The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not lack. He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalms 23:1-6 KJ2000)
A few years ago it occurred to me that Psalm 23 is a time-line of our journey in Christ. When we start out on our journey as His saints in Christian City, it is all about green pastures and still waters while He restores our sin ravaged souls. Here we learn that we are to follow Him in His paths of righteousness. It is a very wonderful time and for some it is just like an emotional honeymoon where Jesus is showing us that He is the Lover of our souls.
Then there comes the working of His personal cross, that instrument of death that is tailor-made to remove from us all that is in control and is contrary to the leading of His Spirit. This is confusing because we were always told that God wants to use us and our abilities to build His kingdom now that we are saved. Yet, though we are sincerely “trying to do the God stuff,” we start experiencing trials and testings and it is a painful time as He starts to pull that tumor of self out of us, yet He is there seeing us through it all and we find encouragement from that.
But then we find that our path with Him takes us to a strange place and there is a deep ravine in front of us which seems to block the way. We find ourselves lined up with others along the edge of a deep valley, the Valley of the Shadow of Death, with Jesus having moved to the opposite side bidding us to come to Him. Try as we may, there is only one way to get there, we must descend into that pit and endure all that is waiting there for us that we might know His fullness on the other side.
As we look in the bottom of that deep valley and we see a cross with our name on it waiting for us. Like Pilgrim in Pilgrims’ Progress, we must decide if we will go on. Many at this point decide that the price is too great and they retreat back to the comfort zone of the familiar, the green pastures and still waters, but their growth in Christ is held in check from that point on. They scurry back down the path to Christian city, seeking refuge from that awful sight, but Jesus just isn’t there like He once was because we have failed to obey Him as or Lord. Many who should know better try to comfort us and tell us that this lesser existence is normal and our Christianity is supposed to be this way. So they do all they can to make our church experience pleasing and comforting to our rebellious souls.
Robert Burnell in his booklet, “Escape from Christendom,” wrote:
“Is this the City of God?” I hear the traveler ask a woman at the information booth in the central square.
“No this is Christian City, “she replies.
“But I thought this road led to the City of God!” He exclaims with great disappointment.
“That’s what we all thought when we arrived,” she answers, her tone sympathetic.
“This road continues up the mountain, doesn’t it?” He asks.
“I wouldn’t know, really,” she answers blankly.
I watched the man turn away from her and trudge on up the mountain in the gathering darkness. Reaching the top, he starts out into the blackness; it looks as though there is nothing, absolutely nothing, beyond. With a shudder he retraces his steps into Christian City an takes a room at a hotel.
Yet, some of us bravely descend into that valley, or as in this allegory we climb that dark mountain, wanting to go on and get to where Jesus is in heavenly places in the Father, “Father that they might be where I am…” Inwardly we know that there is more than what we have seen so far. The way into that pit is fast as we slide down its slopes and everything in our lives seem to be totally out of our control. Finally, we hit our bottom and begrudgingly embrace the cross He has for us to kill-off all that is of Egypt, as it was with the Children of Israel, that still clings to us and is still of the old Adam within. Often it is confusing because here we find, as it was with the Master, those who jeer at us as we hang on our cross and these detractors were the ones we once knew in Christendom who on Palm Sunday were singing our praises! This makes the pain and suffering all that more effective in spiritual terms. “And one shall say unto him, ‘What are these wounds between your hands?’ Then he shall answer, ‘Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends’” (Zec 13:6 KJ2000). In a time like this it is hard to remember His admonition,
If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. (Joh 15:18-21 KJ2000)
The way out of this valley is long and arduous and it seems like it is more than just a mere “shadow of death,” but rather the real thing and that we will never get out of there alive. Just as all forsook Him on His trek up Calvary, so it is with us. We have the smell of death about us and the “green pastures” Christians want nothing to do with us, which adds more suffering to the cross we bear. It is a slow climb, but an ascent just the same, as we bare our cross knowing Jesus is still calling us upward to Him. That vision that we once had of Him over on the other side stays with us.
There is only one place for that old Adam within us, where we once found our strength and power, and that is on the cross. God can not use our natural charm, charisma, wit, strengths and abilities. These things are in rebellion to His will and deafen us to His voice. But once we climb out of that valley, being led by His upward call, we see Him there waiting for us with a vast table of His heavenly love, joy, wisdom, peace and all that HE is in the Father and he bids us come and dine with Him, “Come up here and I will show you things…” We can still see Christendom, but now it is on the opposite side of the valley where we once were and they are still serving in their tabernacles, but “We have an altar [table], of which they have no right to eat who serve the tabernacle” (Hebrews 13:10 KJ2000).
We still have the nay-sayer around us… our enemy is still there to discourage and confuse if he can, but Jesus is there at His table with us and our enemy’s voice is not as seductive as it once was. For now we know a faith and confidence in Jesus as we abide IN Him and the Father, being assured of His goodness and mercy, no matter what the enemy dishes out. We also have a new anointing that we never knew before. “You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over” with fresh revelation and power from the Spirit as He establishes us in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.
The prophet Micah wrote:
Therefore I will look unto the LORD; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me. Rejoice not against me, O my enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the LORD shall be a light unto me. I will bear the indignation of the LORD, because I have sinned against him, until he pleads my cause, and executes justice for me: he will bring me forth to the light, and I shall behold his righteousness. (Micah 7:7-9 KJ2000)
The presence of Jesus with us is like never before because we are now IN Him and He sustains us like never before, because we put our total trust in Him. This is a vision that sustained Paul and the early saints through all that they suffered for Jesus… a vision and presence that sings forth in worship in the depths of prisons with backs torn by the jailer’s whip. There is only rejoicing from here on out, no matter what our earthly circumstances are and we are comforted in that we have been counted worthy to suffer these things for the gospel of Christ and His kingdom. Isaiah prophesied,
Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he has put him to grief: when you shall make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days, and the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities. (Isaiah 53:10-11 KJ2000)
Jesus rejoiced in His sufferings for the joy that was set before HIM in the Father. He saw the end of it all… His offspring, many sons and daughters into and unto the glory of God and it sustained Him. We are to be,
Looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider him that endured such hostility of sinners against himself, lest you be wearied and faint in your minds. (Hebrews 12:2-3 KJ2000)
Our focus has been change from all things here on earth including earth-bound churches to those things which are of heaven. We have become so heavenly minded that we are of no benefit to those who build earth bound things, yet it is HIS kingdom what we build, the Kingdom of Heaven, as the Spirit works through us by His power and might and not of our own.
The stone which the builders rejected has become the head stone of the corner. This is the LORD’S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. (Psa 118:22-23 KJ2000 – emphasis added)
Therefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Let us go forth therefore unto him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. (Hebrews 13:12-14 KJ2000)