This life hid with Christ in God has many aspects, and can be considered under a great many different figures. There is one aspect which has been a great help and inspiration to me, and I think may be also to some other longing and hungry souls. It is what I call the life on wings.
Our Lord has not only told us to consider the “flowers of the field,” but also the “birds of the air”; and I have found that these little winged creatures have some wonderful lessons for us. In one of the Psalms, the Psalmist, after enumerating the darkness and bitterness of his life in this earthly sphere of trial, cries out, “Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest. Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness. I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest” (Psalm 55:6-8).
This cry for “wings” is as old as humanity. Our souls were made to “mount up with wings,” and they can never be satisfied with anything short of flying. Like the captive-born eagle that feels within it the instinct of flight, and chafes and frets at its imprisonment, hardly knowing what it longs for, so do our souls chafe and fret, and cry out for freedom. We can never rest on earth, and we long to “fly away” from all that so holds and hampers and imprisons us here.
Wings or horses?
This restlessness and discontent develop themselves generally in seeking an outward escape from our circumstances or from our miseries. We do not at first recognise the fact that our only way of escape is to “mount up with wings,” and we try to “flee on horses,” as the Israelites did, when oppressed by their trials (see Isaiah 30:16).
Our “horses” are the outward things upon which we depend for relief, some change of circumstances, or some help from man; and we mount on these and run east or west, or north or south, anywhere to get away from our trouble, thinking in our ignorance that a change of our environment is all that is necessary to give deliverance to our souls. But all such efforts to escape are unavailing, as we have each one proved hundreds of times; for the soul is not so made that it can “flee upon horses,” but must make its flight always upon wings.
Moreover, these “horses” generally carry us, as they did the Israelites, out of one trouble only to land us in another. It is as the Prophet says, “As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him.”
How often have we also run from some “lion” in our pathway only to be met by a “bear,” or have hidden ourselves in a place of supposed safety only to be bitten by a “serpent”! No; it is useless for the soul to hope to escape by running away from its troubles to any earthly refuge, for there is not one that can give it deliverance.
Is there, then, no way of escape for us when in trouble or distress? Must we just plod wearily through it all and look for no relief? I rejoice to answer that there is a glorious way of escape for every one of us if we will but mount up on wings and fly away from it all to God. It is not a way east or west, or north or south, but it is a way upwards. “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
All creatures that have wings can escape from every snare that is set for them if only they will fly high enough; and the soul that uses its wings can always find a sure “way to escape” from all that can hurt or trouble it.
Our two wings
What, then, are these wings? Their secret is contained in the words, “They that wait upon the Lord.” The soul that waits upon the Lord is the soul that is entirely surrendered to Him, and that trusts Him perfectly. Therefore we might name our wings the wings of Surrender and of Trust. I mean by this, that if we will only surrender ourselves utterly to the Lord, and will trust Him perfectly, we shall find our souls “mounting up with wings as eagles” to the “heavenly places” in Christ Jesus, where earthly annoyances or sorrows have no power to disturb us.
The wings of the soul carry it up into a spiritual plane of life, into the “life hid with Christ in God,” which is a life utterly independent of circumstances, one that no cage can imprison and no shackles bind.
The “things above” are the things the soul on wings cares about, not the “things on the earth,” and it views life and all its experiences from the high altitude of “heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” Things look very different according to the standpoint from which we view them. The caterpillar, as it creeps along the ground, must have a widely different “view” of the world around it from that which the same caterpillar will have when its wings are developed, and it soars in the air above the very places where once it crawled. And similarly the crawling soul must necessarily see things in a very different aspect from the soul that has “mounted up with wings.” The mountain top may blaze with sunshine when all the valley below is shrouded in fogs, and the bird whose wings can carry him high enough may mount at will out of the gloom below into the joy of the sunlight above.
I was at one time spending a winter in London, and during three long months we did not once see any genuine sunshine because of the dense clouds of smoke that hung over the city like a pall. But many a time I saw that above the smoke the sun was shining, and once or twice through a rift I had a glimpse of a bird, with sunshine on its wings, sailing above the fog in the clear blue of the sunlit sky. Not all the brushes in London can sweep away the fog; but could we only mount high enough we should reach a region above it all.
And this is what the soul on wings does. It overcomes the world through faith. To overcome means to “come over,” not to be crushed under; and the soul on wings flies over the world and the things of it. These lose their power to hold or bind the spirit that can “come over” them on the wings of Surrender and Trust. That spirit is made in very truth “more than conqueror.”
Birds overcome the lower law of gravitation by the higher law of flight; and the soul on wings overcomes the lower law of sin and misery and bondage by the higher law of spiritual flying. The “law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” must necessarily be a higher and more dominant law than the law of sin and death; therefore the soul that has mounted into this upper region of the life in Christ cannot fail to conquer and triumph.
Living on a low level
But it may be asked how it is, then, that all Christians do not always triumph. I answer that it is because a great many Christians do not “mount up with wings” into this higher plane of life at all. They live on the same low level with their circumstances; and instead of flying over them, they try to fight them on their own earthly plane. On this plane the soul is powerless; it has no weapons with which to conquer there; and instead of overcoming, or coming over, the trials and sorrows of the earthly life it is overcome by them and crushed under them.
We all know, as I have said, that things look differently to us according to our “point of view.” Trials assume a very different aspect when looked down upon from above than when viewed from their own level. What seems like an impassable wall on its own level be comes an insignificant line to the eyes that see it from the top of a mountain; and the snares and sorrows that assume such immense proportion while we look at them on the earthly plane become insignificant little motes in the sunshine when the soul has mounted on wings to the heavenly places above them.
A friend once illustrated to me the difference between three of her friends in the following way. She said if they should all three come to a spiritual mountain which had to be crossed, the first one would tunnel through it with hard and wearisome labor; the second would meander around it in an indefinite fashion, hardly knowing where she was going, and yet, because her aim was right, getting around it at last; but the third, she said, would just flap her wings and fly right over. I think we must all know something of these different ways of locomotion; and I trust, if any of us in the past have tried to tunnel our way through the mountains that have stood across our pathway, or have been meandering around them, that we may from henceforth resolve to spread our wings and “mount up” into the clear atmosphere of God’s presence, where it will be easy to overcome, or come over, the highest mountain of them all.
I say “spread our wings and mount up,” because not the largest wings ever known can lift a bird one inch upward unless they are used. We must use our wings, or they avail us nothing.
Use the wings we have!
It is not worth while to cry out, “Oh that I had wings and then I would flee,” for we have the wings already, and what is needed is not more wings, but only that we should use those we have. The power to surrender and trust exists in every human soul, and only needs to be brought into exercise. With these two wings we can “flee” to God at any moment; but, in order really to reach Him, we must actively use them. We must not merely want to use them, but we must do it definitely and actively. A passive surrender or a passive trust will not do. I mean this very practically. We shall not “mount up” very high if we only surrender and trust in theory, or in our especially religious moments. We must do it definitely and practically about each detail of daily life as it comes to us. We must meet our disappointments, our thwartings, our persecutions, our malicious enemies, our provoking friends, our trials and temptations of every sort, with an active and experimental attitude of surrender and trust. We must spread our wings and “mount up” to the “heavenly places in Christ” above them all, where they will lose their power to harm or distress us. For from these high places we shall see things through the eye of Christ, and all earth will be glorified in the heavenly vision.
“The dove hath neither claw nor sting,
Nor weapon for the fight,
She owes her safety to the wing,
Her victory to flight.
The bridegroom opes His arms of love,
And in them folds the panting dove.”
How changed our lives would be if we could only fly through the days on these wings of surrender and trust! Instead of stirring up strife and bitterness by trying, metaphorically, to knock down and walk over our offending brothers and sisters, we should escape all strife by simply spreading our wings and mounting up to the heavenly region, where our eyes would see all things covered with a mantle of Christian love and pity.
Our souls were made to live in this upper atmosphere, and we stifle and choke on any lower level. Our eyes were made to look off from these heavenly heights, and our vision is distorted by any lower gazing. It is a great blessing, therefore, that our loving Father in heaven has mercifully arranged all the discipline of our lives with a view to teaching us to fly.
Learning how to fly
In Deuteronomy we have a picture of how this teaching is done: “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead him, and there was no strange god with him.”
The mother eagle teaches her little ones to fly by making their nest so uncomfortable that they are forced to leave it and commit themselves to the unknown world of air outside. And just so does our God to us. He stirs up our comfortable nests, and pushes us over the edge of them, and we are forced to use our wings to save our selves from fatal falling. Read your trials in this light, and see if you cannot begin to get a glimpse of their meaning. Your wings are being developed.
I knew a lady whose life was one long strain of trial by a cruel, wicked, drunken husband. There was no possibility of human help, and in her despair she was driven to use her wings and fly to God. And during the long years of trial her wings grew so strong from constant flying that at last, as she told me, when the trials were at their hardest, it seemed to her as if her soul was carried over them on a beautiful rainbow and found itself in a peaceful resting-place on the other side.
With this end in view we can surely accept with thankfulness every trial that compels us to use our wings, for only so can they grow strong and large and fit for the highest flying. Unused wings gradually wither and shrink and lose their flying power; and if we had nothing in our lives that made flying necessary we might perhaps at last lose all capacity to fly.
But you may ask, Are there no hindrances to flying, even where the wings are strong, and the soul is trying hard to use them? I answer, Yes. A bird may be imprisoned in a cage, or it may be tethered to the ground with a cord, or it may be loaded with a weight that drags it down, or it may be entrapped in the “snare of the fowler,” and hindrances which answer to all these in the spiritual realm may make it impossible for the soul to fly until it has been set free from them by the mighty power of God.
One “snare of the fowler” that entraps many souls is the snare of doubt. The doubts look so plausible and often so humble that Christians walk into their “snare” without dreaming for a moment that it is a snare at all, until they find themselves caught and unable to fly; for there is no more possibility of flying for the soul that doubts than there is for the bird caught in the fowler’s snare.
The reason of this is evident. One of our wings, namely, the wing of trust, is entirely disabled by the slightest doubt; and just as it requires two wings to lift a bird in the air, so does it require two wings to lift the soul. A great many people do everything but trust. They spread the wing of surrender, and use it vigorously, and wonder why it is that they do not mount up, never dreaming that it is because all the while the wing of trust is hanging idle by their sides. It is because Christians use one wing only, that their efforts to fly are often so irregular and fruitless.
Look at a bird with a broken wing trying to fly, and you will get some idea of the kind of motion all one-sided flying must make. We must use both our wings, or not try to fly at all.
It may be that for some the “snare of the fowler” is some subtle form of sin, some hidden want of consecration. Where this is the case the wing of trust may seem to be all right, but the wing of surrender hangs idly down; and it is just as hopeless to try to fly with the wing of trust alone as with the wing of surrender alone. Both wings must be used, or no flying is possible.
Or perhaps the soul may feel as if it were in a prison from which it cannot escape, and consequently is debarred from mounting up on wings. No earthly bars can ever imprison the soul. No walls however high, or bolts however strong, can imprison an eagle so long as there is an open way upward; and earth’s power can never hold the soul in prison while the upward way is kept open and free. Our enemies may build walls around us as high as they please, but they cannot build any barrier between us and God; and if we “mount up with wings” we can fly higher than any of their walls can ever reach.
If we find ourselves imprisoned, then, we may be sure of this, that it is not our earthly environment that constitutes our prison-house, for the soul’s wings scorn all paltry bars and walls of earth’s making. The only thing that can really imprison the soul is something that hinders its upward flight. The Prophet tells us that it is our iniquities that have separated between us and our God and our sins that have hid His face from us. Therefore, if our soul is imprisoned, it must be because some indulged sin has built a barrier between us and the Lord, and we cannot fly until this sin is given up and put out of the way.
But often where there is no conscious sin the soul is still unconsciously tethered to something of earth, and so struggles in vain to fly. A party of my friends once got into a boat in Norway to row around one of the fiords there. They took their seats and began to row vigorously, but the boat made no headway. They put out more strength and rowed harder than before, but all in vain, not an inch did the boat move. Then one of the party suddenly recollected that the boat had not been unmoored, and he exclaimed, “No wonder we could not get away when we were trying to pull the whole continent of Europe after us!” And just so our souls are often not unmoored from earthly things. We must cut ourselves loose. As well might an eagle try to fly with a hundred-ton weight tied fast to its feet as the soul try to “mount up with wings” while a weight of earthly cares and anxieties is holding it down to earth.
When our Lord was trying to teach His disciples concerning this danger, He told them a parable of a great supper to which many who were invited failed to come because they were hindered by their earthly cares. One had bought a piece of ground, another a yoke of oxen, and a third had married a wife; and they felt that all these things needed their care.
Wives, or oxen, or land, or even very much smaller things, may be the cords that tether the soul from flying, or the weights that hold it down. Let us, then, cut every cord, and remove every barrier, that our souls may find no hindrance to their mounting up with wings as eagles to heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
We are commanded to have our hearts filled with songs of rejoicing and to make inward melody to the Lord. But unless we mount up with wings this is impossible, for the only creature that can sing is the creature that flies. When the Prophet declared that though all the world should be desolate, yet he would rejoice in God and joy in the God of his salvation, his soul was surely on wings. Paul knew what it was to use his wings when he found himself to be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” On the earthly plane all was dark to both Paul and the Prophet, but on the heavenly plane all was brightest sunshine.
Can you fly?
Do you know anything of this life on wings, dear reader? Do you “mount up” continually to God, out of and above earth’s cares and trials, to that higher plane of life where all is peace and triumph, or do you plod wearily along on foot through the midst of your trials and let them overwhelm you at every turn?
Let us, however, guard against a mistake here. Do not think that by flying I mean necessarily any very joyous emotions or feelings of exhilaration. There is a great deal of emotional flying that is not real flying at all. It is such flying as a feather accomplishes which is driven upward by a strong puff of wind but flutters down again as soon as the wind ceases to blow. The flying I mean is a matter of principle, not a matter of emotion. It may be accompanied by very joyous emotions, but it does not depend on them. It depends only upon the facts of an entire surrender and an absolute trust. Every one who will honestly use these two wings, and will faithfully persist in using them, will find that they have mounted up with wings as an eagle, no matter how empty of all emotion they may have felt themselves to be before.
For the promise is sure: “They that wait upon the Lord shall mount up with wings as eagles.” Not “may perhaps mount up,” but “shall.” It is the inevitable result. May we each one prove it for ourselves!
“The lark soars singing from its nest,
And tells aloud
His trust in God, and so is blest
Let come what cloud.
“He has no store, he sows no seed,
Yet sings aloud, and doth not heed.
Through cloudy day or scanty feed,
He sings to shame
Men who forget in fear of need
A Father’s name.
“The heart that trusts forever sings,
And feels as light as it has wings;
A well of peace within it springs.
Come good or ill,
Whate’er to-day or morrow bring,
It is His will.”
This page Copyright © 1999 Peter Wade. The Bible text in this publication, except where otherwise indicated, is from the King James Version. This article appears on the site: https://www.peterwade.com/.
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