Shadow is defined by Webster as “the dark figure cast upon a surface by a body intercepting the rays from a source of light”. Stop just for a moment and consider this definition in your life. What is it in your life that is casting a shadow, what is intercepting the rays from the Light? I propose 3 things that can intercept the light that longs to shine into our hearts and lives.
- Sin – The Bible uses the term sin to describe the missing of a mark, an offense, to forfeit something. These are actions in our lives that do not align with the perfect will of God. Let me be clear everyone sins, no one is perfect, to stumble in one area of disobedience is to stumble in all areas of disobedience.
- Fear – Fear has the power to be debilitating, to cause one to stop forward movement, and to withdraw from that which causes the fear.
- Evil – Our world is filled with evil. We love to ignore or act like evil does not exist, but it is the only way to describe the atrocities enacted upon others.
I want us to realize that the Psalmist provides 3 solutions to these problems. They work together to remove each of these three areas.
- His Presence – There is nothing as powerful as the presence of Jesus. His Presence with us is the mission of the Cross, it is the essence of the name Emmanuel.
- His Rod – The rod speaks of the stick the shepherd carried for punishing, ruling, writing, and fighting. In other words, not only does the Good Shepherd discipline us, but He fights for us and writes His Word upon our hearts. His Rod is a symbol of His Lordship over our life and His fierce protection of that which belongs to Him.
- His Staff – The shepherd’s staff was a walking stick and symbolic of His role as protector and provider. It is no wonder that Jesus tells us to not be anxious and to not fear or be dismayed, but instead to place our trust and hope in Him. To cast all our cares upon Him. To take His yoke upon us.
We can make the choice to continue on with a shadow hanging over our lives or we can come into His light. God instructs Moses to have Aaron pronounce a blessing upon the people in Numbers 6:24-26 “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”‘ The blessing is a continual reminder of God’s Light longing to shine upon us.
Psalms 23:2 provides us with two items necessary for physical and spiritual survival.
Green pastures for the sheep speaks of a place to eat and renew their strength. The fact of the green pasture showed the diligence of the shepherd in finding a place of ease for the sheep, a place free from danger, and a place where everything was good to eat. This is true in our following of the Good Shepherd, He leads us to place where we can renew ourselves from His provision. Being able to lie down on soft grass in contrast to a rocky place speaks to the understanding of the Good Shepherd and His provision for what we need to feel safe.
The quiet waters need to be contrasted with a raging river. The ability to drink freely without fear of the risk involved in obtaining that water is a benefit of belonging to the Good Shepherd. Within His plan for our lives, He ensures that we have all that we need for a sustained life. One of the challenges we face is remembering His goodness and provision. I am pretty sure that along the way to these green pastures and quiet waters there were sheep that wanted to wander away from the flock, that wanted to stop due to the difficulty of the journey, that felt impatient at the length of the journey. I realize that sheep may not express these feelings, but we, His sheep, sure can feel the desires to wander from His path, become discouraged by difficulties, and allow impatience and other emotions to derail our following of the Good Shepherd.
Resist these temptations and continue to follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, He is leading you to quiet waters and green pastures.
Mark 6:31 “And He said to them, ‘Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.’ For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.”
In the life of the disciples, Jesus instructed the disciples to find a place of rest from the busyness and stress of life. In our lives, we need to heed the same warning. Life is filled with daily activities and the work week has changed to seven days a week. I can get mail on Sundays, Amazon online orders delivered within hours, and 24/7 grocery store access. The world is always on and in working motion. The drive to be successful almost requires a seven-day work week. There is definitely a demand to keep our life jammed packed with work, activities, and family commitments. While these are all important, we must be intentional to schedule and protect our times of rest. In the Old Testament, this day was called the Sabbath, established by God as a day to rest from work and a day to reflect on God. Unfortunately, like many of God’s laws, it was twisted and made into a burden upon the people instead of a releasing from burdens.
Psychological studies continue to validate the important role that rest plays in our life and health, including our moral compass, memory & learning, and psychological development. In simple terms, we need rest to remain healthy and productive. So, set aside time to rest. Our society projects guilt upon those who take the time to rest, but the consequences of not resting far outweighs the guilt of others. Three principles of rest:
- Be specific and strategic, if rest is not a planned event, it will not happen.
- Do what allows you to rest. People find different ways to relax, so whatever works for you is the best type of rest.
- Reflect upon God. This can take various forms (Bible reading, prayer, reflection, attending church or other spiritually uplifting events).
My observation is that too often our rest excludes God instead of including God, we are so busy that the only downtime we have ends up sacrificing our time with God.
Isaiah 40:31 “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
Genesis 39:4 “So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority.
Serving others is often considered a New Testament concept grounded in the teaching of Jesus and Paul to serve others. The story of Joseph and his interaction with Potiphar provides a challenging portion of the concept of serving.
- Joseph was not serving a kind and benevolent person.
- Joseph was not serving the poor, marginalized, and downtrodden.
- Joseph’s service could have been by either force or choice.
- Joseph did not know the future
The ability to serve others is made more difficult when those we are serving hold absolute power over us, our work, and our life. Potiphar was such a man, but I believe the principals found in this exchange will also work in our life.
- Joseph saw his service to others as service to God, as revealed in his comments to Potiphar’s wife later. Genesis 39:9.
- Joseph’s service gained him favor with men, repeatedly. Genesis 39:21, Acts 7:10.
- There is a direct correlation between service and promotion. Genesis:39:4-6, Genesis 39:21-23.
So to apply this story to our life, we must serve as though we are serving our Master and Redeemer, Jesus. Only then can we find contentment in our service, strength to endure hardship, and gain the favor of men.
One final note, doing what is right and serving others is not always received properly by others, nor does it exclude us from mistreatment by others, but it does secure the favor of our one true Master. The one who holds all authority, as well as, the stars in His hands.
Amazing Grace is one of the most well-known hymns of all time and sung by sinner and saint alike. Follow this link for a little history on the life of the hymn’s author John Newton. Within the song, we glance into the transforming power of grace. Paul explains the purpose of grace in Romans 3:22-24 “For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,” It is His grace that makes us presentable to God and it is through His grace that we can stand before His throne free of guilt and shame. Truly it is an Amazing Grace, but what does that mean for our daily lives? I propose three things:
- Romans 5:20 shows that there is more than enough grace to cover any and all sins that have been committed. Sin carries consequences and the Biblical Law identifies these areas. Sin can wreak havoc in our lives, but it is to this chaos that grace needs to be applied.
- John describes Jesus as being full of grace and truth in John 1:14. He goes on to compare the law with grace and showed that the Good News message is one of Grace. In the Bible, the word grace means the “divine influence upon the heart”. When Jesus came to earth is was to reveal and become, through His death and resurrection, the divine influencing our hearts. This is done through our accepting His sacrifice and inviting the Holy Spirit to be our Counselor.
- Jesus came to be the embodiment of Grace and as a believer, we are called to allow grace to be our motivation for what we do. Peter states in 1 Peter 4:10 that grace is the “why” of our mission to serve one another. Simply, we have experienced grace from Jesus and so we can draw from that well to offer and respond in grace towards others.
My prayer is that Amazing Grace will continue to be more than just a song we sing, but a message to others.
Matthew 10:8 “Freely you have received, freely give.”
When we think about the Lord, we can sometimes be overwhelmed at His great mercy. There are other times when we self-diagnose our worth to Him and rate our own existence, our trials, and our pain as being so great that they must be too much for the Lord of heaven. The question reveals our realization of our ability or lack of ability to accomplish His purpose and calling. Men like Moses in Exodus 3:11, David in 1 Chronicles 29:14, and Solomon in 2 Chronicles 2:6 all asked the question. If these great men of scripture questioned their value in accomplishing God’s purpose for their life, is it any wonder that we too question God’s plan for our life? Rarely does our belief in our ability even come close to His belief in our ability.
This is where many individuals in scripture who also felt overwhelmed by the task in front of them. One such person was Zerubbabel who was tasked with rebuilding the temple upon the return from Babylon. He was facing not only an intimidating task of rebuilding what Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed, but faced continual opposition to the project. There will always be opposition when we answer the call to do anything for God. Our solution is the same as that which was stated to Zerubbabel in Zechariah 4:6 “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit”. It is the Holy Spirit who helps us in accomplishing the tasks in front of us. It is both an Old and New Testament concept that the power to accomplish His plan for our life comes through the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Zerubbabel is encouraged that the mountain will come down and he will complete the temple with the crowning cry of grace which is translated as kindness and favor. In other words, the favor of God would be revealed through our obedience and His empowerment of our life. Will you allow God to empower you for the task ahead, that it might be translated to God’s favor and kindness?
Genesis 16:13 “Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, ‘Have I also here seen Him who sees me?'”
Joseph was not the only person who faced pits of life. Consider for a moment Hagar. Hagar was a slave traded as personal property and given by her master to her master’s husband for the sole purpose of producing a child. This is not a judgment on what Abram or Sarai did, but simply an examination of the emotional state of Hagar at the moment of this story. When she becomes pregnant a series of events lead to Hagar being treated harshly and finally fleeing from the treatment. In her journey to safety, she meets the Angel of the Lord, a term used for Jesus in his pre-incarnate state. Here are some thoughts about this encounter that apply to our journey, you can read the whole story here.
- Hagar was not immune from her situation, she had despised Sarai. Even if she was justified in her attitude and I can see where this is possible, it does not change the story that she played a part in her current situation. Just like Hagar, we make decisions and choices that can have consequences and an impact on our life. Running away from the problem will never lead to a resolution.
- The Angel of the Lord’s first response is for Hagar to return and submit to the authority that she is under. A difficult request, a fearful expectation, a return journey filled with dread and anxiety. Here is the point of this, the healing and blessings of God require submission to authority and obedience to His Word. Nowhere in the Bible are we told that obedience or submission are easy tasks. What we are told is that obedience and submission to authority are characteristics of Jesus that we should emulate.
- The names of the Lord are ways to identify His character. Hagar provides a beautiful depiction of the character of God that is still true today. We have a God who sees. There is nothing in all creation that escapes his view. Sometimes we mistake His inaction for His oversight, but that is not the case. Hagar had fled from the presence of her master only to encounter the Presence of the Master. What a great place to be, found by His Presence.
During the times of Hagar, it was the father’s right to name the child. Do not miss this point, Hagar named her son Ishmael, a name that means “God hears”. I believe Hagar’s return and her submission prompted this acceptance by Abram and Sarai. I also love how God works through our pain to speak to others. Hagar was pregnant because Sarai was barren in her late seventies and her heart’s cry was to give her husband a child. Ishmael was a witness to Abram and Sarai that God hears your heart’s cry.
Once again, out of a pit of life, God has produced a blessing that impacts us today. We have a God who sees and a God who hears.
Genesis 37:24 “Then they took him and cast him into a pit. And the pit was empty; there was no water in it.”
The Bible describes the encounter with his brothers as hostile. It does not tell us if Joseph realized how hate filled his brothers had become towards him, but Joseph was made fully aware and found himself in a life changing situation. I believe life is often like this for us. We do not realize what is about to happen to us and in a life changing moment, we find ourself in a waterless pit. A couple of points to consider in this moment.
- Joseph was most likely scared, especially if he heard them discussing his death. Some of us do not have to have a vivid imagination to understand what it is like to be facing death without the ability to deliver ourselves from our pits. Fear clouds our ability to think and hinders our faith in God. The solution is to turn to God and ask for God to increase our faith in His protection.
- Even in the midst of Joseph’s pit, God had a plan. It may not seem like it at the moment, but God is with us, the waterless pit was only absent of tangible water, but the Living Water was present with Joseph and He is present with us in out pits. God has a plan and purpose for our pit experiences. While it may seem unfair or unfathomable that God could use our seasons of pain and hopelessness, that is His purpose for our life.
- Our example is Jesus, who endured pain, suffering, betrayal, and death for a greater purpose: Our salvation. Trust me, if God cares about our lives enough to send us Son to die to pay the penalty for our sin, He is not overlooking our momentary struggles.
Years later and through many more pits of life, Joseph states in Genesis 50:20 “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”
Be encouraged, God is at work even if we cannot see it because of the darkness of our current pit.