June 13, 2008
The steady rhythm of native drums heralded his coming. BOOM—boom—boom—boom, BOOM—boom—boom—boom… Around the campfire in the early evening’s waning light a large group of young boys sat cross-legged, huddled together in wonder and excitement over the beginning of the sacred ceremony. Each youth was lost in a confusing jumble of conflicting thoughts.
What if I am chosen? What an incredible adventure it would be! But it would also be unbelievably scary! Am I up for the challenge? What if I can’t do it? It might be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. It would be so hard to leave the warmth of the fire and the fellowship of my friends. But what an incredible adventure it would be!
Suddenly a lone figure clothed in native dress entered the scene and began to dance energetically yet solemnly around the fire. He was clad in buckskin from his neck to his moccasins and sported a feathered headdress that dangled nearly to the ground. Tiny bells on his moccasins kept time to the rhythm of the drums along with the clatter of his beaded breastplate bouncing against his chest. In one hand he carried a small, flint hatchet and with the other he was clutching a spear the shaft of which was completely lined with feathers. He was half crouching as he moved in deliberate, slow circles twirling the spear in a large arc over his head as he made his way around the campfire. His eyes were wild and penetrating, as though searching for something critically important, and his face was painted for war.
The eyes of every boy were transfixed upon the dancing warrior. With every beat of the drums their hearts seemed to leap out of their chests. Fear along with excitement permeated the atmosphere, the tension alternately rising and falling based upon the dancer’s proximity to each youth as he repeatedly circled the fire. Finally, just when the youngsters were about to burst with anticipation, the drums suddenly changed to a much slower, more even beat. The dancer followed the undulating accompaniment and began to step, toe-heel, toe-heel, around the circle staring into the faces of the mesmerized youth.
Eventually the dancer raised his spear toward the heavens and the drums ceased entirely. Slowly, carefully, he lowered the spear until it rested above a young boy sitting near the front of the circle. Deliberately, religiously, the warrior tapped the boy on the shoulder then withdrew his spear. Immediately, the youth stood up and left the assembly. Again the drums began their slow, even beat and the warrior continued around the circle until he stopped in front of another youth. Again the spear tapped the shoulder of the chosen lad who rose and left the fire. The scene was repeated several more times and each boy who was chosen immediately left their comrades and disappeared into the night.
When the last boy was chosen the dancing warrior toe-heeled out of the circle and stole away into the forest. The remaining boys, the ones not chosen, were left to wonder what it would’ve been like. Once again their minds were filled with conflicting thoughts. There was relief that they would be able to stay by the warmth of the fire and enjoy the camaraderie of their friends. But there was also the letdown of knowing others were experiencing the adventure of a lifetime, an adventure they were not invited to join.
The spectacle which had just transpired was called a “tapping out” ceremony and for centuries it was an annual occurrence among many of our Native American tribes. This particular event, however, was a re-enactment, a yearly ritual for a gathering of boy scouts in the mountains of southern Idaho. As a young boy scout I always looked forward to the annual, Memorial Day weekend “jamboree” as a chance to go camping with my friends, show off the skills we had learned during the year, and escape into the mountains after an insufferably long nine months of public school. The “tapping out” ceremony would usually be held during our last evening together.
Although it was never stated publicly, I’m quite certain the boys who were “tapped out” had requested the honor, were trained for it, and recommended by their scout masters. The privilege was reserved for the oldest, most mature youth. But we were all given the impression that anyone present at the ceremony might be chosen, so there was always an air of uncertainty which accompanied the event.
What was the reward for being one of the chosen few? The “tapped-out” ones were sent out of the camp to spend a night in the wilderness—alone! They packed up their knapsacks, grabbed their sleeping bags, and headed out into the forest. No two of them were to be together. They built their own campfire, cooked their own food, and stayed by themselves until the following morning. When they returned they were officially welcomed into the “Order of the Arrow.” For having survived the harrowing ordeal their only recognition was the privilege of wearing, along with the rest of their scout uniform, a white sash embroidered with the symbol of an arrow. Of course they would always carry with them the knowledge that they had conquered their fears and, at least for one lonely night, tamed the wilderness. It was a scout’s rite of passage, a sign of his courage, and proof of his entry into manhood.
Although the ceremony was supposedly patterned after one handed down from the original inhabitants of our country, I’m not certain how closely it resembled the original Native American version. I do know that, depending upon which tribe you research, the young braves were required to spend much more than a single night by themselves. Usually the rite of passage would last for at least one full moon cycle and often the wilderness would swallow up the life of some of the boys. But those who lived through it would return to their village with a hero’s welcome and be given the full rights of adulthood. To symbolize how completely their lives had changed they were given new names based upon the stories they told of their adventure.
For us, though, one night alone in the woods was all that was needed to impress others with our manhood. As a boy scout I often dreamed of the time when I would be chosen to turn my back on the camp and brave the wilderness. Unfortunately, our scout pack broke up for lack of any adult leaders and I never got a chance to wear the white sash. I did, however, finally experience the thrill of being “tapped out,” called out from my comfortable campsite, and sent away from my friends. I just had to wait about forty years before I received the honor.
My “tapping-out” challenge was given very unceremoniously by the Holy Spirit at a time when I was experiencing severe doubts as to the relevancy and effectiveness of the institutional church. After being bounced around from one ministry to another and forced to resign from a church I had pastored for over three years, I was determined to plant a new congregation, one which would be free from the restrictions of past traditions and capable of tremendous growth. However, three years into this new endeavor, a lack of funds and a diminishing attendance had our church on the verge of closing down. I was grief-stricken and at a loss as to what to do.
As I look back on it all now I realize the Lord had been tapping me on the shoulder for years. I just didn’t recognize it as a special honor, nor was I up to walking away from the warmth of the brotherhood I had enjoyed all of my life. For some reason the adventure of being cast out alone into the wilderness had lost its appeal. But the time came when I could no longer ignore the weight of His spear. This overly cautious, spiritually hard-of-hearing, immature child of God finally paid attention to the Spirit’s call and followed Him into the wilderness, out away from the institutional church, and into His harvest field. As the poet once said, “I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
I have discovered that the wilderness is not all that frightening, especially considering I have never really been alone. The Lord has always traveled with me, protecting me from the dangers of the wild and providing for my every need. He has replaced the fellowship I left behind with new comrades, wilderness warriors bound together by a depth of relationship that can only come from waging spiritual warfare side by side. And He has replaced the warmth of previous campfires with a blazing inferno that burns deep in my soul sparking wildfires everywhere I turn. For the first time in my life I believe I am finally coming of age as a Christian.
Why am I sharing the story of my long-delayed, spiritual rite of passage with you? I am convinced that I am far from being the only one the Spirit is attempting to “tap out.” In fact, I believe He has a special calling for every child of God. He is asking each one of us to turn our backs on the comfortable and familiar, pack up our knapsacks, and follow Him into the darkness of the surrounding wilderness. Perpetually hanging around the campfire was never His desire for us. There are simply too many hungry souls to feed, too many hurting souls to heal, too many grieving souls to comfort, too many despairing souls to encourage, and too many lost souls to save. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23.
Listen! Can you hear the drums beating? The Spirit’s “tapping-out” ceremony is ongoing. Even now He dances in our midst. Even now He taps us on the shoulder with the tip of His spear. His eyes are wild and penetrating, searching for those who would be faithful to rise up and follow Him. And His face is painted for war. For some who have never before felt His touch it is the call to turn your backs on the darkness of this world and enter the light of Christ. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” – 1Peter 2:9. For others it is the call to turn your backs on the warmth of the Christian assembly and enter once again into the darkness of the world in order to bring the light of Christ to others who have yet to feel the touch of His spear. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” – Matthew 28:19.
For some of us that call may require walking away from the comfort and familiarity of the institutional church, not out of condemnation for its failures, but simply because we have been “tapped out” to fulfill a different ministry. If the statistics are true which claim 1500 pastors are resigning from their institutional church ministries every month in this country alone, then an incredible army is being formed, trained and equipped for spiritual combat, waiting for the day when they are called into battle. I believe that day has arrived.
Have you been bounced around from one ministry to another looking for the perfect church in which to serve? Have you felt somewhat out of place just about everywhere you have ministered? Have you ever been cast out of a ministry, felt unwelcome in a church or even asked to leave? Perhaps the problem has nothing to do with your lack of spiritual maturity, improper training, or inability to get along with others, but rather with the simple fact that you are being “tapped out” for an entirely different ministry. Perhaps you are part of that vast and powerful army the Lord is gathering for such a time as this.
Thousands of saints have been pounding upon the gates of heaven with the request found in Luke, chapter ten. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” – Luke 10:2. Are you one of the answers to this prayer? The words “send out” are translated from the Greek term, “ekballo,” which is most often rendered, “cast out.” It is a violent term and suggests that the process of “casting out” workers into the harvest field may not be all that pleasant. My guess is that most harvest workers, like me, are far too reluctant to leave the warmth of their home campfires and need more of a push from the Spirit in order to willingly follow Him into the wilderness.
Take courage, my fellow “castaways,” for what you may have thought was a cursed abandonment by your Lord may actually have been quite the opposite. You just may have been chosen for the honor of being “tapped out” for a special ministry. You will likely be inundated with conflicting thoughts.
What an incredible adventure this will be. But it will also be unbelievably scary. Am I up for the challenge? What if I can’t do it? This might be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. It will be so hard to leave the warmth of the fire and the fellowship of my friends. But what an incredible adventure it will be!
Whatever happens, do not ignore the weight of the Lord’s spear upon your shoulder. You have been chosen as a special operations soldier, “tapped out” as a valiant warrior and charged with following your Lord into the darkness of this world, into the wilderness of His harvest field. It is among the highest honors bestowed upon His servants. It is an opportunity to exhibit your courage, faithfulness, and Christian maturity. A hero’s welcome is waiting for you at the completion of your wilderness sojourn. Rise up immediately and follow Him.
Bill, a child of God “tapped out” for His ministry