While the people of Good Shepherd were worshipping in spirit and truth yesterday, Julie and I were returning from a week in Prague, Czech Republic.
Who goes to Prague in January? Empty nesters who are visiting their son and his wife. More on THAT tomorrow, of course, as it’s Top Five (Or Maybe More) Tuesday.
So Devin Tharp gave the message yesterday. And as soon as I landed, my in box was filled with folks telling me what a great job he did.
No surprises there. So here it is … the “Through It All” sermon rewind, week 2 of the “Missing Peace” series.
Some of you know me pretty well from serving alongside me over the years and others of you, may not know me much at all.
If you don’t know me, then I think I can give you a brief summary pretty quickly. I am a person who can be fairly loud, generally excited, passionate (other people have said I’m “intense”). And I’m someone who likes a challenge—I’m what some might call “ambitious.”
However, that being said, you might find it surprising that I’ve had seasons in my life when that was not the case. One of those, was right after Tia, my wife, and I were married. Prior to our marriage, we had always had a long distance relationship during college since we attended different schools. And she lived here in NC while I lived in Ohio in the summers, so we always spent our summers apart. So, we both couldn’t wait to get married just so we didn’t have to say goodbye anymore.
And so, we got married, moved to a new city in Kentucky. I started a new job, she started a new job and I was also starting seminary as well. So, there was a lot of new in our lives. And I was so excited to finally live with her and not have to be seperated. But, there was a problem. Our work schedules didn’t align at all. I would leave really early in the morning and come back in the late afternoon and Tia left early in the afternoon and came back late in the evening. So, there were days that the only time we saw each other was when we would pass each other on the highway. And, all that new and that lack of being with Tia robbed me of all the expectations I had about what our first year of marriage would be.
And the result was that I became depressed. Now, I didn’t realize it at the time, but, now, looking back, I realize that was the case. I remember days when I would cry for no reason—now, not that crying is an unusual thing for me, but crying for no reason certainly was. And although I wanted to feel differently, I couldn’t convince myself to get out of the way I felt. It was outside my control. What I thought was going to be this special season of happiness as newlyweds, became a season that brought a lot of sadness and loss—loss of what I had expected for that first year.
And I remember praying some of the most honest and raw prayers I had ever prayed just asking the Lord to help me and get me through that season.
Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you know what I’m talking about.
I’m sure many of you can relate to what I experienced there. You’ve had seasons in your life when things didn’t go as you expected.
• You worked really hard to get that promotion at work, but, instead, they gave it to someone else.
• You had all these expectations of what your marriage would be, but instead it ended in divorce.
• You had hoped that your faith would rub off on your kids, but, instead, their faith is non-existent.
And, as a result, you’ve found yourself grieving the loss of your expectations. For some of you, the consequence is that you have slipped into a depression and things that used to seem easy now feel incredibly difficult.
We have all experienced these seasons in our life that are hard because they didn’t turn out as we had hoped. Our expectations were here (hand motion) and reality came crashing in here (hand motion).
And it is in these moments when we ask some tough questions:
• Why me?
• Why now?
• Is this part of your plan, God?
And may be one of the toughest questions that we wrestle with is: God, did you allow this? If so, why? Why didn’t you do something to stop it?
Well, David, as in King David and the boy who killed Goliath, David, certainly had his fair share of difficult seasons in his life. There was the time when his best friends dad was trying to kill him. There was also the time he committed adultery with Bathsheba and, as a result, had her husband killed.
And somewhere in the course of those events, David penned some powerful words in Psalm 23. This is probably one of the most well-known passages of scripture of all time—other than John 3:16. If you’ve been to a funeral—there is a good chance that you’ve heard this passage read. However, just because it is well-known does not mean it is well-understood.
First, let’s understand the context that the passage is written in—because “Context is Everything.” This passage is located in the songbook of the library of the Bible. Yes, David was a poet, a warrior and a King of Israel, but before all of that, he was once a shepherd. He took care of his father’s sheep.
Now, let’s be honest, most of us probably don’t know much about sheep. The world we live in today is very different from the world that the biblical authors wrote from. Their world was driven by agriculture and so, this passage, like many others in the biblical library, connect with that world. But, if we understand the context, then the truths shared here are just as applicable to your life today as it was for their life then. Because truth has an endless life expectancy. It transcends all cultures and all time periods.
Psalm 23:1: “The Lord is my shepherd…”
Sheep need a shepherd. David equates his life (all human lives) with those of sheep. He says we need someone to lead us, guide us and manage us. And David makes it clear that the Lord is the one who guides and directs his life. The Lord manages his life—not himself.
Let me ask you the question, who manages your life? When you come to a fork in the road, where do you look for guidance? David says proudly, “The Lord is my shepherd”—he is my guide.
And because the Lord is my shepherd…he says
Psalm 23:1: “I lack nothing.”
David recognizes that with the Lord leading him, he needs nothing.
Notice what David doesn’t say, “I desire nothing.” He knows that God isn’t like a genie in a bottle who gives us everything we want—no. Instead, the Lord is everything we need. David lacks nothing because the Lord is everything he needs.
Psalm 23:2-3: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.”
These are all the things a good shepherd does—his sheep need to eat nutritious grass, drink from easy-flowing streams and be led on paths that are safe especially as they climb the rough terrain where a fall could mean death for the sheep. All these things support the main idea of this passage: the Lord is a good shepherd.
Psalm 23:4: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley…”
And look at the previous environments listed: green pastures, quiet waters, right paths. And just like that (snap of fingers), things change and David finds himself in the “darkest valley”. Sounds accurate, right? Just like that (snap of fingers) and life can change—without an announcement and with no warning. May be that’s how it happened in your life—one minute things were just grand and the next minute, you’re picking up the pieces.
“Even though”—you’ve had some even though moments in your life.
• Even though…my relationship ended.
• Even though…I went bankrupt.
• Even though…I had to give up school so I could get a job.
And notice the language here, “I walk through the darkest valley…” (Circle the word “through” there.) Even though life has been unfair, David recognizes that the Lord is leading him through the valley.
If you know the context, the valley is not the destination. No, the shepherd is leading the sheep to the high places where there is great grazing for them in the summer months. The valley is the pathway to the future.
God is not interested in leading you to the valley—he is interested in leading you through it. Because he has something greater for you just up ahead, but, in order to get there, you have to walk through the valley first.
For David, life may have brought him to this place, but he sees that the Lord is leading him through it. And, sometimes, we turn that reality around. For someone here, you are angry about where you are in life and you believe that God is to blame. He led you here, he is punishing you or teaching you a lesson and, therefore, God is the recipient of all your anger.
God is not your enemy, he is your friend. And he doesn’t want to leave you in the valley of darkness that you are currently living in—he wants to lead you to a better place, but in order to get there, you have to trust him and follow his lead.
Psalm 23:4 “I will fear no evil…”
And how is he able to walk through the dark valley without fear? Because…
Psalm 23:4: “you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
In a world that appears to be crumbling, Jesus is still the Prince of Peace. He is not often looking for the easiest way to get you out of the fire, but he does promise to bring you peace in the midst of whatever season you are in.
David could walk through anything that life threw at him because he knew no matter what, God would go through it right by his side. The presence of the Lord in his life made all the difference in his ability to handle the seasons of his life. He didn’t have self-confidence, he had God-confidence. That’s the kind of confidence we need—the assurance that God is going to be with us no matter what and he is ultimately in control.
You see, David discovered this powerful truth: Whatever life brings you to, the Lord will bring you through. (Bottom Line)
No matter what life brought to David, he could deal with it because he knew the Lord would be with him and would bring him through to the other side.
Whatever season you’re in, the Lord is right there with you and he can help you turn the page. He can help you get THROUGH.
Well, remember my first year of marriage, when I went through a season of depression, the Lord walked through that with me. I wasn’t magically better one day, but, over time, he comforted me and I trusted him to guide me. And I got through that season and my marriage is better on the other side because of it.
Well, fast forward 20 years, and last Fall I started to go through what I have referred to as a tunnel of chaos. For the majority of my life, I’ve always had a great sense of purpose and a clear direction of the mission God had assigned me to. So, it’s hard to explain, but last Fall, I found myself feeling discontent. While I loved ministry, Good Shepherd and my role at the church, I couldn’t shake this sense that there was something more God wanted from me. Now, would you have known that if you interacted with me? Not at all, but I was experiencing it everyday, just under the surface.
So, I started to cry out to the Lord and ask for his help. Along with that, I went to a counselor. Now, if any of you here think that meeting with a counselor to help you process and sort through your feelings is a sign of weakness, I have a word for you: You’re wrong. The Lord was guiding me through that time—and some of that guidance was confirmed through my counseling sessions.
And through a lot of prayer and discernment, I became convinced that the Lord was calling me out of student ministry and into a new season. He was inviting me to make a transition. Now, I handle change pretty well—some might say I create change a lot around me. But, this change was not easy for me.
You see, I started in youth ministry when I was 19 years old and it was all I had ever done in ministry. And while I had loved every minute of it, I knew the Lord was asking me to do something new. To be honest, that both excited me and scared me at the same time. I think I had come to see part of my identity in youth ministry—and God was asking me to leave that season of my life behind. He was calling me to venture into the unknown and he kept reminding me, “I’LL BE WITH YOU”.
“But, God, I haven’t done anything else.” I’LL BE WITH YOU.
“But, God, I don’t think I have what it takes.” I’LL BE WITH YOU.
“But, God, this will be all new to me.” I’LL BE WITH YOU.
So, I did what you should probably never do with your supervisor. I went to him and asked if he and the church would consider splitting my job into 2 jobs, keeping me in one role and hiring someone else for the other role. Still to this day, when I say it out loud, it seems a little crazy and stupid. BUT GOD.
And to make a long story short, Talbot, Lead Staff and board all agreed. And what was a season of chaos, became a season of clarity.
Whatever life brings you to, the Lord will bring you through.
For some of you, the valley that you’re walking in right now is similar and it can be summed up in one word: CHANGE.
What you thought was going to happen, didn’t and now you’re having to cope with the difference—with the change and the transition to something new. It might feel overwhelming.
And if that’s you, can I just encourage you: God can do something new in and through you. Yes, he can. You may not think you can do something new and you might be right—you can’t, but he can.
Whatever life brings you to, the Lord will bring you through.
[small box with word “Worries” on it]
[large box with word “God” on it]
You and I come to these seasons when we are filled with worries. And in a moment of faith, we say to God, “I give this to you. Take it, Lord.” But, God doesn’t act as quickly as we want. So, we take it back.
Why do we do this?
The problem is your God is too small and your worries are too big. What we need to do is change our perspective. (Turn the boxes around that now say: “God” [on large box] and “Worries” [on the small box].
We need a reminder that whatever worries life brings our way, our God is big enough to handle them and he’ll be with us through it all.
Whatever life brings you to, the Lord will bring you through.
And you know what I’ve learned over the years about these “seasons” that God brings me through? God wants to bring me through them so that on the other side, I discover that I can trust him more. Each time, I move from not wanting to go through the season to looking back and seeing how God used that difficult time to grow my level of trust in him to a new level.
Now, does God purposefully allow us to experience these tough times in order to bring us to the place where we grow in our living relationship with Jesus? Possibly, I don’t know—ask Talbot, when he gets back! I can just tell you that each time the Lord has led me through a season that I initially backed away from, I end up better on the other side. And I find myself closer to the Lord because of it.
Not only that, but it also gives me a story that I can share. God’s desire is to use that story to proclaim his goodness and glory to all people. If God brings you through it, you should be sharing it. Your story contains his story and that can impact someone else’s story. And that’s why you’re here—to influence others towards Jesus—to invite people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ.
We all have the opportunity to testify to others: whatever life brings you to, the Lord will bring you through.