Still Waters

God woke me this morning with the image of a mountain spring and Psalm 23. Those who know me well, know how much I love David’s beautiful poem. No scripture touches my heart the way it does, and it beautifully describes the transforming power of His lessons this week.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth 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 thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. (KJV)

The line that touched my heart and soul this morning was “he leaded me beside the still waters.” The waters in my life have been anything but still, so I’ve yearned for the peaceful waters described in verse two. With a lot of trust and a little fear, I let go of my will and gave God the reigns to my heart. I’ve surrendered bits and pieces before, but this was a complete letting go that left me completely at His mercy.

I grew up thinking God was a powerful reckoning force full of fury, and that’s why there was a little fear in my letting go. Love has always held an element of fear for me, and God knew that was holding my heart back and keeping me from loving as He desires. I finally found the courage, with the help of a dear friend, to trust God completely. I wasn’t prepared for what happened because I was expecting the usual hurt to be unusually painful. I wasn’t expecting peace in place of the pain, but that’s exactly what I felt as God led me beside the still waters and bid me to drink deeply and relax completely.

A wise friend once told me that relaxing into obedience was the best way to obey. That didn’t sink in completely then, but it did this morning as I found myself waking up beside a cool, sweet spring of living water. I can’t remember ever feeling so relaxed in my life.

My early life was spent drowning in muddy waters. Confusion and despair kept my heart from finding my way out. I went from the lake into a stormy sea and spent three decades fighting waves in troubling waters. When God finally brought me to the shore, I made my way up an inviting creek that proved to be frigid when I mustered up the courage to venture in. I decided to stay away from the water after that, but God had other plans. He led me beside the deep waters of a still mountain spring. Confused and curious by this new connection to water, I created a muddy mess by playing in it instead of sitting still and drinking deeply.

I love the way God teaches, and this morning was classic God as He reminded me of a time over fifty years ago when I stirred up my aunt’s spring and learned a difficult lesson from daddy. My mother’s oldest sister was named Edith, and she and her husband Dave lived far back in the mountains of Western North Carolina. Upon arriving, daddy sent my sisters and I to fetch some fresh water from her spring.The first thing daddy wanted after finishing the treacherous trek up the mountain was a cup of that precious water to go with his bourbon.

Edith and Dave didn’t have running water or electricity, but they did have a well right behind the house. That water was wonderful, but it didn’t compare to the water from the spring further up the mountain. My sisters and I were ready to move after the long trip, so we headed off in search of the spring. I got their first and took the ladle Aunt Edith had given me and started playing in the water. If you know me, that makes perfect sense.

When we returned to the cabin with a pail of muddy water, my father’s wrath was intense. He knew I was stupid, but could I possibly be that stupid!! It would take hours for the dirt to settle, so he would have to settle for well water. I slipped outside and asked myself the same question he had asked of me. I came up with the same answer I always came up with. I must be that stupid because the evidence kept pointing in that direction. I was feeling the same sense of stupidity a few weeks ago as I struggled with the stirring I was doing in my heart.

God always hears my heart, and He always answers my prayers in ways I never understand. Like that stirred spring, it took a while for my heart to settle into a state of sweet peace; but the resulting cleansing was even more amazing than that mountain spring when I returned later to fetch its water in the proper way. The murky mess I made was replaced with a crystal clear oasis waiting to quench my powerful thirst. My heart was like Aunt Edith’s spring this morning as I relaxed into an obedience that wasn’t motivated by guilt or fear; it came straight from Christ’s precious love, and that’s exactly where obedience is supposed to come from. Maybe, I’m not so stupid after all 🙂

A Mess of Pottage

“A mess of pottage” refers to something that may be very desirable in the moment, but is of little value when taken in exchange for something less tangible but of immense value. It refers to Esau trading his birthright for a pot of lentil stew in Genesis 25:27-35.

When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the field, but Jacob was a peaceful man, living in tents. Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob. When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, “Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished.” Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.” Esau said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” And Jacob said, “First swear to me”; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. (NASB)

Trading one’s birthright for a pot of stew may seem farfetched, but we all misplace priorities at one time or another. Shortsightedness occurs when that for which I hunger is right in front of me. The present presents temptations difficult to resist at times. A dear friend heard my heart and used the mess of pottage reference to help me get my priorities in order. I haven’t heard that expression in decades, but it rang true in my heart as soon as I heard it this week.

Having friends who hear my heart and love God is a blessing I cannot imagine living without. I was at the point of trading a beautiful friendship for a mess of pottage, but God placed Esau’s stew in my path to help me see the folly of such a trade.

Walking in God’s kingdom now is a new concept for me. I smile and shake my head when I think of the number of times I said the Lord’s Prayer without seeing the kingdom as here and now. Christ clearly says “on earth as it is in heaven.” (NASB Matthew 6:9-13)  It is sobering to realize how easy it is to trade a walk in God’s kingdom for a jaunt down my own path. A mess of pottage is all it takes to lose any birthright.

The phrase also reminded me of a beautiful poem I haven’t read in years, “Touch of the Master’s Hand” by Myra Brooks Welch. The phrase is used powerfully in the last verse of the poem.

‘Twas battered and scarred, and the auctioneer
      Thought it scarcely worth his while
To waste much time on the old violin,
      But held it up with a smile.
“What am I bidden, good folks,” he cried,
    “Who’ll start the bidding for me?”
“A dollar, a dollar. Then two! Only two?
      Two dollars, and who’ll make it three?”

“Three dollars, once; three dollars, twice;
      Going for three…” But no,
From the room, far back, a grey-haired man
      Came forward and picked up the bow;
Then wiping the dust from the old violin,
      And tightening the loosened strings,
He played a melody pure and sweet,
      As a caroling angel sings.

The music ceased, and the auctioneer,
      With a voice that was quiet and low,
Said: “What am I bid for the old violin?”
      And he held it up with the bow.
“A thousand dollars, and who’ll make it two?
      Two thousand! And who’ll make it three?
Three thousand, once; three thousand, twice,
    And going and gone,” said he.

The people cheered, but some of them cried,
    “We do not quite understand.
What changed its worth?” Swift came the reply:
    “The touch of the Master’s hand.”
And many a man with life out of tune,
      And battered and scarred with sin,
Is auctioned cheap to the thoughtless crowd
      Much like the old violin.

A “mess of pottage,” a glass of wine,
    A game — and he travels on.
He is “going” once, and “going” twice,
    He’s “going” and almost “gone.”
But the Master comes, and the foolish crowd
    Never can quite understand
The worth of a soul and the change that is wrought
    By the touch of the Master’s hand.

The lesson this week was that I am more than I can imagine myself to be. Like the old violin, I have seen myself as battered and scarred; but the touch of God’s hand changed that. God is love, and love is what His kingdom is all about. I tend to sell myself short, but this week I decided to let God play a new tune on my heart. I want the birthright He has for me, and that means seeing myself in His light. I can’t do that on my own, but I can do it if I relax in His hands and trust Him to do what He does best.