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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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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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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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Are You Weary in Doing Good?

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians‬ ‭6:9‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Sometimes life is filled with emotional ups and downs. This has been such a week in my life. On Tuesday, after over six weeks of waiting, I finally got a call from the home health agency my doctor’s office uses to schedule my physical therapy assessment. Then on Wednesday, this long-awaited appointment finally happened. I was encouraged and ready to get started as I waited for the therapist to arrive.

The therapy supervisor started by going over my medical history to get a clear picture of what was going on. He did the routine exam, then we started talking about what to expect as a result of therapy. I totally agreed with what he shared – I’ve had many sessions of physical therapy over the years, so I already knew this would not make major changes in my condition. The goal was to gain some strength in my leg muscles and help in setting up a daily exercise plan that would be safe to continue on my own. Yet by the time he left, I was feeling discouraged, thinking “what’s the use of going through the pain of doing PT when it’s not really going to make much difference anyhow.”

The temptation to grow weary and give up in the midst of my recent health challenges has been one of my biggest struggles. It’s also a struggle Joni Eareckson Tada has experienced and wrote about in her devotional book Holiness in Hidden Places, which I grabbed off my bookshelf this morning to encourage myself in the Lord.

“It happens whenever we find ourselves on an interminable, straight stretch in the same direction… it’s hard not to become weary. Someone once said the challenge of living is to develop a long obedience in the same direction. When it’s demanded, we can rise on occasion and be patient . . . as long as there are limits. But we bulk when patience is required over the long haul. We don’t much like endurance.”

So how do we keep going when we become weary? The key is a change of perspective. Stop focusing on what we’re walking through and turn our eyes onto the Lord and onto the fruit He is developing in our lives during this season. See your circumstances from an eternal perspective. Joni concluded her devotional on Galatians 6:9 with the following words.

”Your life is not a boring stretch of highway. It’s a straight line to heaven. And just look at the fields ripening along the way. Look at the tenacity and endurance. Look at the grains of righteousness. You’ll have quite a harvest . . . so don’t give up!”

On this Thankful Thursday, let’s turn our focus off the trials and onto the fruit that is growing in our lives as a result of them. As I shared on Tuesday, we are to “count it all joy” and to “let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James‬ ‭1:2-4‬) Let’s look at the daily struggles of life with an eternal perspective, remembering that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

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The Futility of Worry

For many years before we lost our 34 year old special-needs son David last November, I battled worry about the time the Lord would take him home to heaven. Early in his life, we had been told David probably would not live into his teens, so once he passed this milestone my anxiety just kept growing. Each time he was hospitalized, especially when he had pneumonia, I was filled with anxiety that this might be the time. And when he was well, other worries consumed my thoughts, often keeping me awake at night.

When this event I had dreaded for years actually came, one of the things that stood out to me above everything else was the peace I experienced, truly a peace that passed all understanding. As my husband and I sat at David’s bedside, releasing him to the Lord, while we were sorrowful we also were at peace. This was so obvious that the nurses in charge of our son’s care in those final hours commented to my husband that the atmosphere in David’s room was totally different from what they usually see when a family member passes away. 

What was the difference in my imaginations and in the actual event? In simple terms, God promises grace in our time of need. But when the “need” is simply in our minds, no grace is promised.

This week’s Teach Me Tuesday post focused on the importance of living in the “right now,” especially during times when it seems like someone has pushed the “pause” button in our lives. Warren Wiersbe said of the danger of not living in the present moment, “Most Christians are being crucified on a cross between two thieves: Yesterday’s regret and tomorrow’s worries.” Yesterday’s regrets cripple us because they leave us in the past, which we can do nothing to change. But living with anxiety or worry is equally damaging to our ability to live today in the way God intends.

Worry is a result of turning our attention on the future. It is the result of anticipating negative future events that may never happen. Even if the things we are worrying about actually will happen sometime in the future, worrying about them will do nothing to change that.  Worry about tomorrow accomplishes nothing, and it keeps us from living today to the fullest.  It does nothing to improve tomorrow, but it empties us of the strength to live the way God is calling us to today. 

Elisabeth Elliot said, “Worry is the antithesis of trust. You simply cannot do both. They are mutually exclusive.” Worry is rooted in thinking God is not big enough to take care of us. It is an indication we are putting trust in our limited resources and understanding instead of in the God who loved us enough to send His Son to the Cross so that we could be forgiven and restored to relationship with Him.

On this Thankful Thursday, let’s renew our commitment to live in the present, walking through life one day at a time as Jesus says we should do. When we’re tempted to give place to anxious thoughts, let’s remember the instruction God has given in this area. “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 4:6-7 NLT)

Let’s also thank God for His invitation to bring the burdens on our hearts to His throne of grace. In our pain He offers help. He just wants us to learn to handle our times of need in the way His Word teaches us. “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT)

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Transformed By God’s Spirit and His Word

“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 12:2 ESV‬

‭Renewing our minds is such an important Christian discipline! In both our constant exposure to the input of the world in which we live and our emotional response to the difficult circumstances that are a part of life, we need to take time daily to renew our minds in the truths of God’s Word.‬

‭This Monday morning, as I do many mornings, I began my quiet time in the book of Psalms. I found Psalm 27 on my Bible app and began reading a passage I’ve read many times before. But as I came to the final two verses, I heard God speaking to my heart. ‬

‭I read, ‬“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:13-14)

God gently spoke to my heart, “Are you really expecting to see My goodness in this place where I’m asking you to walk?”

Immediately, I knew the honest answer was “No, Lord, I’m not.” And I knew it was time to renew my mind in the truth of the goodness of the Lord.

Life with its many and varied challenges has a way of wearing down our resolve to be doers of the Word and not just hearers (James 1:22), but the indwelling Holy Spirit is quick to teach us if we remain open to His voice. Our part is to open up God’s Word daily, with our spiritual ears ready to listen and obey. That’s what happened to me on Monday, as I did a search on my Bible app for verses about the goodness of the Lord and began renewing my mind in this important truth.

On this Thankful Thursday, I’m grateful that the Holy Spirit is able to take our willingness to open the Bible, in whatever form we prefer, and use it to renew our minds to see our circumstances from a biblical mindset. Whether He works by reminding us of some truth about the character of God, as He did for me this week, or He reminds us of some other principle taught in Scripture, the Bible and the Holy Spirit who lives within us as believers in Christ together are God’s agents of transformation in our lives.

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