“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.
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