As a new believer, a young adult fresh to Biblical Christianity, I was pretty excited. My prospects had not been so bright in the years before, and now I found myself beginning a pilgrimage with some great friends, a supportive group, and a good attitude. The only thing missing was a special person to share all this new life with. At the weekly Bible study and fellowship I’m sure they got tired of my standard prayer request: God bring me a great woman, a life partner, my wife.
I was at my good friend Robbie’s house, and she said her mom had called from out of town with an important message for me. So she arranged a callback – remember, this was in the days of old before cellphones, when telephones were attached to the wall with a curled cord. I had much respect for her mom, Violet, as she had become an important part of my life, so I was excited to talk with her. What revelation did she have? Had she discovered some keen insight into my life? Maybe she had found that elusive wife I was so desperate for!
After getting Violet on the line, she brought forth this somewhat obtuse verse from the Old Testament:
And Isaac went out to meditate in the field in the evening; and he lifted his eyes and looked, and there, the camels were coming. Genesis 24:63
If you know the story, Abraham had sent his servant to his homeland to find a bride for Isaac. He was successful, so obviously Isaac knew what the coming camels meant – a bride! The chapter ends with that very fact:
Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her. Genesis 24:67
Yes (fists pumping)! Finally – she’s on the way!
“Not so fast,” said Violet. “Kenny, you are the camel.”
What the heck?
Out of respect for Violet, and her uncanny ability to read my soul, I decided to apply myself to find out exactly why I am the camel. I needed to understand the nature of the beast, the history of that hoofed mammal, and the spiritual implications my newfound camel-hood may have on my future. Since it was 1982, and there was no internet, a trip to the library was in order. And I learned more than I needed to know about this dromedary, and quite a bit about myself too.
Camels have a complex body temperature regulation system so they can survive the heat – they do not perspire, and they lose extraordinarily little water to evaporation. They are ruggedly built brute beasts, with little feeling. They can, and do, suffer immense abuse and deprivation while remaining unaffected. Camels are not too finicky, eating thistles, thorns, and less-desirable plants that other animals avoid.
Because of their extreme physical endurance they became very valuable as beasts of burden in desert climes, referred to as “ships of the desert. They can travel ten days without water or food, using the energy stored in their fatty hump. A mature camel can take in over fifty gallons in just a few minutes and they are often fattened up before a long journey. All that water is stored as fat in the hump, and after a journey the hump can be a flat, empty sack.
Camels carry their heads always erect and they show total defiance toward humans. They are largely unaffected by circumstance, and heat, distance, and load do not bother the animal.
The camel is a sure-footed beast, and they will climb up and down mountains and dunes the hard way, not looking for the path of least resistance. They rarely slip or stumble and, while they can indeed run fast if needed, they prefer the constant, steady pace that is so often portrayed in movies. A slow, sure gait is what keeps a camel going all day.
Being a beast of burden, the camel is taught to kneel and receive his load. He first falls to his knees, and then lays his breast solidly on the ground. A sturdily made wooden saddle is girded tightly around him and he accepts the load – sometimes as much as six hundred pounds! – while reversing the process to stand up. Once loaded, a camel is good for 60 to 70 miles a day, their unusual wide, split toes providing stability on sand.
Strange beasts, these camels, and extremely valuable in ancient times. But what does all that have to do with me, forty years ago, and today, in these times? Plenty, it turns out.
And here are my twelve spiritual lessons that I gained from the camel:
- Don’t be swayed by circumstance
We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed— always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.
2 Corinthians 4:8-12
There is a lot going on in life, many voices competing for my attention, circumstances outside my control, events I can’t predict. But I need to keep moving forward, eyes on the prize, bound for my destination, not being swayed from the course that has been set for me.
- Never falter
He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps. Proverbs 40:2
The journey is long and sometimes ridiculously hard, but my calling and mission always remain the same. I must not falter, I will not change course, I cannot be moved, because He has dragged me out of the muck and placed me on solid ground.
- Carry a full load
Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matthew 11:29-30
Whatever load, burden, mission, or task that has been given me, I know the Master will not overload me. He himself will make me capable of carrying the load and be certain that there is no burden I cannot manage. So I accept the opportunity, the challenge, the work that He assigns, and carry it because He has designed and gifted me for that task.
- Walk on a sure-footed foundation
I have taught you in the way of wisdom;
I have led you in right paths.
When you walk, your steps will not be hindered,
And when you run, you will not stumble.
I need to always remember that my path is set before me, my course is sure. I can confidently place my feet, one in front of the other, knowing that the path is solid, and the way is certain.
- Eat when I can and whatever I can
Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13
I will always have opportunity to feast on His Word and enjoy the fellowship of believers, but I may not know when that next opportunity is coming. So I must eat up when the table is full, and store that spiritual, emotional – and even physical – nourishment for the lean times that are sure to come.
- Tank up on water whenever possible
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” John 7:37-38
The Words of Jesus are the water my spirit needs to thrive. His Word brings life, and when filled with Him I will be able to be an outpouring for others. Just like food, I must be sure to take on water whenever possible, storing up for the dry times ahead.
- Never take the easy way out
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.” Matthew 7:13
The Navy SEALs have a saying: “The only easy day was yesterday.” The challenge of this day is right in front of me. Will I take it on, work through it, overcome? Or will I look for an easy way out? My path is already set, so the only correct way forward is through whatever is in my way.
- Defy convention
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2
The standard and measure of my life is not set by men. The race I am running is governed by the rules of eternity and the battle I am in involves forces that are not of this world. I will not allow the rules and conventions of society, people, or earthly governments to decide how I live. My life is not my own and must be lived according to the grace and faith I have been given.
- Give myself up for others
Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. For the same reason you also be glad and rejoice with me. Philippians 2:17-18
The goal in my life, the very reason for my existence, is to pour out whatever God gives me so that others may benefit. I am not climbing the mountain to enjoy the view, but rather to tumble recklessly down the other side in service to others.
- Sure and steady wins the race
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27
Temperance, endurance, steadiness, and unflinching focus are required to make it the end of my journey. A certain walk with God, steady but not swift, is the secret to reaching the destination.
- Life is for the long haul
Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14
Whatever the day brings, whatever is in front of me, whatever challenge I face, they are all just temporary distractions or momentary diversions. Life is for the living for as long as God gives me breath. I need to keep moving with that in mind – I have not attained until I shed this mortal coil.
- Kneel and let my burdens go
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7
Any task, opportunity, weight, or burden put on me by God belongs to Him. I am only carrying the load assigned me. I cannot be responsible for the loads given others; I can only carry the one that has been placed on me. The good news – I can kneel before the Master, and He will remove my burden and give me rest.
That’s a whole lot of schooling from a camel!
But it is, as it turns out, who I am and how I’ve lived my life. It has never been easy, seemingly always something to overcome, a fresh struggle, a new crisis. I have had a great journey, with plenty of good times along the way, but I have also been through a lot of physical, mental, medical, financial, spiritual, and emotional challenges, been beat down, abused, verbally assaulted.
I like what Jesus observed about our humped friend:
For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Luke 18:25
I don’t believe for a second that Jesus was saying a rich man couldn’t enter the kingdom. He was, instead, referencing the night-time gate of Jerusalem. It was not possible for a camel to go through the very small gate unless it stooped down and had its burdens removed. The inference is that while there may be a highway to hell, there is not one to heaven. Following the Master, staying on the straight and narrow way, hanging on for the long haul, is the stuff of camels.
And it’s the stuff of disciples, of which I humbly claim allegiance.
The rest of the story is simply this. I was looking for a wife, a good life, a way forward. My dear friend and early mentor Violet Lynch, in 1982, shared a glimpse of what was demanded of me. And it turned into quite the ride, my life as a camel, with maybe a few more hump loads left.
Plus, I got the girl, just a little over a year later.