Monday, August 17, 2015

The Promise of His Presence and Protection - Part 5 of Walking Through Grief with the 23rd Psalm

valley of the shadow of death
"Yea, 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." Psalm 23:4 (NKJV)

It is easy to read this verse and focus solely on the valley of the shadow of death. Grief has a way of overwhelming everything and overshadowing our every emotion, thought and imagination. It blocks out every ray of hope and turns our world dark with despair. It appears to loom larger than anything else around us.

This was not the intention of the author and is not the focus of this verse at all. This verse is a call to focus on something much bigger than the grief that is looming over us. Once we understand the powerful truths contained in this one little verse, we can then see the bigger picture from God's perspective and can once again be filled with hope in the midst of our grief. No, it doesn't make the grief go away but it allows us to rise above it.

The focus is not the valley of the shadow of death but on us in the middle of it. Notice the word through. It is important to understand that God never intends for us to ever stay there. Though grief seems to be a permanent existence, grab hold of the promise that you will get through it. When you are in the middle of a hurricane it seems that the sun and blue sky have been swallowed up, but the truth is that not far above your head, the sun and blue sky are right there. The hurricane has just blocked your ability to see it creating a shadow. When something stands in front of a light source it creates a shadow. The shadow, therefore, is visual proof that the light source is still there with you.

Grief is like that hurricane that suddenly appears above you, blocking out the light of God's presence and casting a long, dark shadow. God wants to remind you that when you are walking through that shadow, let it remind you that it proves that he is right there with you even though you can't see him. It takes a great deal of faith to do this. We have to trust not what we see (the storm) but what we can't see (the Lord). This is what Hebrews 11:1 means: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

Finally, this verse contains a second promise that not only is God there with you, but he will also protect you the whole way. His rod and staff are testaments to that promise of protection. A shepherd carries a long stick or staff, usually with a crook on one end. The straight end is used to fight off attack from wolves or other predators and the crook end is used to pull a sheep out of a hole or deep water. Many have taught that the rod and staff are used to discipline the sheep when they get out of line. That is not the case. They are instruments of protection that are meant to create a sense of comfort in the midst of danger. Like that shadow, the shepherd's staff is a visual reminder that you are not alone and are safe in his presence.

If you are walking through grief, you can be of great courage that though you are going through a deep valley that seems like it will never end and that you may not survive, you are not alone for the Great Shepherd is right there beside you. He will walk you through it and he will comfort you with his divine protection.
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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Promise of Restoration - Part 4 of Walking Through Grief with the 23rd Psalm

still waters
"He leads me beside the still waters, he restores my soul." Psalm 23:2b-3

One of the hardest aspects of losing a loved one is the fact that life will never be the same again. As I have said before, you never get over it. You may adjust and life will go on, but never as it was before. There may be some aspects of life that have some sort of familiarity, but the reality is that without your loved one, everything changes. The challenge is to learn to live in the new normal.

I want to tell you that you will make it through this. For now it may seem like grief drives your daily life, but in time and with God's help, your grief will take a backseat and you will once again find yourself in the driver's seat. How do I know this? First, I have experienced it first-hand and I have watched countless others around me do the same so I can say you will too. Second, God has given you his solemn promise in Psalm 23 that he will personally walk you through it in two phases - he will lead you beside still waters and he will restore your soul.

The first step will be the calming of the water. I want to take you back to a story of how Jesus calmed a storm in Matthew 8:23-27.
Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
There are a lot of similarities between this story and the sudden loss of a loved one. You are living your life with Christ only to suddenly find yourself smack dab in the middle of a storm that threatens to drown you. On top of that it appears that God is asleep in your boat completely unaware of or indifferent to your ordeal. That is what grief can feel like.

I don't believe that Jesus was unaware nor was he indifferent to the plight of his disciples. I believe he is showing us something powerful about what happens when we find ourselves fighting for our lives in the midst of storms.

The first thing he wants us to know is that when your storm comes, you will not find him wringing his hands wondering what he's going to do now. He knew it was coming and that's why he makes sure he is right there in the boat with you. It may appear that he isn't around but we need to remember that he has been right there all along.

Second, at the very moment when we think we are going to drown, he steps in and with one word, calms the waters. The disciples spent several hours trying to row that boat back to shore only to get nowhere. It was when they had exhausted all human effort to deal with their storm that Jesus was able to do what they couldn't. He doesn't get a kick out of watching us flounder and panic. I think he allows us to come to the realization of just how much we need him in our moment of loss. When you find yourself desperately rowing in the middle of a raging storm, certain that you are about to drown, put the oars down and simply ask the one who has been right there with you all along to say the word and he will lead you beside still waters.

Finally, God promises that he will restore your soul. The promise of restoration is not a promise to simply put you back to normal. God never just picks up the broken pieces of our lives and simply glues them back together. The promise of restoration is actually a promise to recreate us and to make us new again. He won't just fill the holes in your walls and paint over them. He won't fill the cracks in your foundation so it looks like new. No, he will rebuild you with a stronger foundation and new walls. You will never get over your loss, but his promise to you is that you will become stronger as a result. Though it seems utterly impossible right now that you will love, laugh and live again, I can tell you that you will and as you look back on this time one day, you will be amazed and say, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Listen to this song and let it encourage you today as you walk through your grief.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Moments of Abundance In Times of Great Loss - Part 3 of Walking Through Grief with the 23rd Psalm

oasis in the desert
"He makes me lie down in green pastures." Psalm 23:2a

David is a master at painting word pictures, especially in this Psalm. There is such depth contained in his words that I could write volumes on each sentence. If you have ever experienced the loss of a loved one you know all too well that it feels much like finding yourself suddenly walking through a hot, dry and barren desert with nothing but blowing sand as far as the eye can see in all directions. You feel so alone and utterly abandoned. Fear begins to set in as you realize that there appears to be no source of food or water. You find yourself fighting just to survive.

I want to remind you that David is writing this Psalm from personal experience. Not only did he experience this first-hand, I am certain he remembered the stories of the Israelites' journey through the wilderness and how God miraculously fed them with his own hand. It is when we have lost everything and are left with nothing that the miraculous hand of God opens up to us to provide moments of abundance in our great loss. As he did for Israel, he will certainly do for you.

Three times a day God miraculously provided food for Israel out of thin air. It literally came down from heaven. Every day they had breakfast. Every day they had lunch. Every day they had dinner. What I love the most about this story is that God didn't just provide enough for them to eat every day, he provided more than they needed. As I said in part two, God is not enough - he's more than enough! This principle is manifested again in the story of Jesus feeding the crowd of five thousand with two fish and five small loaves of bread from a little boy's lunch. Not only did Jesus feed these five thousand men plus women and children, he provided twelve baskets of leftovers. Once again, he provides not just enough, but more than enough.

If you are going through grief right now I know it is extremely painful. I am not trying to make your pain go away but simply reminding you that there is hope. I wish I could tell you that God will somehow wave his magic wand and erase your pain, but I can't. What I can tell you is that as you walk through times of great loss, you will experience moments of miraculous abundance from the hand of God. That is what David promises in the 23rd Psalm. The greater your desperation, the greater his miraculous provision. And though it seems impossible right now, you will come out of the desert. More on that in part six.
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Monday, July 6, 2015

Through Great Loss God Becomes Everything - Part 2 of Walking Through Grief with the 23rd Psalm

the lord is my shepherd
"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want." Psalm 23:1 (NIV)

The death of a parent, spouse or child is nothing short of a catastrophic loss. On this side of eternity, death feels so final and so permanent. It changes everything forever and life will never and can never be the same. It seems as though you have lost everything and are so empty handed. In fact, it's as though part of you has also died.

It is when we experience such great loss that we encounter God in a dimension we never knew existed before. We are introduced to the Good Shepherd. David learned something when he stepped into his grief. He learned that at the moment we lose everything, God rises up to become everything we need. Grief has a way of incapacitating us to the point that we can't function. We can't think straight. We can't eat or sleep, or maybe we can't stop eating and sleep all day. We are unable to make even the smallest decisions. Panic sets in. We worry about how are we going to pay the bills. How will I ever survive? If you have ever lost a loved one I'm sure you can relate.

How in the world could David make a statement like this? How is it possible that I shall not be in want when I desperately need so much? Meet the shepherd! The supreme role of a shepherd is to provide for his sheep. He makes sure they have plenty of food and water. He protects them from danger. He makes sure they don't wander off and get separated from the flock. He nurses them back to health if they become sick or wounded. Without the shepherd they would surely die. They are utterly dependent upon him for everything.

Grief has a way of making us utterly helpless. We suddenly are in desperate need of someone to take care of us. We need a shepherd. In our times of great loss God becomes everything we need. When we have nothing, he becomes everything. When we are hopeless, he is our hope. When we are afraid, he is our protector. Everything we could ever need in our moment of desperation he becomes for us. That is how David could say with confidence that when the Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want. He doesn't come to us with trite and empty words like "God must have wanted her more than you did so he took her home," or "He needed another angel up in heaven." He doesn't give us a three-point sermon on how the joy of the Lord is our strength or that we are too blessed to be depressed or too glad to be sad. He never tells us to "just get over it." He simply comes along side us and with tender-loving care, takes care of our needs. He becomes everything we don't have. He gives us what we can't give ourselves. He carries us when we can't take another step and gives us strength to make it through just one more day. That is what he does because he is our Shepherd.

Before your grief you may have known about the Shepherd but until you literally become a helpless and desperate sheep yourself, you will never truly know him the way David describes. In your grief you are introduced to your Great Shepherd. Through your great loss God becomes everything. And in the same way that you will never be the same without your loved one, you will never be the same now with your Shepherd. Just remember that God is not enough, He's more than enough! Hold on to God's promise in Philippians 4:19 where he says, "But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus. He supplies according to his riches, not what we have, don't have, or use to have. That is our great hope in time of loss.
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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Walking Through Grief With the 23rd Psalm - Part 1

grieving man
Nothing interrupts life quite like grief. It has a way of sneaking up on you when you least expect it. When it hits, you feel like you have been punched in the gut and then hit over the head with a two-by-four. Grief enters like a grenade, exploding every part of you to pieces, leaving you mortally wounded, wondering if you will ever survive this ordeal. You are never the same after. Everything changes after losing a loved one. One minute you can't stop weeping and the next you have no tears left only to feel guilty for not feeling anything. To make matters worse, those close to you start telling you how you should feel, how you should grieve, and telling you to "just get over it." You start doubting your own faith and even doubting whether God cares or understands.

I wish I could tell you that there is a way to make the pain go away, that there are answers to all the questions that are swirling in your mind but I can't. No words exist to make you feel better. I don't know why God allows us to go through grief. I wish I knew why he doesn't keep us from it but I can promise you that there is hope as you walk this dark passage. You will not only survive, you will become stronger as a result. You will never "get over it" but you will "get through it."

The 23rd Psalm was written by a man who experienced everything I have just described. It is a first-hand account of an encounter with grief. This Psalm was not meant to be a feel-good poem. It is not a "peaceful, easy feeling" song. It is an account of a grief stricken man being led through one of the darkest moments in his life by the God who calls himself the "Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief." This story doesn't paint a portrait of a towering, courageous, all conquering hero king chasing after his enemies, but of a wounded shepherd boy running for his life into the arms of the Good Shepherd.

Let's take a walk with David through the 23rd Psalm and discover the Lord, our Shepherd, and uncover the powerful truths found along the pathway of grief. Over the next several days I will lay out step-by-step each of these discoveries given to us by David in this chapter. I need to point out that they were not discovered because he was a great king but because he was a humble shepherd who was transformed into a great king through his discovery. In preparation for Part 2, I invite you to prayerfully read through the 23rd Psalm in the context of the above paragraphs. Read it through several times and ask God to give you new insight as you take a walk through this wonderful chapter of God's Word.
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