Posts Tagged With: following God

 
 

Walking Through the Valleys. II: To the Other Side

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me (Psalm 23:4)

In a previous post, we saw that all believers wander into the valley of the shadow of death from time to time. This is an experience common to all who follow Jesus. Sometimes, we end up in the valley of the shadow of death even though we have faithfully followed our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. This article will continue where we left off.

The second thing to remember in the valley of the shadow of death is that God really is with you. “I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). Even though deep darkness envelops the valley, God is still there, and He sees everything. Unlike humans, many animals see very clearly in the dark. The One who gave night vision to cats, owls, and deer can see in physical, emotional, and spiritual darkness. God sees everything in the valley, and He is able to take care of you even when you cannot see any proof that He exists.

When my ex-wife and I brought our newborn son home from the hospital, he needed to adjust to some new experiences. He had spent nearly one month since his birth in a neonatal intensive care unit, continually surrounded by bright lights and sound. Sleeping in a dark, quiet room was a sudden, completely new experience for him. The first few times we would lay him down and turn out the lights, he would begin to cry. I would just have to say, “It’s OK, Mommy and Daddy are right here.” This seemed to quiet him down. He may not have understood the words, but he knew he was not alone. He did not need to fear.

Be still; take time to pray while you are in the valley, and listen for God’s reassuring voice. The valley may still be dark, but if you hear God’s voice speaking to your spirit through His Word and Spirit, you can rest assured that you are protected.

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you (Psalms 139:11–12).

Finally, remember that comfort and freedom from the valley come as Jesus guides and protects you. A shepherd carries a rod and a staff. He might have to beat off wolves who are craving a sheepburger, or he might need to gently pull a wandering sheep away from danger. As long as the shepherd remains alert, the sheep are safe.

Psalm 121:3 says, “He who keeps you will not slumber.” Even in the valley of darkness, God watches every sheep in His flock. He never dozes off. He does not forget about the sheep who is wandering away, nor does He ignore or overlook the hungry wolf.

Just like the shepherd with his rod and staff, Jesus has his own tools for leading His sheep through the valley. One is the Word of God. This book will direct you along the path of life. Read it daily. Meditate upon its instructions and promises continually. Accept it by faith as God’s personal message to you. Read it to know what God wants you to do and how to journey safely through the mountains and valleys of life. The Bible is the primary means by which God speaks to us.

Jesus also uses the power of prayer. We need to continually use this spiritual weapon to ward off the wolves of hell who are out to destroy us. Pray positively. Think of the best result you can possibly expect from a situation, and ask God to make it happen and direct you to that goal. If you pray for courage to spend the rest of your life in the valley, you will probably remain there. If you pray to arrive safely at the banquet on the other side of the valley (Psalm 23:5), where you are the guest of honor, God will get you there. If you pray big prayers, you will receive greater blessings than the person who prays small prayers.

Finally, Jesus gives all Christians His Holy Spirit as a Comforter and Guide to lead us through the valley of the shadow of death. Rely on His direction as you stroll through the valley of sorrow. Seek His strength when you feel weak. All Christians have the Holy Spirit within them and can seek the comfort of His presence and guidance at all times.

A valley is merely a low point between two high places. You can climb the mountain out of the valley to the glorious summit where the light of the Son dispels all darkness.

If you are in the valley, continue to follow God. Praise Him that He wants you to abide on the mountaintop, not in the valley. He has not forsaken you. He is with Christians always. When you run into the valley by yourself, He chases close behind. When the path of righteousness leads you into a valley, rejoice. Jesus Christ is still leading you, and He knows the way you must walk. He has a wonderful blessing, greater than anything you can ask or think of, awaiting you on the other side.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

Walking Through the Valleys. I: Entering the Valley

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me (Psalm 23:4)

lleyn_sheep

By User:Jackhynes [public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Whenever I read the book of Psalms, something more than the colorful language and vivid imagery grabs my attention. I can relate to the emotions expressed in these poems and songs of praise. Take the familiar “Shepherd Song” in Psalm 23. It is not merely a song about some guy and his sheep. It is about each of us. Like that sheep, probably everybody has wandered into “the valley of the shadow of death.”

Have you ever reached a point in your life where all you could see was darkness? Have you ever found yourself in a place where the light of God’s love, or anything else that makes life worth living, was hidden from your sight? Maybe you felt like that lost sheep, surrounded by thick darkness with ravenous wolves hiding behind every tree. You thought you had reached the end of the line.

You may not wander into the same valleys as I have. We all wander into different valleys: Unemployment, financial distress, legal trouble, divorce, sickness, addiction, or any other crisis can ensnare you. But when you are in the valley of the shadow of death, you do not care how it looks to an observer standing on a hill. You only care about how bleak your situation looks to you.

Psalm 23 reminds us that we may wander into the valley even while we are obeying God. This sheep could say, with all honesty, that the Lord was his shepherd. He was following his shepherd, but he still found himself in a valley. You do not need to sin or lack faith in God to face a crisis. Even so, when you find yourself in the valley, immediately review your footsteps to see if you brought this dilemma upon yourself. Did your own sins bring you into the valley? Did you get lost because you wandered away from the shepherd? Or, did the shepherd lead you to a place you would not choose to go on your own?

Sheep do not have a reputation for being very intelligent animals. They are much better at following the herd than at making decisions on their own. If they wander away from the shepherd and other sheep, they are vulnerable. Christians are the same: We need to stay with the herd (the body of Christ) and be led by the shepherd (Jesus) to avoid getting lost in the valley. However, when we lose our way, our Good Shepherd will seek us. He is not willing to lose any of His sheep:

“What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:12–14).

However, the sheep in Psalms 23 did not wander astray. In fact, the Psalmist describes the Good Shepherd meeting all of his needs: guiding him to green, grassy pastures where he can graze or lie down, or leading him to quietly flowing streams of cold water for a refreshing drink. He says that God is leading him in paths of righteousness. God may be leading you into paths of righteousness, and you may be following Him, but you may still find yourself in the valley of the shadow of death. Why is that?

Sometimes, the path God has chosen for you winds through rough terrain. David, who wrote this psalm, was acquainted with hard times. Even though he was a man after God’s own heart, a devout believer and servant of the Lord, and loyal to his king and country, he had spent years as a fugitive. King Saul had paranoid-schizophrenic delusions that David wanted to destroy him, so he devoted much of his time trying to capture and kill David. David spent years on the run, even though he had done no wrong. Because of his abiding faith in and obedience to God, and his perseverance during this time when he could have cried that “God’s not fair,” he became one of Israel’s greatest kings and the forefather of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I do not believe he could have accomplished this if he was not sympathetic, from first-hand experience, with those who suffer from injustice.

Do not grow discouraged in the valley. God leads all of His children through different valleys as He leads them to their desired haven. The journey through the valley is part of His plan for your life. In a following post, we will see how Jesus leads us through the valley.

(See https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/8335465/Sheep-are-far-smarter-than-previously-thought.html and http://scribol.com/environment/animals-environment/8-amazing-ways-sheep-are-smarter-than-you-thought/ for some recent interesting science about sheep intelligence. They are not actually stupid animals, but are much better at following a leader or a group than at leading. They have excellent ability to recognize and remember people and other sheep, something Jesus may have considered in John 10:4–5.)

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Modern-Day Elijahs VII: The Call to Follow

So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him (I Kings 19:1921, ESV).

Second_Book_of_Kings_Chapter_2-6_(Bible_Illustrations_by_Sweet_Media)

Elijah and Elisha. Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons.

We continue where our last post left off. Elijah had become discouraged, feeling like his ministry was in vain and he was the last follower of the Lord. Yet, God wanted to reassure him that he was not alone. As Elijah approached the end of his time on Earth, the Lord directed him to prepare for the next generation. Part of that involved “passing the mantle” to the next great prophet, Elisha.

Like Elijah, we often become discouraged. This happens especially when we feel like an entire ministry’s success revolves around us. We may also falsely assume that we will see positive results quickly. If success does not come quickly enough, we think we have wasted our time and energy doing something that we were not good enough to accomplish.

The key purpose of this series is to remind believers that we can and should live with an “Elijah spirit.” As we will see in the last few posts in this series, the ministry of Elijah did not end in 2 Kings 2. God anointed Elisha with the spirit of Elijah (he requested a “double portion” and received it). He also anointed John the Baptist with the spirit of Elijah. To this day, He continues to raise up men and women with the spirit of Elijah. The world and church still needs people like Elijah.The world and church still needs people like Elijah.

Elijah first met Elisha while he was doing something very ordinary. Elisha was “plowing with twelve yoke of oxen.” He was farming, probably like most men in his community. He was not praying; he was not studying the Bible; he was not doing anything to stand out as a spiritual giant. One would not look at Elisha and expect greatness. Yet, God was ready to impart greatness upon him.

God frequently calls the ordinary and anoints them to do extraordinary things. Consider some of the great men of the Bible: Moses and David were tending sheep before God called them; Joseph was an ordinary carpenter before God told him to raise His Son; Peter, James, and John were fishermen. They all had very ordinary jobs, but God called them to play a part in fulfilling the divine plan.

Elijah chose a simple symbolic gesture to communicate Elisha’s calling. He approached him in the field and placed his mantle (or cloak) on his chosen protégé. The message could not be clearer: The prophet wanted Elisha to follow him. First, he wanted to go home and bid his family farewell.

Centuries later, Jesus would invite a man to follow Him and become a disciple. This man would respond in a way that reminds us of Elisha:

Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 12:61–62, ESV).

Clearly, Elisha felt it was necessary to let his parents know why he was abandoning the farm to follow the prophet. But, what did Elijah mean when he responded, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” A recent Bible paraphrase, the Voice Bible, which presents the biblical stories more like television scripts than conventional stories, may shed light on the meaning of Elijah’s vague statement:

Elijah: Go then. Tell them goodbye. What have I done to you?

Elisha realizes that Elijah is questioning his devotion—will he stay with his parents or become a prophet? Elisha demonstrates his devotion to God by destroying his livelihood.

Perhaps Elijah hears the same wavering in Elisha’s voice that Jesus would hear centuries later. The Israelites had been guilty of “hesitating between two opinions” all along, as Elijah pointed out previously on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:21). Was Elisha hesitating between two opinions as well? Did he know that God was calling him to a special relationship with the great prophet, yet was afraid or anxious about its effect on his relationship with his family? Was he afraid to take a step of faith into the unknown?

Elijah’s concerns were soon eliminated. Elisha did not simply say good-bye to his family. He made it clear that he would not return. He destroyed the oxen and yoke so he could not longer work the fields. He offered them on an altar as a sacrifice to the Lord. Elisha sacrificed his past and present to the Lord as he surrendered his future.

All who seek to serve the Lord will face the same challenge. Will we cling to the past and present—to our comfortable existence—or will we sacrifice them to God? Will we surrender our future to Him? God may not call us out of our present physical circumstances. He may call us to serve Him while we continue in the ordinary occupation in which He found us. However, He will call us out of the comfort zone in our hearts. He calls us to live by His values and vision, not those of the world around us:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:12, ESV).

As we take this bold step, day by day, we continue the legacy of Elijah and Elisha by bringing God’s presence into our ordinary lives.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Modern-Day Elijahs, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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