Everyone of us has had some dark valleys that we’ve walked through. There are those days, months, and years where we just wish we could see a ray of hope. We want to know that we are not alone. That God has a plan. That He hasn’t forgotten us. We want to know that this time won’t last forever. In those times, it’s critical that our faith over rides our feelings. Our feelings interpret circumstances, but our faith dictates them.
I remember walking through a long, dark valley. God spoke to me and said, “I see you where you are. I have not left you or forgotten you. I’m walking with you through this. I am not in front of you or behind you. I’m right beside you.” Those words boosted my faith over my feelings. They reminded me that even when I can’t see or feel God, that He is with me no matter what. When my prayers feel like they’re falling on deaf ears, He hears them because He’s a whisper away. He’s walking with us in the darkness.
In Psalm 23:4, David gave us some words to remember this truth. He wrote, “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me” (NLT). In the valley, our feelings produce fear, but our faith produces peace and reassurance that God has not left us. We don’t have to fear or fret in the valley. God is walking right beside us each step of the way. He has not forgotten us. Trust your faith over your feelings.
I grew up in church. My family went every time the doors were open. I don’t remember missing many Sunday’s either. We went to Sunday School each week, children’s church, Vacation Bible School at all the churches and kid’s camp. I even attended a Christian school. I grew up learning, studying and knowing the Bible. When I became an adult, I began to think that my knowledge was adequate and I didn’t need to study or read it as much. My church attendance became a habit instead of a desire. What was adequate quickly turned to arrogance. I didn’t realize that I was slipping away from God because I was relying on my head knowledge of Him. It didn’t take long before I started reaping the consequences of my actions and regret set in.
In Mark 10:17-27 a young man came running up to Jesus. He asked what all he needed to do in order to be saved. Jesus quoted several of the commandments and told him to obey them. The guy, like me, replied that he had been following them since he was young. Verse 21 says, “Jesus fixed his gaze upon the man, with tender love, and said to him, ‘Yet there is still one thing in you lacking. Go, sell all that you have and give the money to the poor. Then all of your treasure will be in heaven. After you’ve done this, come back and walk with me’” (TPT). The man walked away from Jesus in regret instead of with Him. He struggled, like many of us, in moving from a knowledge based obedience into a heartfelt obedience.
It’s good to have knowledge of God’s Word, but it’s more important that it gets into our heart. Psalm 119:11 says, “Your word I have treasured and stored in my heart, That I may not sin against You” (AMP). When we keep His Word in our heads, it can lead to arrogance and regret. When we keep it in our hearts, it keeps us from sinning against Him. Does your knowledge of the Bible and God give you justification for missing daily reading or prayer time? If so, it’s stored up in your head instead of your heart. Knowing about God and what He said is not the same as knowing God and hearing from Him. One leads to regret. The other leads to walking with Jesus as a disciple. When we walk with Him, we become more like Him.
Several years ago I was in charge of a fundraiser for a mission trip at our church. We had someone volunteer to make brisket for us, so we sold tickets ahead of the event. After we got the final number of tickets in, the man cooking the brisket gave me the shopping list including how much brisket. As I was buying the brisket, I believed we would sell more brisket than we had sold tickets for. When I got to the counter to order the briskets, I asked for an additional case. If you’re unfamiliar with that, it’s about 60 lbs of more meat that we would need to sell. Many people who bought tickets failed to show up for their meat though. We had a ton left over so I asked the pastor if we could sell after church. My wife looked at all the meat and said, “I hope God honors your faith because I don’t see how we can sell all of this.”
As Christians, we must daily choose whether we’re going to let fear hold us back or let faith guide us. There are so many decisions we have to make, some with long lasting effects. We can shrink back in fear of the unknown or we can step out in trust of what God will do. Hebrews 10:38 says that God is not happy with those who let fear hold them back. I don’t want to live a life that doesn’t make my Heavenly Father happy so I choose to live and walk by faith even though it isn’t easy. When you live by faith, you never know for certain if or when God will jump in to help. There are a lot of “God, where are you? Now would be a good time to show up” moments. But, as the psalmist said, “I’ve never seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging for bread (Psalm 37:25).”
I like how Hebrews 10:39 describes the life we’re to live. It says, “But we are certainly not those who are held back by fear and perish; we are among those who have faith and experience true life!” (TPT) You and I cannot be people who are held back by fear. We are people who advance by faith. Either we believe what we say or we don’t. Our actions will always be consistent with what we truly believe. I’ve chosen to move forward despite fear. Living by faith doesn’t mean you’re not afraid. It means you chose not to let it hold you back from your God given purpose. Faith takes a deep breath and makes the decision to go forward in spite of the fear in your belly, and God honors that kind of faith.
By the way, all that brisket sold out in a matter of minutes after church and doubled what we had raised through ticket sales.
One of my favorite people in the Bible is Gideon. I’m reminded of his story so often because I find myself in need of all the lessons it teaches. In Judges 6, the Bible explains that times were bad in Israel. The Midianites were destroying crops, killing animals and harassing the Israelites. There wasn’t anything anyone could do to stop them. The Israelites lived in fear because of all the bad things that were happening. If they had grain, they had to thresh it in hiding. If they had goats, they had to keep them hidden. Anything in the open would be taken.
Gideon was threshing his grain in the bottom of a wine press so no one would see him. An angel appeared and called out to him, “Mighty hero, The Lord is with you.” Gideon, who was hiding because he was afraid of the Midianites, didn’t think twice about the angel calling him a hero. What caught his attention was that the angel said, “The Lord is with you.” He took a double take at the angel and must have thought this guy didn’t know much. How could he say that when so many bad things were happening?
He confronted the angel and asked, “If The Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?” Have you ever felt that way? When everything in life is going wrong and you feel abandoned by God. It’s an uncomfortable place. A dark place. Fear of the future grips your mind. You find yourself constantly worrying about things that you have no control over. You feel like God has forgotten you or worse, abandoned you in need. Your mind tells you that God doesn’t care. That He doesn’t see you in your pain.
In this verse, the angel reminds us that God’s presence in our lives isn’t proven by our circumstances. Our lives can be falling apart and God can still be with us. We’ve somehow come to believe that God is with us when things are good and has abandoned us when times are bad. His presence is with you no matter what. He is with you even when you can see His hand or feel His presence. He is with you when your life is so dark that you can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. He is not only with you, He’s preparing you for greatness in those times. Greatness doesn’t come from an easy life. It’s forged in the darkness and in the fire.
Whatever you are facing today, I say to you, “Mighty hero, The Lord is with you!” You may not feel like a hero, but you’re still standing through everything. You may not feel like The Lord is with you, but He has never left your side. He has been standing next to you through everything you have faced and everything you will face because He will not abandon you. He will not forsake you. He will not forget you. He will deliver you when the timing is right. He will lead you to better times when you have learned all He wants to show you in the dark. Stand strong today because The Lord is with you.
Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other writing ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.
One of the most common Christian myths many of us believe is that when I do what God asks me to, there won’t be any issues and things will go smoothly. For me, it seems like when I step out in faith and do what God asks, things often start going wrong. There are times it feels like I’ve jumped out of an airplane, but I’m not the one who gets to pull the cord on the parachute. The ground starts getting closer and I start to panic. I cry out, “God, where are you? Did you tell me to do this? Why haven’t you worked on my behalf yet? Don’t you care about my reputation? My family? I thought you were going to work out everything for my good.” At that point, it’s easy to start questioning if I really heard God or if I’m really in His will because I’m looking at external factors and I’m believing the myth that everything should be smooth sailing when I’m in His will through obedience.
In Mark 4, after a long day of teaching, night was falling and Jesus said, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake” (TPT). They all piled in a boat, and several people from the crowd got in boats to follow them across the lake. Being tired from teaching, Jesus decided to call it a night. He laid down and fell asleep. That’s when a ferocious storm came rolling in with violent winds that were rocking the boat and causing it to take on so much water that they were afraid of sinking. In verse 39, they had a similar prayer to mine. They woke Jesus up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re all about to die?” Jesus, once He was fully awake, steps out, rebukes the wind and calms the sea. I’m sure He gave them a disappointed look as He said, “Why are you so afraid? Haven’t you learned to trust yet?”
Those words are ringing in my ears today as I shift my focus from my circumstances to who He is. When things don’t go the way we thought they should after our obedience, fear creeps in. Fear of failure. Fear of being embarrassed. Fear of going broke. Fear of our own ship going down. The storm you’re in may be great, but He is greater. It may feel like He’s asleep, but He knows what you’re going through. Push through the fear and panic, and trust that if He’s called you to it, He’ll get you through it. A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor, and easy times never stretch our faith. Yes, it might have been a big leap you took, but your faith has so much more room to grow. Now is not the time for panic. It’s the time for prayer and faith. He hasn’t ever failed you, and He won’t start failing you today.
Have you been through a barren season? It’s those seasons where you have planted seeds and watered them, but nothing is growing or producing. It’s a little frustrating and a lot scary. To have followed God’s principles in the Bible and to not see Him move on your behalf can be worrisome. In those times, I’ve prayed, “God, where are you? Why haven’t you responded yet? I thought by now you would have shown up,” only to be answered by silence. Barren seasons show up out of no where and can last a while. They put your faith to the test, but what you can’t see, and what you have to remind yourself, is what God is doing with those planted seeds underground.
Habakkuk 3:17-18 gives us the prescription for these times. It says, “Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!” (NLT) We must continue to praise God anyway and choose to honor Him. Our hope is not in the fruits of our labor, but in the Lord. We cannot allow what we see in our circumstances to dictate our relationship with God. Circumstances are fickle, but God remains the same yesterday, today and forever.
In those barren seasons, I recount the character of God. I look back on who He has always been, not on how I perceive Him in my current situation. Relationships dictated by emotions fail because emotions can be manipulated. They must be built on something deeper. You must choose to love, to rejoice in the Lord and to be joyful even in the dry seasons. God has not changed who He is, nor has He stopped working on your behalf. Choose to rejoice no matter what the fields of your life look like right now. Trust in Him to be who He always has been. He is Jehovah Jireh, your provider and source even in the barren seasons. Your trust needs to be in Him rather than in the fruit of your labor.
Did you know that just being afraid of something is not considered a phobia? The fear must altar your behavior in some way to be considered a phobia. The same is true of anxiety. Many times we may be anxious, but when it causes us to change what we’re doing, we are considered to have anxiety. It shows up in different ways. Many times, we try to altar the situation ourselves, but that can make things worse. We don’t make the best decision when we are worried. I know that for me, it causes me to run through scenarios trying to find the right way to fix it. I lose sleep and can’t concentrate on things throughout my day. In turn, it affects every area of my life until I’m so desperate that I force the issue.
You’ve no doubt heard the Psalm that tells us to be still and know that He is God. What you may not know is that the Hebrew words for be still mean to let hang down; to be relaxed, especially the hands. It can also mean to not make an effort or exertion. Meaning take your hands off the situation and let God handle it. The Passion Translation takes that into account and writes that verse this way, “Surrender your anxiety! Be silent and stop your striving and you will see that I am God” (Psalms 46:10). So many times anxiety has altered our minds to the point that we lose sight of God in our situation. God wants to remind us that He sees us, and knows what we’re going through.
It’s tough to take our hands off the situation. It’s better to ask God for wisdom in how to handle it though. Ask God to give you peace in your mind and clarity of thought as well. Surrender your anxiety to Him, recognize He is in control and follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Our behavior change in a situation should not be out of anxiety, but rather out of thoughtful prayer after we’ve handed it over to God. If you want to see God in what’s going on, be still, put your hands down and relax. Breathe. Pray. Listen. Begin to thank God for all He’s done, and all He’s going to do. Your life is in His hands and He is in charge of the outcome. Trust that He will do what’s best and grow you through it. God is at work and it’s for your good.
I’m the type of person who lives by the motto, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” It’s not easy to be a delegator when you think that way, nor is it comfortable to hand off the reigns completely to something I’m in charge of. When someone comes in to something I’m doing, and they’re more capable than I am, i have a choice to make. I can either hold people back and limit their success or i can let go and give it to someone who can accomplish so much more than I can. It seems like an easy decision unless you’re a control freak and pride is guiding you.
Now, let’s change the scenario. Instead of leading others and deciding whether or not to hand off the reigns, think about your life. Since you were little, you’ve been taught to make decisions and to live with the consequences. You’ve become conditioned to make decisions regarding your life to avoid pain. While you may have become wiser along the way, do you know and understand God’s full plan for your life? If you don’t know why you have to go through difficulties or where God wants you to go next, doesn’t it make sense to give Him control of your life?
In Psalm 37:5, King David wrote, “Give God the right to direct your life, and as you trust him along the way you’ll find he pulled it off perfectly!” (TPT) The way to give God control of your life is to surrender to His plan. Let Him know that you trust Him with your life because He sees the bigger picture. Then you seek His counsel when it comes to making decisions and follow where He leads whether you understand or not. Faith is about taking the next step before you see where you’re going to put your foot. Giving God the right to direct your life is about putting pride in its place and trusting the One who has the greatest plan for your life. When you’re ready to experience all that God has for you, surrender your future to His will.
Here are two other devotions I’ve written on how to find God’s will in your decision making process:
Years ago, Tracy Lawrence sang a song called, “Find Out Who Your Friends Are”. The chorus said, “You find out who your friends are, Someone’s going to drop everything, Run out and crank up their car, Hit the gas, get there fast, Never stop to think, “What’s in it for me”, Or “‘It’s way too far”, They just show up, With their big ol’ heart, You find out who your friends are.” It’s a good reminder of the people in your life that you can count on for just about anything. God is One in whom we can count on in times of need.
King David had some incredible insight into who God is. He was a man after God’s heart, but he was also a man who lived a life of faith and trust. His psalms hit home with us because he was constantly in situations that required great faith and he wrote out his prayers. His desperation often matches our own and he gives words to prayers we need to pray in those moments. He found God to be a true friend who would never turn us away in our time of need. In Psalm 9:10, he wrote, “May everyone who knows your mercy keep putting their trust in you, for they can count on you for help no matter what. O Lord, you will never, no never, neglect those who come to you” (TPT)
You and I can go to God in our time of need and He will not neglect our need. I can tell you that He doesn’t answer each prayer the way I want Him to, but then again I don’t give my child everything he asks for either. Just like I look at the whole picture and make a decision for him, God does that with us. He meets our needs and never turns us away when we go to Him. His plan for our lives is greater than you or I can even imagine. For us to fulfill that plan, we’ve got to learn to trust Him the way David did. It’s not an easy path and things won’t always go your way, but if you keep trusting in Him, you’ll find that you can always count on Him no matter what.
The night I proposed to my wife, I had planned it all out and timed it as well. When she opened the card I gave her, it contained a clue to where we were going to have dinner. Once she figured that out, we headed that way. During dinner, I slipped the next clue to the waitress to give to her. On and on it went as we drove back and forth across town. She didn’t know where I was going with the clues or what would happen next. At each place, she only got a clue to her next destination. Finally, after she followed all the clues, we ended up at the spot where I wanted to propose.
Following God’s plan for our lives can feel a lot like that. It seems all we get are clues that don’t really tell us where we’re going. They only tell us enough to have to step out in faith and rake the next step. Many times we aren’t even sure if that’s the right place God is leading us. It can feel frustrating sometimes not knowing for sure what your next step is or even the end game of where He’s taking you. We know He has a plan for each of us, but walking by faith and trusting Him is often difficult.
Moses felt your frustration too. In Exodus 33:13 he expressed what many of us feel when he said, “If I am so special to you, let me in on your plans. That way, I will continue being special to you. Don’t forget, this is your people, your responsibility” (MSG). Like us, he wanted to know more of God’s plan. I love God’s response in verse 14, and I believe it’s for us too. God said, “My presence will go with you. I’ll see the journey to the end.” You and I don’t need to know the end game, but we can rest in knowing that God’s presence is with us as we go. God will walk with you step by step until He completes what He began in you.