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The Lord Is My Shepherd

This week, we are looking at the character of this One to whom we are called to submit. And one way we know the Lord is as our Shepherd.

Psalm 23 begins with the Hebrew words “Yahweh rohi,” the Lord my Shepherd. Yahweh, in our English Bibles LORD (in all caps), is the unique and sacred name of the Everlasting and Eternal God – the almighty, omniscient and omnipotent Creator.

The New Testament focuses on God incarnate, God in human flesh, Who we know as Jesus Christ. He is identified in John 10:11 as the Good Shepherd. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” So both Father (Yahweh) and Son (Jesus Christ) are the Shepherd of those who have surrendered to their rule.

Psalm 23 was written by David, who during his youth had been a shepherd over his father’s flock. He took seriously his responsibility as the protector of the sheep.

In 1 Samuel 17, we read of some of young David’s experiences as a shepherd. In answer to King Saul’s concern that David was only a youth, not able to go against the Philistine giant Goliath who was taunting the army of Israel, David recalls some of the dangers he faced and overcame as he was tending sheep for his father, saying this Philistine would be like one of the lions or bears he battled as a shepherd.

“Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him.” (1 Samuel 17:33-34 ESV)  

Sheep are definitely not the smartest animals God created! They constantly need to be under the watchful eye of a shepherd as they graze. In the hilly terrain of Palestine, sheep faced many dangers. For example, if one sheep jumped off a cliff, and there was no shepherd there to protect them, the whole flock would likely follow. Therefore having an alert and vigilant shepherd to watch over them was essential.

Let’s look at Psalm 23 verse by verse. In these six short verses, we are promised:

* RELATIONSHIP AND PROVISION:The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:1a‬) (The word translated “want” ‬refers to not lacking anything we need.)

* REST AND RESTORATION:He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:2-3a)

* GUIDANCE AND PURPOSE: “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:3b‬)‬

* GOD’S PRESENCE AND COMFORT: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.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:4)‬

* BLESSING AND ABUNDANCE: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:5)

* GOD’S GOODNESS AND MERCY AND AN ETERNITY WITH HIM: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalms‬ ‭23:6‬)‭

Like sheep, we are helpless, defenseless, and even purposeless without God in our lives. We need a Shepherd who will protect, provide, and give purpose to our lives. And God wants to be that good Shepherd in our lives.

There’s just one problem. As sheep we are not always wanting what our Good Shepherd provides. W. Phillip Keller, author of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, wrote, “It takes some of us a lifetime to learn that Christ, our Good Shepherd, knows exactly what He is doing with us. He understands us perfectly.

We want the care of the Good Shepherd while still reserving the right to do things our way. But that’s not the way it works. Surrender to the One who is our Good Shepherd is to key to being able to partake of all the benefits of being one of His sheep. On this Thankful Thursday, let’s make sure there are no areas of our lives we are refusing to surrender to the Lordship of Christ and then give thanks to God for all the blessings that are a part of the life of surrender.

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Peace or Anxiety – You Choose!

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭4:6-7‬ ‭NIV‬‬

When the apostle Paul wrote these familiar words, he was nearing the end of his two years of house arrest in Rome, which ended with his death as a martyr.  Based on a vision in which the Lord stood near Paul and told him he must testify in Rome (Acts‬ ‭23:11‬), Paul’s life took a drastic turn. When he testified in Jerusalem before King Agrippa, Paul appealed to Caesar and was escorted to Rome under armed guard. The apostle Paul spent the final two years of his life chained‬ to a Roman guard, but they were not wasted years. During that time, he wrote the books of the New Testament that we now know as Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, in addition to proclaiming the kingdom of God and boldly teaching all who came to see him about the Lord Jesus Christ.

As I did a study of the book of Acts earlier this year, reading the stories of Paul, Peter and the other apostles, their surrender to the revealed will of God, regardless of the personal cost involved, was something that stood out to me.  These leaders of the early church had a clear understanding of the subject of surrender, and they lived it out in their daily lives.

But Paul and the other apostles were also fallible humans, just like we are. We tend to put these men up on a pedestal, but I can’t help but wonder if before the apostle Paul wrote these words that teach us how to overcome anxiety he lived them out. The circumstances he faced certainly could have caused anxiety. I suspect Paul learned through personal experience how to replace anxious thoughts with the peace of God. And then he put what he had applied in his own life in writing, leaving us clear instructions on how we overcome anxiety.

When I saw Philippians 4:6-7 was one of the three focus Scriptures for this first week of our I Give Up: The Secret Joy of a Surrendered Life Bible study, my first reaction was to wonder what these verses have to do with surrender. But as I’ve faced some circumstances that have caused some fear and anxiety about what lies ahead, I’m beginning to look at Philippians 4:6 through a different lens. The words “in every situation” stand out to me. I don’t know what your “every situation” might include, but mine right now feels a little scary.

Since all the options for treating the recent changes in my left knee have led to dead ends, I don’t know what lies ahead. Yes, I know I need to pray, but I’m having a little trouble with the specific requests since at this point I can’t see God’s plan. I’ve been taking time daily to express thankfulness to the Lord, but I can’t honestly say I’m walking in the peace of God. So how do we get to that place when we know something is wrong but we are powerless to change it? When we see no way out of our situation and don’t know what God is doing?

Laura Story tells of struggling with this when she was expecting their youngest son. After several normal ultrasounds, one wasn’t. Something was wrong, and she experienced anxiety about what was ahead. She says, “Now I knew something would be wrong, and I was powerless to change it. What needed to change most was me.”

She and Martin went to talk with their good friend and pastor, Bill. His advice was that this was a time they needed to wait on the Lord.

Laura agreed that she needed to wait on God, but immediately asked, “What steps do I need to take to do that?”

Bill’s answer was simple. “Wait is wait. There are no steps. You just surrender. And then you sit tight.”

When we face a situation that we are powerless to control and God hasn’t given us understanding of what lies ahead, anxiety may be our reaction. So what do we do in this situation? I’ll share how I usually handle this type of anxiety.

  • Surrender is the first step. Turn the reins over to God. He knows the end from the beginning, and He has the power to bring good out of even those situations that have our emotions in turmoil. Our first prayer is a prayer of surrender
  • Be still and remember He is God. He is still in control. Remember your situation isn’t too big for Him to handle.
  • Immerse yourself in God’s Word – read it, write it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it.
  • Then wait. Wait on God and keep waiting until He reveals a step you need to take or your situation changes. Don’t jump ahead of Him, but when He speaks be quick to obey.
  • Finally, give thanks that He is God and in control of your circumstances. Thank Him for the things He is teaching you though this situation, for the work He is doing in your life as you wait on Him.

Situations that we are powerless to control are NOT beyond God’s control. Surrender to His plan, draw close to Him, and wait expectantly for Him to work. Your circumstances may not change overnight, but you will begin to change.

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What Is Surrender Anyway?

For the next five week’s, I’m going through a Faithgateway Online Bible study on Christian worship leader and recording artist Laura Story’s newest book, I Give Up: The Secret Joy of a Surrendered Life. My normal Tuesday and Thursday posts will be centered on the teaching in this book and the related videos and study guide.

The title for this week’s study: “What is Surrender Anyway?” So today’s post is to make sure we understand the true meaning of surrender.

Surrender is basically a military term. It is what an army does when it realizes their opposing army is going to be the victor and they lay down their arms and give up their rights to the conqueror.

This world is a battlefield. Since the Garden of Eden, mankind has ignored and rebelled against our Creator and chosen to walk according to our own desires. In essence, we have joined sides with Satan, who has been called the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

There’s one major problem with that – it puts us on the losing side of the battle. Satan hasn’t yet been totally stripped of his power, but he has been defeated by our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. The battle was won when Jesus became the spotless Lamb of God, died for our sin and rose again.

If you are a Christian, if you have accepted the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross as the full payment for your sin, you did so by surrendering to the drawing of the Holy Spirit, revealing the truth to you that you needed a Savior. But surrendering to God doesn’t end when we are born again and experience new life. That is simply the beginning. 

In simple terms, surrender is turning the control of my life over to God. Surrendering to God is recognizing His authority in my life and choosing His will over my own. Surrender is not meant to be a one-time decision for a Christian. It is meant to be a daily lifestlyle. It is laying down our desires in order to make pleasing God our top priority. As Laura Story says in our study guide, “Surrendering to God’s will is a learned skill that takes a lifetime to develop.”

The actual word surrender is not used in most translations of the Bible. But the concept of surrender is found throughout both the Old and New Testament. 

  • Surrender is submitting to the Lord. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7 
  • Surrender is recognizing the truth of Galatians 2:20, which says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” 
  • Surrender is being a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ. It is believing and living according to Luke 9:23-24, which says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”
  • Surrender begins with presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, as Romans 12:1-2 tells us to do, the first prerequisite of knowing and doing the will of God. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
  • Surrender is, as Ephesians 6:6 says, “doing the will of God from the heart.” Sometimes the will of God is clearly stated in Scripture, but often this isn’t true. It begins with us coming to the Lord in prayer and asking, “Lord, what is Your plan in this situation?” And then waiting patiently until we receive an answer and walking in obedience to the revealed will of God.
  • Surrender is yielding to the hands of God as He shapes us into a vessel to bring Him glory. It is making ourselves willing to be molded into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Remember, surrender is a daily choice. It is to choose to make Jesus Christ Lord of every aspect of our lives, seeking His will in every circumstance that we face. It is being who God created us to be.

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The theme song for the “I Give Up” Bible study.

 

 

 

 

When There Is No Way To Make a Way: Five Things We Can Know

During times when we can’t see or understand what God is doing, it’s easy to become so focused on what we can’t do or on what isn’t working that we lose hope that God is still able to work in and through our circumstances. That’s where I was earlier this week when I learned that another door I was hoping would lead to some relief from the pain and swelling in my left knee had closed.

If you are a born-again child of God, even during times when all you see are the overwhelming circumstances you are facing and the closed doors that are keeping you from making progress, the truth is God is still at work. His hand may not be easily visible, but if we understand His heart toward us we will be strengthened to keep moving forward in His plan.

Today, I wanted to shift our focus off of the unknowns concerning our present circumstances to some things we can know if by faith we take God’s Word as our guidebook through life. Today I decided to use the New Living Translation as the Bible version, simply because it presents these truths of Scripture in an easy to understand format. These are some of the truths I have been personally holding onto during these difficult circumstances that I can see no way out of.

  • We can know God will go before us and be with us no matter what happens. “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.” Deuteronomy‬ ‭31:8‬ ‭
  • We can know God is faithful and loving. “Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.” Deuteronomy‬ ‭7:9‬ ‭
  • We can know God always keeps His promises. “So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us.” Hebrews‬ ‭6:18‬ ‭
  • We can know we will see God’s goodness in our situation. “Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living. Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” ‭‭Psalm‬ ‭27:13-14‬ ‭
  • We can know nothing is impossible with our God. When we can see no way, He can make a way.  “He (Jesus) replied, ‘What is impossible for people is possible with God.’” ‭‭Luke‬ ‭18:27‬ ‭

Remember, no matter what you may be currently walking through or what uncertainties lie ahead, if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior you haven’t been left on your own. You and I have the indwelling Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth and the written Word of God as our guidebook through life. Our circumstances may look impossible, but remember the God we serve is the God of the impossible.

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Running to the Lord in our Hopelessness

On May 31st, my husband and I had planned to join some friends from our church to celebrate the seventh birthday of a dear friend. But I woke up with extreme pain and swelling in my left knee and my husband ended up going without me. This was the first of a long list of changes in my plans that is still continuing. I now know a little more of what is causing the pain, but four months later I’m no closer to an answer concerning what to do about it.

Each path we have tried to go down has led to a dead end. First, knee replacement surgery wasn’t recommended because of the extensive nerve pain in my knee, which could potentially be made worse from any knee surgery. Cortisone injections did nothing to relieve the pain. And the latest disappointment, after two sessions of physical therapy the pain and swelling in my knee became so bad this weekend that my therapist is meeting to morning to talk with the therapy supervisor to make a decision about whether it’s even safe to continue the exercises she has been teaching me.

Today, my heart has been asking one question. When life with chronic illness is marked by one disappointment after another, when every recommended treatment option leads to another dead end, what are we to do? How do we hold onto our hope in the Lord?

Let’s look at the life of a man in the Bible who experienced overwhelming fear and hopelessness and see if there are any lessons we can learn. The story is found in 1 Kings 19:1-8.

“Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, “Arise, eat.” Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.” So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.”
‭‭1 Kings‬ ‭19:1-8‬ ‭NASB‬‬

So what did Elijah do in this passage? Other than feeling sorry for himself and asking the Lord to take his life, little worth mentioning. He ran away, but not from God. He was honest with the Lord about where he was emotionally, which was a place where he had lost all hope. And then he laid down and slept, only awakening when an angel touched him twice and provided food and water. Elijah was passive, all the work was done by the Lord. Elijah simply received from the Lord and was strengthened to continue the journey.

When chronic illness or any of the other problems we face in this life strip away our last bit of hope, all God asks of us is to come to Him. Remember, He made us with emotions, and therefore he knows best how to deal with them. If you are battling hopelessness today because of difficult circumstances that you can see no way out of, don’t pretend everything is okay. Run to the Lord and be honest with Him about where you are. Let Him meet the needs you have, and rest in His provision. He will strengthen you to face tomorrow.

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Giving Thanks As We Wait

Waiting isn’t optional, but waiting well is! I hope you learned some keys on how to wait well from Tuesday’s post. We learned that to wait well is to wait prayerfully, patiently, joyfully and expectantly. It is to wait with trust, believing what God says in His Word about His nature and His ways. It is to wait with strength and courage. It is to wait with worship. But I purposely left out one truth about waiting well. To wait well is to wait with thankfulness.

Psalm 13 is a short passage of Scripture, only six verses long, so take the time to read it. As you do, notice the question David repeatedly asks.

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? Consider and answer me, O Lord my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death, lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”

In these six brief verses, we see the words “how long” four times. Have you ever cried out to God with those same words during a time of waiting that seemed to drag on and on and on? I sure have. We don’t know the exact circumstances that David was facing when he wrote these words. But we do know he was sorrowful, even despairing of life. His enemies were prevailing and he was feeling shaken.

During extended times of waiting, we may feel forgotten or even forsaken. But instead of allowing our feelings to determine our attitude and actions, we can choose to remember what we know about God. We can choose to believe the truths He reveals in His Word. I believe that’s what David did, and it provides a clear pattern for us to follow.

Instead of fixing his eyes on his circumstances, instead of acting on his emotions, David turned his eyes on the Lord. He acknowledges his adversaries, but he also gives thanks to his God.

“And my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ And my adversaries will rejoice when I am shaken. But I have trusted and relied on and been confident in Your lovingkindness and faithfulness; My heart shall rejoice and delight in Your salvation. I will sing to the LORD, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.” PSALM‬ ‭13:4-6‬ ‭AMP‬‬

Are you currently in a prolonged time of waiting? If so, are you willing to stop using your feelings as a guide? Are you willing to turn your focus off of your circumstances and onto the God who is bigger than your circumstances? Are you willing to look for what you can thank God for in the midst of your situation that still shows no signs of resolution?

On this Thankful Thursday, let’s learn from the psalmist David and reflect on the nature of our God. Where do you see His goodness? His faithfulness? His lovingkindness? Look at your situation and see where there is evidence that God is at work, even during this time of waiting. Then, let’s offer up to Him a sacrifice of thanksgiving for who He is and what He is doing.

“I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the Lord.” Psalm‬ ‭116:17‬ ‭

“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” Psalm‬ ‭50:23‬ ‭

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Learning to Wait Well

I am in a time of waiting. I have been in a time of waiting since shortly after I heard a call from the Lord last spring to write a Bible study for our small Bible study group at church and made a commitment to do so. I was preparing to get started on this project, even got an outline down on paper, when suddenly my health took a deep dive from which I still haven’t recovered.

Suddenly, my life was filled with one appointment after another, trying to figure out what was going on and come up with a treatment plan for hopefully getting back to where I was before things changed overnight. Unfortunately, since that negative overnight change, there have been no positive overnight changes. Instead, there have been a series of small and gradual steps forward, each including extended times of waiting.

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Waiting isn’t optional. It’s a part of life, some times moreso than others. But choosing how we will wait is up to us. Will we wait with complaining and discontentment? Or will we wait with trust in the One Who rules in our lives, remembering He is not only in control of our circumstances but also in control of the timing? Waiting well means continuing to look forward to the future we’re moving toward while living faithfully where God has us right now.

How do we wait well? God’s Word gives us several answers to this question. Let’s look at a few from the book of Psalms (all verses in ESV)

  • To wait well is to wait prayerfully.Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” Psalms‬ ‭25:4-5‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait with strength and courage.Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭31:24‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait with joyful trust in the Lord and in His steadfast love.Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” Psalms‬ ‭33:20-22‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait patiently. “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭40:1‬ ‭‬
  • To wait well is to wait with hope and expectancy.Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us.” Psalms‬ ‭123:2‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait believing God will do what He has said in His Word. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭130:5‬ ‭

One of the best ways to wait well is to turn a time of waiting into a time of worship. Worship causes us to shift our focus off of our limiting circumstances and onto our limitless God. Let’s choose to wait well, and let’s back up that choice by turning our hearts toward the Lord in worship.