He leads me beside still waters…
June 24th, 2019
As many of you know, I just went through a nine-month period of unemployment.
Despite cranking out resumes by the hundreds, enlisting roughly eight different headhunter firms and following up with every employer that showed the least amount of interest; the door to gainful employment was sealed shut and wasn’t budging.
Well-meaning friends and associates prompted me to seek any sort of work in or outside of my field, but the problem with that strategy was that when I faced this in the beginning, I gave notice to all my creditors and the mortgage company made an allowance to hold payment until I returned to work.
If I became employed doing anything including flipping hamburgers, the pent-up payments on the house would become due immediately. With retirement and savings exhausted, I had zero ability to repay literally thousands of dollars in mortgage payments in one fell swoop. I was fairly sure that the lender wouldn’t consider what meager payments I might be able to make while working a lower end job. The debt was established when my income was based on my lifelong trade. The going wage for general labor would not meet the mortgage companies payment requirements.
So, I applied, cut expenses, relied on friends, family, the church and the Lord to help us through what I thought was a valley in the shadows. It seemed that way to me at the time.
Even when I must walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me; your rod and your staff reassure me.
You prepare a feast before me in plain sight of my enemies. You refresh my head with oil; my cup is completely full.
Psalms 23:4-5 (NET)
During my supposed valley, I only had seven face-to-face interviews with employers.
Despite this, the Lord supplied the essentials, and even from time to time, some niceties. We established a first name basis with the food bank at the local First Baptist Church. We needed the food for substance, but their prayers were an ever-present encouragement that the Lord was faithful.
Prayer was a big part of this time. Prayers from others like my church family at Crossbridge Community Church, my family and friends. But most of all, and not to diminish those coveted prayers, my prayer life and relationship with the Jesus blossomed.
I can’t be certain that those around me saw it but I could feel and as Jesus wrapped his arms around me and the song Blessed Assurance took on an entirely new context.
Looking back now, I realize that it wasn’t that dark valley I thought it was. The Good Shepherd had managed to guide me quickly through that valley and we were somewhere else entirely different. A place of comfort, peace and rest.
Numerous times convinced I was in the shadows, I wondered just what ‘good purpose’ God had in mind for this; what was he trying to teach me? I was abundantly thankful for his provision and protection, but pray as hard as I might, it felt like my prayers were going unanswered. Of course, I realized that silence was an answer, just one that I wasn’t quite prepared to deal with; or so I thought.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how we should pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with inexpressible groanings. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes on behalf of the saints according to God’s will. And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose, because those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
Romans 8:26-29 (NET)
What I didn’t get was the interceding that was going on as I perceived I was in the valley, when all the while the Shepherd had led me from the valley, and we were now in the meadow by the stream.
He takes me to lush pastures, he leads me to refreshing water. He restores my strength. He leads me down the right paths for the sake of his reputation.
Psalms 23:2-3 (NET)
Tears of joy filled my eyes when I realized what he’d done, delivering me from the valley to the meadow at dusk, where it was safe, and we could rest together in fellowship and relative comfort.
During my obsession with the valley, I often questioned why God would not show his direction to me and place me in the vocation he was intending me in, and do it sooner rather than later. It wasn’t until I realized that I’d been resting in the meadow when I came to the understanding several of the reasons we lingered there through the night.
There were some important lessons that I needed to learn clearer than I had till now.
The biggest perhaps was that trust is nothing but talk until it is put into action. Jesus wants us to trust him exclusively and completely.
Trust in him at all times, you people! Pour out your hearts before him! God is our shelter! (Selah)
Men are nothing but a mere breath; human beings are unreliable. When they are weighed in the scales, all of them together are lighter than air.
Psalms 62:8-9 (NET)
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding. Acknowledge him in all your ways, and he will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:5-6 (NET)
I simply didn’t see that he was making straight my paths because from my perspective we were not going anywhere!
As for trust, he’d placed me in a situation where I couldn’t do anything but trust him, because I was left without options. It didn’t matter how many resumes I sent out, or jobs I applied for, he was not willing for me to go any further until I had come to trust him exclusively. I couldn’t lean on my own understanding because I had no concept as to what was going on.
I had the idea that I and the Lord were pretty close. During that nine-month period I learned that we could be a lot closer.
Through study in His Word and focused prayer, I’ve learned several things that I likely wouldn’t have without spending the night in the meadow, thinking it was the valley.
- Pray – not just believing that God can do what we ask of him, but that he wants to accomplish what we seek, subordinate to his will. This was a big lesson for me. I knew that there was nothing that was impossible for the Lord to do, but I played it safe and took the attitude that ‘more than likely his will was somewhere, other than what I was seeking; so, all bets were off!’
This isn’t the way he taught us to pray! What he told us was that if we were in him and he in us, that whatever we asked for in his name, he wouldn’t just consider it, he would do it!
And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
John 14:13-14 (NET)
The key to this, is our active participation in seeking the fulfillment of his will. If we are aligned with the goals and direction the Word and the Holy Spirit are imprinting on us, there is nothing that we are going to come up with that is going to exist outside of his will.
Don’t try to find the ‘yeah-but’s in there. As soon as, we come up with something outside of his will we are NO LONGER and active participant in seeking God’s will and purpose.
The sweet spot if you will, is that our motivation and focus is tied directly to doing what he wants us doing and accomplishing what he wants us accomplishing. If we make a fast break for the bushes, there is a high probability that he’s going to let us get snagged in the briars.
Sure, he’ll come get us loose and patch us up, but you can forget what you asked for during that time.
- Be obedient – Don’t glaze over scriptural direction that sounds a bit inconvenient.
Before becoming unemployed, I had bought a custom window sticker for my car, with 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 on it, followed by the words “No Seriously, He means it!”
Always rejoice, constantly pray, in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (NET)
I had begun to understand real obedience and had found a cutesy way to express it but was still missing the performance mark on implementing the strategy.
Have I mastered this? Are you kidding? The Apostle Paul never mastered it; I doubt seriously that I will ever get there till I’m in my new body standing before the Lord. But in the meadow, he helped me make some significant strides forward!
- Fellowship – I didn’t have a bad relationship with the Lord prior to walking in to the valley, and consequently out to the meadow for the night, but the closeness we shared as we tarried there, established an even closer bond than before.
There is a song that was one of my mother’s favorites and is mine too; “In the Garden”
Some of the lyrics fit the meadow just as they do the Garden. The closeness of his love and grace in the meadow is just as it is in the Garden and “the Joy we share while we tarry there, no other has ever known!”
The meadow brought us closer.
I’m sure there are other things that I’m missing that I’ve learned through this, one biggie is just what an awesome God we serve, and we can’t possibly get our minds around just how wonderful he is.
But I wanted this to be an encouragement to others (you).
When you have entered your valley and you find yourselves no longer making the progress forward that you think you should be, to look around and listen. It is likely you’ll hear the gentle gurgling of the still waters flowing close by and realize you’re in the meadow with the Shepherd, safe, and there are some things he wants to share with you!
Perhaps you’ll pick up on the “Lessons in the Meadow” quicker than I did.
In the Grace of Jesus!