killed. They are just so grateful to be alive. When it smells bad, they are thankful they can still breathe. When they drive each other crazy, they are just thankful not to be the only human being left alive in the world!”

Then I added, “I kinda get that. I’ve been told that less than 1% of the population here where I’m living is ‘on the ark’ or ‘in Jesus.’ My roommates and I are part of that tiny percentage of survivors. And He’s showing me that I don’t need to be less messed up than the new believers here are so I can fix them. That’s not my gospel. I’m not a Savior, just a witness to the fact that I am really messed up and here is how Jesus responds to my sin, so He’ll do that for you, too. If I mess up more, I’m not disqualified from sharing that message. If our relationships on this ark of salvation are a mess, that doesn’t change the fact that we are on the ark together and ‘God shut the door.’ And that’s all that matters. Our unity isn’t based on the fact that we are trying so hard to be perfect to each other but on the fact that we are being saved by God together. I think that’s what we celebrate with communion, being forgiven together. Eating Jesus’ body and drinking His blood together, needing Him that much together.”

In the end, I managed to ask the newest roommate, in broken grammar, “I haven’t offended you, have I?” and was reassured, “No, you haven’t,” though to my disappointment, she barely looked up from her phone. My fear level began to dissipate, and I could again feel my desire to be friends with her. That desire was still there, hidden underneath the cloud of fear all along. The next day, we had a nice conversation over dinner. And the ark sails on.

You can try for yourself what the kids and I did. First read Daniel chapter 6, and then play some instrumental music in the background (like Julie True soaking music or the Deeper Heaven soaking music collection) and read the following questions out loud slowly, pausing after each one to imagine your answer. Then let the music keep playing and dialogue with Jesus.

Imagine you are in the lions’ den with Daniel. What is it like? Maybe it’s very dark. What can you see? What do you think is there?

Is it warm? Cold? What can you smell? What can you feel under your feet? Is it damp? Hard? Soft? What sounds can you hear? 

Here in this den, what are you thinking? What are you feeling? What do you want to say to God? 

Can you see the angel God sent? What does it look like? What is it doing? Is it Jesus? Or is Jesus there with it? Look at Jesus. What is He doing?

What do you feel when you see Jesus? What do you want to say to Him? What is He doing? What is He saying to you?

Have a conversation with Him here.

Published in2-Way JournalingStories

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