Tagged ‘David‘

The Valley of Rest

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10, ESV).

Over the past few months we’ve explored the Wilderness of Testing. I trust you will be encouraged when you understand better how God uses these seasons in our lives. This month, I invite you to explore the Valley of Rest with me. I think you will find refreshment for your journey.

To review, often God leads us through a series of places in the journey of our relationship with him. One of those destinations is the Valley of Wait. In the Valley of Wait we learn lessons we cannot learn anywhere else. The lessons are treasures we discover in the valley. We learn more about who God is and how he relates to us. We relish these riches. Usually after learning these lessons, God leads us onward to the Wilderness of Testing. It is a place of testing to see what we have learned. Often the Wilderness of Testing is vast and long. This is frequently more difficult than the Valley of Wait, but it is an important destination in our journey. We discover how well we have payed attention during school. We see how God uses the lessons he taught us in the Valley of Wait, and we discover we may need to learn more in specific areas of our lives. Gratefully, after a time of testing, usually he leads us to a place of rest. Here he restores our souls. Our depleted resources are renewed. We find new strength. We are refreshed. Oh, how we would love to stay in the Valley of Rest, but in God’s divine plan he usually leads us to a different place to learn more of him. We start the process anew. It is a cycle repeated over and over as we journey toward home with him.

This month, let us explore the Valley of Rest. God leads us to this destination, and it is as important as the Valley of Wait and the Wilderness of Testing. It is as much a part of God’s plan for our lives as the other two experiences.

Rest. The word brings to mind images of a Caribbean beach shaded with coconut palms as crystal clear waters lick white sand, hushing in and out in an endless loop. You are stretched out on a lounge chair, sinking between the slats as the heaviness of slumber overcomes you. You smile as you drift off to sleep. This is what many of us think of as rest.

But mention “rest” to most people, and you will get different responses. One friend of mine went so far as to describe it as torture. Our lives are over-filled with activity. Rest implies stopping, and this is uncomfortable for many of us. We enjoy keeping busy. Our ideal day is one in which we are productive. But to rest? Not so much.

Yet rest is as much a part of God’s plan for our lives as is service. We don’t think of God’s wanting us to rest. We think of serving God, and seek out his will for our lives. Usually this means we seek what God would have us do for him. But what if God wants us to rest? For many of us, this makes us uncomfortable.

David describes the Valley of Rest in Psalm 23. This is what he wrote:

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23, ESV).

As a child, David was a shepherd. He spent his days with the sheep. He understood the role of the shepherd in the life of the sheep. In this case, he places himself in the role of the sheep in the care of the shepherd God. “God is my shepherd,” he says. “I lack nothing. He leads me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me to rest beside restful waters. He restores, refreshes, and repairs me from the damage I endured in the journey.” Ah, my friends, it is refreshing to experience the care of a loving Shepherd.

Notice also the idea of restoration is closely entwined in this idea of rest. It is more than lying on a beach. It is restoration of what is lost in the journey to this point. Remember the preceding blogs when I described my physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion? These are the areas God restores when he leads us to rest.

A gift of rest

Jesus described it this way:  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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 11:28-30, ESV).

In this passage we see rest is something Jesus gives to us. “I will give you rest,” he says. But as with any gift, it is up to us to receive it. He offers us rest. We would gladly receive it but for the fact our hands are loaded down with things we want to accomplish. Unfortunately, until we can set our agendas aside, it is difficult to receive rest from God.

Strong’s Concordance describes the word Jesus uses for “rest” as “to cause or permit one to cease from any movement or labor in order to recover and collect his strength.” It is more than a lack of motion. It embraces the restoration offered by God.

Once we understand rest is as much a part of God’s plan as any other destination, we can let go and embrace the rest he offers.

Personally, I believe this is where I am at this point in my journey. The past year was rough. But now God has led me to a place to restore the depleted areas in my life. My passion is renewed. My love for him is refreshed. Because of the lessons learned, I adore him with a deeper humility. I embrace this season of rest knowing that down the road he will likely lead me to places of difficulty where I will learn more in my relationship with him. The journey will continue. I will continue to grow as he continues to lead me along the path.

A gift of grace

As I neared the end of the Wilderness of Testing, a refreshing breeze brought the scent of green grass and cool water through the air. A change was coming. The difficult days of the season of testing were drawing to an end. A time of refreshing was just over the horizon. I welcomed it.

But looking back over my shoulder, I was unsettled. Had I learned the lessons God wanted me to learn? Did I pass the test when it was upon me? This singular question haunted me. Had I passed the test? Throughout the Wilderness of Testing moments of failure were woven together with moments of success. It remained to be seen which one would color the fabric I now wore as a covering.

In the stillness, I spoke to God. “Was I good enough?”

After a pause, he quietly spoke to me. “Tim, you will never be good enough. You were never meant to be. But I will always be good enough for you. It is not your goodness that matters, it’s mine.”

Hesitantly, I looked at the fabric draped across my shoulders. To my astonishment, it was pure white. It had been washed in a river flowing from the throne of God. It had been washed in the blood of the lamb. It was washed clean. I had received the gift of grace in the Wilderness of Testing.

I crested the hill. Below and ahead lay a long green sweep of grass hugging a gurgling brook. Trees planted by the stream reached across the valley to shake hands with others, fashioning a canopy of shade. I pulled the garment close around my neck, and headed down the path to the Valley of Rest.

My friend, you are likely at one of the three stages I’ve encountered over the past few years. You may find yourself in the Valley of Wait, learning deep lessons in your relationship with God. Maybe you are in the Wilderness of Testing, and the trial is fast upon you. You wonder if you will survive. Take courage. A Valley of Rest is near. Some are in this place of rest. God is restoring you, strengthening you, preparing you for the next series of lessons he has prepared for you. In each season, take heart, knowing you are in the place God designed for you. Do not strive to go elsewhere. Take comfort, knowing his hand has guided you to where you are. He is with us in each place and season. He is fully in control. He is enough.

I always enjoy reading your comments.  Feel free to post your thoughts below.

What Lies Beneath

The other day I couldn’t find my wallet. I searched everywhere. I wandered from room to room looking for it. Then I went back through every room in the house looking for it again. I looked in my car. Finally I moved to the sofa to see if somehow it had fallen between the seat cushions. I pulled up the cushion where I normally sit. I was taken aback by what I found.

Under the cushion I found lots of crusty bits of undetermined origin. There was a water bottle cap, three pretzels, and a kernel of popcorn. There was also a potato chip – a whole, unbroken potato chip. It boggles my mind how a potato chip managed to sneak into the crack between the cushions and then navigate under the cushion without being broken. If it had been in the shape of the Virgin Mary, I would have said it was a miracle. Then I would have sold it on eBay. But I digress. The point is, it was a mess under that cushion. I couldn’t believe how bad it was. But still there was no wallet.

Next, I got down on my knees to look under the sofa to see if perchance the wallet had fallen on the floor. Perhaps it was under the couch. I scanned beneath the sofa. There was no wallet. There was, however, enough dust under there to start a community garden. I don’t know if I have ever vacuumed under there. It was a pile of dust. The wood floor was completely coated in a dull grey mat. Something lumpy near the end of the sofa caught my eye, and I scooted down to that end to see what it was. I’m pretty sure it was the mummified carcass of a gecko. Poor guy!

All this got me to thinking about what lies beneath. I normally keep a pretty clean house. I don’t like clutter. I spend a few moments each evening before I go to bed picking up the house. In the morning I have a fresh start. On the surface, my house looks pretty good. But when you look a little deeper, say beneath the sofa, it gets filthy fast.

As I considered this, I thought about my own life as well. It is natural to want to present a good appearance. I brush my teeth, comb my hair, and put on some deodorant before I leave the house. I want to look good and smell good. However, if we are not careful, we can focus on keeping everything in order on the outside, but miss what matters to God. The heart is what matters to him. What matters to God is what lies beneath. Consider this verse:

“The LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7, ESV).

God doesn’t look at things the way we do. He’s looking at what lies beneath.

David is the most famous king Israel has ever had. His kingdom is still the benchmark in Israel’s history. In his old age, David turned the kingdom over to his son, Solomon. As he addressed Solomon and the people, he said this:

“Know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought” (1 Chronicles 28:9, ESV).

David’s kingdom was renowned for its wealth and splendor. Solomon’s kingdom eventually looked even more impressive. On the outside, his wealth was jaw-dropping. People came from all over the world to see the buildings he constructed. How exciting it must have been. But issues behind the scenes eventually caused the kingdom to fall.

It can happen in ministries and churches. God is not impressed by large ministries or beautiful buildings. It can also happen with individuals. He’s not impressed by nice looking clothes and hair combed just right. Often what we think is important has little interest to him. He’s looking beneath the surface. Sometimes what he sees is alarming. Sometimes he sees pride. Sometimes he sees greed. Sometimes he sees lust and pornography. Sometimes he sees envy. Sometimes he sees selfish ambition. He searches our hearts. He understands every plan and thought we have.

The problem is we tend to focus on the externals far more than what is inside. We do it when we look at our own lives, and we do it when we look at the lives of others. We tend to focus on how things look. But God is interested in the areas that are not seen by the human eye. He is interested in areas of the heart and the mind.

When I am focused on keeping the externals in order, I can become a caricature of a true follower of Jesus. It is just an outline with nothing inside. It looks kind of like a follower of Jesus, but at its heart it is completely empty.

Instead, I intentionally focus on what is inside, my personal relationship with God. This is what David was referring to in his words to his son Solomon. “Know the God of your father…” Get to know him. Foster a tight relationship with him. Spend time with him. In the Hebrew language the word he uses for “know” is the same word used to describe an intimate relationship between a husband and a wife. For example, Genesis 4:1 says, “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain.” This is an intimate relationship we are talking about here! Be one with God!

If we are not careful, we can spend so much time and effort trying to keep up appearances. How sad! I can focus on making sure the externals are right, while my heart is still a mess. Instead, when I focus on making sure the heart is right, the externals take care of themselves. Take care of the parts no one sees, and God will transform the parts that everyone does see.

I eventually found my wallet. It was on top of an end table, right where I had left it. I shook my head when I realized it was hiding in plain sight. But I was grateful I had taken the time to search for it. In the process of searching, I found an area that needed addressing. I hope you will do the same. Today, take time to look a little deeper. What areas of your life do you need to bring into the light? What area of your life do you need to clean today? Perhaps you should get on your knees, look underneath the surface, and address anything you find.

Remember, what matters to God is what lies beneath.

This article was originally published in the May 2016 Newsletter.

Life is Worship

On a personal level, I often struggle to balance the responsibilities of ministry with the responsibilities I have in other areas of life. I’m referring to the responsibilities of owning and maintaining a home, a car, and all the other things that crowd into my life. I imagine many of you can relate. As a single adult, I don’t have a helpmate to assist me with the multitude of things that need attention in a home. If something needs to be taken care of around the house, I’m the one who will do it. I’m the one who mows the lawn, empties the dishwasher, vacuums the floor, dusts the furniture, pays the bills, checks the mail, trims the bushes, reconciles the bank statement, washes the windows, cleans the toilets, cleans those little bits of dried toothpaste out of the sink, checks the oil in the car, buys the groceries, and cooks the meals. If you are a single parent, you can multiply this list by one hundred. I feel your pain. I do all these things and more while trying to maintain a ministry career that often takes me away from home for extended periods of time. It can be a bit overwhelming. The grass doesn’t stop growing while I am gone.

Sometimes I feel guilty if I am working on the house while I know there are things related to ministry on which I could be focusing. Frankly, sometimes I get a bad attitude towards it and feel sorry for myself. This is where I found myself last week. I was painting the garage when it happened.

I live with a stewardship mentality. God owns everything, and I just manage what he has entrusted to me. My home is an example of this. I do not own my home. My name may be on the deed, but the reality is that God owns my home. He gave me this home, for this time, for me to live in. I am grateful for it. It is a beautiful place. But it is his, not mine. I merely take care of it for now. At any moment, God could lead me to sell the house and give away all the proceeds. It would be of no consequence to me because it is not my home. When I live this way, I receive an immense freedom to enjoy all that God has given to me. My only responsibility is to be a steward of what he has given to me. I manage it on his behalf, in the way he wants it managed.

Last week I was painting the inside of the garage. It was a project that was long overdue. I had put if off because it really was not that important to me. We’re talking about the garage after all. It was a hot day. The heat index was nearly 100 degrees. As I painted, sweat ran down my arm and dripped off my elbow, spattering the concrete floor. I was tired, and my attitude was sour. Finally I paused and looked around the room, surveying the work that still needed to be completed.

“You know, God,” I said, “If I made more money I could hire someone to do this, and I could be in the house working on an article. I could be working on something that mattered instead of just painting this stupid garage.”

I know it wasn’t fair to speak to him like that, but we have the kind of relationship where we can talk openly to one another. His reply was as frank and direct as my complaint.

“So what you’re saying to me, Tim,” he replied, “is that you think that taking care of my home is not important.”

I was immediately taken aback. It hit me hard because it was true.

I stood there with the brush in my hand and thought about a trip I took a few years ago to Kenya. One day, in the broiling African sun, I served alongside other volunteers painting a large steel gate. I did it with joy because I was serving God as I served the missionary family. It was a privilege! I worshiped God as I worked, thankful for the opportunity to serve him in this way. So what is the difference between painting a gate in Africa and painting a garage in the United States?

In that moment, everything changed for me. I looked around the garage, and I thought about how kind God had been to give me this place to live. That he would entrust me to take care of such a beautiful home was humbling to me. Immediately I hung my head and whispered, “Oh God, forgive me.”

I think for the first time in my life I understood that work could be worship. All these so-called mundane tasks can be moments for worship when I understand that I am serving the King of all Kings in the process. I had made the mistake of separating the work of ministry from the work of living and in the process had missed the wonder of worshiping and serving God in all areas of life.

David wrote,

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers” (Psalm 24:1-2, ESV).

Everything belongs to God. He created it all, so therefore it belongs to him. Everything in this world, even the animals and people that live on it, belong to him. That means your house, your car, your job, your body, your kids, your parents, or your spouse all belong to him. We simply take care of what he gives us to manage.

Paul wrote,

Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him…Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:17, 23-24, ESV)

Whatever I do, I should do it for God. It does not matter if it is done on the mission field or at home. Everything I say and do should be done in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. I should do it with all my heart, as for the Lord and not for myself or for anyone else. I am serving Jesus when I do this.

It was a profound moment for me, and it changed the way I live my life. Yes, all these tasks still need to be taken care of, but now they are moments for worship. If I am trimming the bushes, I am tending God’s garden. If I am reconciling the bank statement, I am managing God’s money. If I am cleaning the little bits of toothpaste out of the sink, I am making God’s bathroom sparkle. I’m doing it for him, not for me, and that changes everything. I’m doing it for someone I love dearly. What a privilege it is to serve him in the mundane things.

Worship is no longer just an event on Sunday. It is that moment on Monday when I am emptying the dishwasher. It is that moment on Tuesday when I am cleaning the house for a small group meeting. It is that moment on Wednesday when I am grocery shopping, and I consider his faithfulness to provide food for me to eat. It is that moment on Thursday when I am writing a devotional. It is that moment on Friday when I am sharing an evening with friends. It is that moment on Saturday when I am fishing from the shore and marveling that I get to live in such a beautiful place. Every moment of my life is an opportunity for worship.

Friend, what is it in your life right now with which you are struggling? Perhaps, like me, you find yourself in a place where you are having a pity party over some challenge you are facing. That person, problem, or situation belongs to God, not to you. Our responsibility is not to balance all the competing needs, but to remember that they all belong to God alone. We are merely serving God in the process.

I close with the words of the psalmist David who wrote:

Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. (Psalm 100:2-4, ESV)

That day in my garage, I turned on some worship music and continued to paint. The sweat still dripped from my elbow in the heat, and my arm was still tired from dragging the paint brush across the concrete block, but everything had changed. Suddenly that humble garage had become the temple of the Most High God. I was painting his temple. I was painting his home. I was humbled by the privilege to serve him in this way, and I was worshiping him in the process. I was no longer trying to balance the work of ministry with the other responsibilities in life. All of my life had become ministry. All of my life had become a moment to worship, and I had been changed as a result.

Life is worship. Worship is life.

This article was originally published in the August 2015 Newsletter.