A Devotional Thought by Pastor Phil
My wife and I were sitting in the office of a friend, Bishop Sherwood Carthen. It was during the Great Recession and I had just been let go from my position at Bayside Church. “We can’t afford to keep you,” I was told. So, we went to our friend for advice and encouragement. He said, “Looks like God has brought you into the wilderness. You should prepare yourself to be there for awhile.” Those were not the words of encouragement I was looking for.
Sunday’s message was about the dark valley of the “shadow of death.” It’s a valley where fear develops and courage dissipates and hope starts slipping away. The dark valley is where sheep are most vulnerable to predators as they are confined to a tight space. Dark valleys are where we are also most vulnerable to Satan’s attacks. Yet, the sheep are in the valley because the shepherd has led them there.
Wait, what! The Shepherd purposely leads us to dark valleys? WHY?!
Why did God send Abraham from his home? Why did God allow Joseph to be sold into slavery? Why did God send Moses to the wilderness for 40 years before showing him the burning bush? Why did the Holy Spirit lead Jesus into the wilderness after his baptism?
Why was I out of work with bills to pay? How long would this last?
“How long” is a question we ask a lot. I am certain you have been wondering how long this pandemic will last and some of you who are suffering from your own dark valleys are asking God, “How long will this last?”
Asking God “how long” is as old as the Bible. The Psalms are filled with that question. “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?” Psalm 6:3 "How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” Psalm 13:1 Even in heaven the question is being asked. “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, ‘How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?’” Revelation 6:9-10
No definitive answer is given to the question “how long.” Instead, we are shown reasons to trust. In all the examples above, the purpose of the wilderness was to prepare people by stripping all the props away, all the things we lean on, all the things that comfort us, all the things that are not God.
Sherwood Carthen, who is now passed away, was not trying to discourage us. He knew from his own difficult wilderness experience that God uses it to strengthen our trust and prepare us for what He has planned. Sherwood viewed what was happening to us as a positive. God was at work. However, our dark valley made it difficult to see that as being true.
Sherwood shared with us his story and gave us a few gems I still remember and hold on to. I want to pass them on to you.
- “When you are in a valley and God is all you have, you discover God is all you need.”
- “When you’re at the end of your rope, you’re at the beginning of God’s hope!”
Valleys and wilderness are opportunities to rely on the trust we already have in God. As a result, we end up building greater trust as we learn God is all we need. As David said, “I will fear no evil, for YOU ARE WITH ME, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
My wilderness lasted a while. It was rough. It was scary. I didn’t know where it was heading, but I eventually came to “a table set before me.” The last 12 years have been my best, most fruitful years of ministry.
If you are in a valley today, remind yourself that (1) “God is all you need” and (2) “you are at the beginning of God’s hope.”