Going Through, Part II

Click to read Part 1.

When I was writing the first “Going Through” article a couple of months ago (seriously, where does the time go??) I was already thinking of part 2.  Unfortunately, rather than sitting right down and writing it then, which would have been the smart thing to do, I waited.  Now, I have two completely unrelated thoughts racing through my head and absolutely no thoughts related to the topic at hand.  But if I don’t try it now, I may never try it.  So I am gong to jump in and start…going.

I took the title of these articles in reverse.  The first article focused on the second part of the title – the “through” part.  This article, then, is on that all important first word.  The “going.”

Unfortunately for us, not only is “through the valley” not always the most pleasant experience, through doesn’t even begin to happen without us first going.  Life is not a scenic bus ride.  We don’t get from here to there without a little work.

David said, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” (Psalm 23:4a). 

Even though I walk…

This is not a passive verse.  It starts with an action.  It starts with David stepping forward into a very scary place.  He is not being carried through the valley.  He is also not going quickly through the valley.  (How I wish I could speed through the valleys!)  No, David is walking.

In the NIV translation, this passage continues “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4b).  I love the verb tense of this line.  It doesn’t say, “I am not afraid right now.”  It says: “I will fear no evil.” Future tense, definitive.  Like a promise.

For David, fear was a choice, and he willed himself to not be afraid.  How?  Because God was with him.

This is powerful, but I think we do ourselves and David a disservice if we think it is easy.  I don’t believe we can walk into a dark valley and say, “I will not be afraid!” and have all fear immediately vanish.  Our emotions are not tied to a switch that we can flip on and off at will.  I think David probably was afraid.  In fact, we read lots of David’s writing where he is clearly terrified.  But I think he is talking here about a different kind of fear.  Not just what we feel, but what we believe.

We can feel afraid but still trust God enough to go.  Our actions can declare, “I will fear no evil,” even when our emotions say otherwise.  Sometimes it is during our slow walk through the valley – not before – that God’s presence becomes real enough for us to believe, if not actually feel:  I will fear no evil, for you are with me. 

Fear is the devil’s ploy.  Fear can prevent us from going through the valley… but only if we let it.  David knew, as we should know, that even in the darkest valley, God is with us.  His rod and his staff are there to comfort us. 

I may feel afraid, but I will not be afraid.  When God calls, I will lace up my walking shoes and go.

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. (Psalm 23:4)

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Brazilian Barbecue

This past weekend I was invited to a barbecue with some Brazilians.  I jumped at the chance.  First of all, because seriously, how fun is that?  And secondly, I have a work trip to Brazil this fall.  This was a prime opportunity to make some contacts and glean some tips for a first time visitor.

Now here’s a secret that’s really not a secret at all.  I am someone who sits very comfortably on the introverted side of the scale.  I am not someone who walks into a room and knows every person there within minutes.  Far from it.  But while at this barbecue, I managed to strike up a delightful conversation with a lady who I thought was originally from Brazil and now worked as a botany professor at a university in the U.S.  Good for me!

Twenty minutes later I learned she is actually the wife of an engineering professor and is originally from Poland.

It was still a delightful conversation, but clearly there was something lacking in my conversational skills.  As this realization hit me, I couldn’t help but look around and wonder: What am I doing here? 

I did eventually make the rounds and talk to some folks from Brazil, but I kept thinking of this incident long after the barbecue had ended.  It suddenly occurred to me that as out-of-place as I felt, I was actually in the exact right place precisely because I felt that way.  If I was comfortable all the time, if I felt fully capable of every task that came my way, if I was never thrust out of my comfort zone, then I would be in the wrong place.  It doesn’t do me any good to only take on challenges I already know how to do.  I need opportunities that force me – sometimes against my will – to grow.

I heard a piece of a sermon on the radio the other day where the pastor was saying if we are not uncomfortable in our ministry then we are in the wrong place.  If there is no opposition then we are probably just preaching to the choir.  We should be most excited when we are not comfortable, when things are difficult, and when opposition is mounting, because those are signs that we are needed.  Those are signs that we are in the exact right place.

I think it is an interesting point, and has some truth to it.  Sometimes God intentionally puts us in positions that are outside of our comfort zone.  Like Moses when God charged him with leading the Israelites out of Egypt, we sometimes look around and see others who would be much better suited to the task at hand.  Like Moses, we cry, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it!” (Exodus 4:13).  But God chooses each one of us according to His plan.  And His plan sometimes places us in positions we might not normally choose on our own.  Perhaps God does this to demonstrate his power in our weakness.  Perhaps God is keeping us humble.  Perhaps God is teaching us a skill we would otherwise not attain. 

Sometimes I think God is simply showing us He has a sense of humor.  Let’s send an introvert to the party and see how she does, ha ha! 

Think of this, the next time you find yourself in one of those, “what am I doing here??” moments:  God could have sent someone else.  God could have equipped you differently.  But God made you, just the way you are.  And God chose you, just the way you are. 

Moses said to the Lord, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant.  I am slow of speech and tongue.”  The Lord said to him, “Who gave man his mouth?  Who makes him deaf or mute?  Who gives him sight or makes him blind?  Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Exodus 4:10-11)

Going Through

I had a screen saver on my computer in college that rotated through inspirational quotes.  I don’t recall exactly where I got it.  I think my roommate received it from someplace; maybe it came with a bookstore promotion. That part doesn’t really matter.  What matters is there was one particular quote that always resonated with me: The best way out is always through.

This is the only quote from the whole lot that I remember, even though I probably stared at that screen for hours.  I’m not sure why I liked this particular quote so much, except for the potential that God knew better than I what was coming down the road.  He let this thought sink in during the fun times.  He was preparing me for the challenging times.

It has been said many times that if God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.  There is a hymn that reminds us “All the way my savior leads me.”  God himself reminds us that he will never leave us or forsake us (Joshua 1:5). Unfortunately, I can know these things intellectually and still not feel them in my heart.

During some of my darkest times, I came to curse my “favorite quote.”  It would roll again and again through my head like the drum beat of a death march.  And that’s exactly what “through” felt like: like death itself.  I didn’t want to go through.  I wanted to go anyplace except through.  I wanted to go back.  I wanted to go around. I wanted to go over.  I did not want to go through.  But again and again that cursed quote would pound through my head: the best way out is always through.  Seriously, God?  Seriously?

The 23rd Psalm is referenced so frequently that my eyes often glaze over the moment I begin to think about it.  But I was thinking of this Psalm the other day, and how we jump frequently to the pleasant parts, but don’t dwell much on that very powerful line in the middle:  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” (Psalm 23:4).

Did you see it?  Even in this psalm that is used so often as a source of comfort, the path described is through the valley.  God does not lead David around; He leads him through.

There are a lot of valleys in life.  Some are small and inconvenient.  Some are large and overwhelming.  Some are so long and dark we get part way through and can’t see light out either end.  The most frightening are those where we stand at the entrance looking down a path that seems to be pointing in… and no further than that. Just where exactly is God taking me??

God’s rod and God’s staff can comfort us, but there is no denying the fact that the valley is terrifying.  And there is no denying the fact that we eventually reach a point where we have to walk through it.  Sometimes God’s rod and staff not only comfort, they prod.  Us.  Forward.

I’ve been through a valley like that. I went in kicking and screaming and trying to convince God and myself that there was an alternative route.  But no matter how I tried to turn the other way, I came right up against the cold hard fact that the best way, the only way, was through.  No matter which way I tried to turn, God kept prodding me forward.

Someplace in the middle, when I was still clawing my way through the dark, my plea changed from “Please let me go a different way” to “Please help me through.”  This was not an easy transition.  But through that valley, I eventually learned in my heart what I initially knew only in my head.  In some of the darkest and most terrifying valleys, there is still a path forward.

The best way out is always through.

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 (Psalm 23:4).