1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
4 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.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.
The picture of the Lord being our shepherd shows our complete dependency on Christ and our need to follow wherever He leads. Most of us want to camp out in the green pastures, and we lament when we are taken into the valley. But what is the purpose of the valley? It is where we learn to trust completely on the Lord.
Anyone can have faith in the safety of the pasture, but most are trusting in the pasture and not the Lord. When the Lord becomes the focus, we are comforted by Him regardless of the circumstances.
Just before Jesus went to the cross, He took Peter, James, and John with Him to the top of a mountain. To their amazement, Moses and Elijah met them there and began talking with Jesus about the coming death He would face. As the men turned to leave, Peter stood up and said, “It’s good for us to be here. Let us make a tabernacle for You, Moses, and Elijah.”
Peter was clinging to the mountain top experience. He did not want it to end, so his idea was to build a camp up there and keep the experience going. But the experience wasn’t the purpose. It was the time of encouragement to prepare Jesus for the deepest valley anyone will ever walk through.
This is the natural attitude of every Christian until their life is fully established in Christ. We want the mountain top. We want to build our home there and never leave. But what we don’t realize is that we are putting our confidence in the emotions of the moment instead of in the Lord.
God leads us to the mountain of rest. We enjoy the green pastures and quiet waters. But that is not the goal. That is the rest for the journey. When we begin viewing the pasture as though it is the reward, we’ll resent the valley of the shadow of death. Instead of saying, “Your rod and staff comfort me. Even though I’m surrounded by enemies, I enjoy fellowship at the table, for you are with me,” we are dragging our heels and saying, “Why can’t I go back to the pastures?”
God does not want you to trust in the green pastures. God wants you to trust Him. God doesn’t want you to love His provisions as though they are your reward. Don’t short change yourself. God is your exceedingly great reward. And everything He brings in your life breaks your dependency on anything but Him as it reveals to you the goodness that can only be found while looking to Him for all wants and needs.
Let me illustrate this with a personal testimony. If you’ve read my other books, you’ll be familiar with this story, but I’m going to present it from a clearer perspective.
In 1998, God dramatically intervened in my life. My life was in shambles, and though I became a Christian at a young age, I tried to live out my faith through my own efforts. I failed miserably, but that is for another book. In 1998 my internal world collapsed. On the outside, few people knew what I was going through, but inside everything was falling apart. I completely abandoned the church and my faith. Since I couldn’t measure up to Christianity, I would abandon it. Three years later, I realized that abandoning God didn’t work either. I was miserable trying to measure up to God. I was more miserable turning my back on God.
In April of 1998, I took off to walk in the woods and pray. For the next few days I poured my misery out. At last I said the words that summed up my journey, “I can’t do it.” When I gave up completely, the Lord flooded my life with His presence, broke the chains of my bondage to sin, and I walked out of the woods that day praising the Lord for my freedom. I ended my prayer by saying, “Lord, I know this isn’t for me alone. I know you are calling me to study the word and teach it. I cannot pursue my career and you at the same time.”
I worked in IT at the time, and because technology changes so fast, everything that is relevant today will be obsolete in a year. It requires dedication to stay certified and knowledgeable. I knew I couldn’t serve God in the word and serve my career. So I prayed, “Lord, I put my career completely in your hands. I will focus on knowing Your word, and I leave my financial needs in Your trust.”
I could write a hundred pages on the miracles God accomplished through my career. Though I was not faithful as I should be, God was more than faithful. I got raises I did not deserve. I had opportunities to serve in ministry during times when I was paid for projects that were on hold for months at a time. Then my company was bought by a large corporation. By this time I was on a team of eight people who were spread around the country. We were told that the merger was eliminating our positions and we were to find a job in the company or with another company.
It was stressful, but my job was preserved and eventually I was rolled into a department in my new company. As I walked in, they were having a massive layoff. I carried my box in, while hundreds of people were walking out.
Upon my arrival, I found that my new group was going to have a layoff in ninety days. A manager who didn’t even know my name was going to decide my fate. Or was he? I found myself in a position where I knew nothing and had no help. The contractor supposed to help me was let go the next day, and I was responsible for converting the entire building to a new network setup. One I knew nothing about. Nor did my team. Nor did my manager.
I sat down and prayed, “Lord, I’m lost. I’ve asked for help, but no one can help me. I don’t even know how to connect to the network of this new company, and I am falling flat on my face. Show me where to turn.”
Before I finished speaking the words, a man named John Crawford walked by, saw my scattering of papers, and said, “Oh, I see you are on the migration team. I was the guy who worked out the process.” I looked up with a gaping mouth as John told me all about the project and what they did to set it up. He told me about the tools and documentation he wrote. I never even asked him a question. I opened my mouth to say something, but he looked at his watch and said, “Oh goodness! I’ve got another meeting. It’s not easy being indispensable.” And with that, he was gone.
Suddenly I was off and running. Then another person came by. Steve. He was soon to be one of my coworkers. Steve was a geek in the truest sense of the word. He loved technology and he talked about some tools he found on our IT sight and how he was using it to automate some of his tasks. As he talked, I realized that I could use these for my project. I had more than a thousand people to convert and I was working solo.
A few weeks later, teams from other cities were calling my boss and asking how Atlanta was getting done so quickly. It wasn’t long before I was training teams in across the country and before the ninety days was up, every person in upper management knew my name. And everything seemed to drop straight in my lap.
Then the layoff day arrived and my manager was let go. In fact, every person in our department was let go. Then managers would call and offer jobs to those they wanted on their team. The new IT manager was Jack Liggins. I had never met the man, but I was the first person he called. He offered me the position of team lead in his group. Again I stood in amazement. Three months ago, there was no hope that I would survive this lay off, but now my reputation had grown to the point where a manager who never met me was offering me his lead position.
I was in the green pastures. I thought this was the Christian life. Blessings built my confidence in the Lord, miracles showed His power to direct my paths, and I knew God was in control. I was pleased that my reputation was so highly regarded throughout the company. What I didn’t realize is that God was showing me His power so that I would trust Him when hardship threatened me.
I was confident in my job. I was confident with my IT skills. I was confident that God had gifted me to be analytical and I was good at taking processes and improving them. I was confident in my reputation. Then the company had another reduction in staff. I survived the cut, but my manager did not. Two IT teams were combined into one, and I was under a new manager. This time I knew the manager and felt good about the move.
Within a few months, I realized I had a problem. The manager was very unethical and had favorite techs that were not required to even show up for work. Their timesheets were forged and even though all their tickets went past due, the reports always showed them on time. And it was the team lead’s job to make sure the numbers were cooked. My job was to cover for those who weren’t working, and hide the fact that our team wasn’t fulfilling the company’s requirements.
At first, I thought the manager wasn’t aware of what was going on. The manager kept denying there was an issue and acted as if they were ignorant, so I took the true numbers to them and said, “Look at this. This tech is past due on everything. One problem ticket sat without any action for seven months, but it was changed on the reports to show that it was completed on time. I can’t cover for these past due tickets.”
That was the day the world turned upside down. The manager printed something out, came to my desk and threw a handful of reports at me and said, “This is the report I go by.” The manager was shaking with rage and this reaction caught me completely by surprise. Up to this moment, we had a great working relationship. But now a condemning finger pointed at my face and I heard the words, “Eddie, when I write someone off, I never forgive, and I never go back!”
I was demoted from team lead, and the manager went on a campaign to remove me from the company. That’s when I began to hear the stories that this had happened before. Twice. And both people who questioned this practice were let go by the company. Now I was in the gun sights.
Every time a ticket was about to go past due, it was assigned to me. I was given a forty-thousand mile coverage area for retail and office sites. The next highest coverage area was less than a hundred miles. I put in 60 – 80 hours a week to cover my workload. I tried to overcome this adversity with higher performance. Even though I had the highest production in the group, my reputation was being massacred.
When my work was surveyed, my customers gave me the highest possible ratings, but my manager gave me the lowest possible rating. Surely someone has to see a problem with this.
A few months earlier, managers were coming to town and taking me to lunch. I was being invited to be on important projects. I even led a management training class that was attended by managers and prospective managers all over the nation. Now I was hearing things like, “What happened to Eddie?” Why couldn’t they see that this was slander? I had a review a couple of months earlier, and it had nothing but praise. A month later my quarterly review had nothing but failures. No one saw that the tickets were assigned to me after it was past due. Or that the project was given to me right before the deadline. Or that my projects were reassigned to other techs after the work was done.
I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. I once counted on my reputation, and now it was gone. Though I counted on my high performance to prove my work ethic, no one noticed. I contested my review and disproved every allegation. The specifics were removed, but the law rating remained. Human Resources said they trusted the manager’s evaluation of performance. I was called to attend a conference call a supposed failure where I was sent to one city and was supposed to be in another. I produced the email that sent me to the wrong place, but the director said, “Your manager explained to me that you were instructed that this email was incorrect and you knew what was expected of you.”
Everything I depended upon was gone. My reputation was demolished. My integrity was trashed in the eyes of others. My performance was counted as worthless. My promotion had been taken away. Now my very job was in jeopardy. This had been going on for two years at this point.
“Lord, isn’t my reputation important to you?” I prayed.
The truth is, God doesn’t need my reputation. He gave it to me, and He has the right to take it away if that’s within His purpose.
“Lord, what about my job? This person is going to make me lose my job. And I’ve done nothing but work my tail off.”
It was as if the Lord said, “Have you learned nothing over the last several years? Weren’t you told that your job was being eliminated? What did you have to do? Nothing. I told you to wait, and you saw My ability to make a place for you. And I exalted you when you didn’t work for it. Do I now owe you because you are working for it now? Did I tell you to dedicate every waking hour to your job? Can man take away your job against My will? Who do you trust, your manager or Me? Your efforts or Me? Your reputation or Me? Your abilities or Me?
Then the Lord revealed the scripture, “Christ suffered, leaving us an example…when He was reviled, did not revile in return. When He suffered, He didn’t threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”
Now that will cut to the heart. God called me to take my notes where I was keeping a log to protect myself, and cast it away. He called me to forgive and pray for the one who was trying to harm me. Most of all, God called me to release all into His hands, and trust Him. He judges righteously and He will plead my cause or will sustain me in spite of hardships.
What God was doing is breaking me. He broke my confidence in the flesh. My reputation depended upon people. Gone. My performance depended upon myself. Worthless. My defense of myself also depended upon the flesh. Gone. It was easy to see God’s hand in the green pasture and beside the quiet waters, but it took a long time to realize that the turbulent river of stress and the valley of struggle was also His blessing.
As long as I trusted in my abilities or anything of the flesh, I was not dependent upon the Lord. The flesh had become a crutch and now God was calling for me to walk by His power.
We all struggle with the flesh. We depend upon feelings, and God weans us off them as He reveals to us true faith in Him. We depend upon those around us, and tension strains relationships and God calls us to trust in Him and not men. We work in the church, do ministry, and perform in many ways because we are depending on the flesh. We are trying to earn the affirmation and praise of people, or are trying to feel self-worth by performance based religion. God will break these things.
For two years I fought against God’s hand because I clung to the flesh thinking it was a blessing from God. I tried to protect the reputation He gave me. But God didn’t ask me to defend my reputation. He called me to break my reliance on it and place my reliance on Him.
Once my understanding dawned, bitterness also dissipated. How can I be embittered against someone God was using to mature me into His grace? My manager didn’t harm me. This person was a tool of God’s compassion and love, used to show me what I could not have learned any other way. If anything, I should be grateful to God for bringing this person into my life.
Spiritual maturity cannot occur until we are weaned off the flesh and onto faith in Christ alone. God is not looking for self-reliant Christians. In fact, God rejects self-reliance completely. God does not help those who help themselves. God is the help. Christ is our life. Just as He made Himself of no reputation, now He asks us to follow that lead. My reputation means nothing. If God wants to exalt me in His time, He will do so. If God is better glorified by humbling me, I must trust in His will.
The spiritually mature are not those who have been Christians the longest. It is not those who are the oldest in the church. It is not those who serve more. Nor is it those who know the Bible the best. Faith is not based on how many scriptures you have memorized, but whether you are walking by faith. Faith is to have no confidence in the flesh, and complete confidence in Christ and all He provides.
God will break you. By breaking, I don’t mean to destroy, but to break you away from the flesh so you cling to Him. A broken Christian is one who has released confidence in everything but God. We should be in a position to where we cannot be sustained unless God is holding us up.
Is your health failing? Release the hope in the flesh and trust completely in the Lord. Are your finances gasping for life? Release your trust in money and cling to the Lord. God has the right to take anything from our lives, and we trust in His decision because He has promised that everything is good to those who are called into His purpose.
Would I have had to endure three years of stress if I had learned to trust sooner? I don’t know. I do know that God left me in that situation for another year after I released my confidence into His hands. Whether it would have been three years or six months, it doesn’t matter. The burden was not mine to carry, and my stress was needless because I was bearing a burden God had reserved for Himself. God allowed the burden to break me so that I would understand that I could not carry it.
One day when Jesus sat at a table for dinner, a woman came in with an alabaster box of precious ointment. Its value was equivalent of a year’s wages. She broke the box and poured the ointment on Jesus’ head. The room was filled with the fragrance. Many scoffed and called her act a waste. She could have used the box for a special occasion. She could have sold it for a year’s wage and used it to feed the poor. Yet Jesus praised the woman for celebrating His burial.
This is the broken life in the flesh. While the flesh is strong, it’s just a box that houses our pent up life. But when it is broken, the aroma spreads to the world around us. We have died, and the Spirit of God is free to do its work. Many will scoff, but God will rejoice. To celebrate the death of the flesh is to celebrate the life of the Spirit.
Excerpt from The Victorious Christian Life.