Last weekend, my wife and I took our children to Carter Caves and toured Cascade Cave. The guided tour was 75-minutes long and included 225 stair steps. Our children loved it, and we did too. At least, the older two that stayed awake. Our youngest fell asleep towards the end and was carried through pretty much the entire trip.
When we came out of the cave, our signal returned to our phones and messages and voicemails came on them. We missed a lot of what was going on and valuable communications. The experience reminded me that we can enter into spiritual caves in our lives. The cave is not evil itself and is something that somehow provides protection and a place of solace. However, it is not a place we are meant to stay. Let’s look at a couple passages of Scripture to learn more.
1 Samuel 22
David therefore departed thence, and escaped to the cave Adullam: and when his brethren and all his father’s house heard it, they went down thither to him. 2And every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.
3And David went thence to Mizpeh of Moab: and he said unto the king of Moab, Let my father and my mother, I pray thee, come forth, and be with you, till I know what God will do for me. 4And he brought them before the king of Moab: and they dwelt with him all the while that David was in the hold. 5And the prophet Gad said unto David, Abide not in the hold; depart, and get thee into the land of Judah. Then David departed, and came into the forest of Hareth.
1 Kings 19
And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? 10And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
11And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: 12And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. 13And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? 14And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
15And the LORD said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: 16And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. 17And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. 18Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.
The Rest of Us
John 16:33 reminds us, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” I am thankful that God has provided grace that is sufficient for all our needs. Thankfully we can experience His grace during our times of grieving and other overwhelming emotions. While our feelings can betray us, we must still understand that God has created us with these capabilities. Emotions are just some of the ways the Lord has given us the power to cope with all the ups and downs of life.
However, as far as the emotions associated with sadness and anger go, we must not stay there too long. In the passages above, we see that David and Elijah went to the caves in time of despair and depression. However, both were not there for very long. It allowed for a moment of profound soul-searching.
We can do this deep searching of the heart during this time because typically we find seclusion. For Elijah, it was a time where God could speak to Him in a mysterious, yet miraculous way. Saints of old have called these times the dark night of the soul. These are times when we feel withdrawn and numb in our emotions. Communication with God may be foggy at best. However, it is during these times that we can hold on to God’s Word alone by faith and in the end find out that He still reigns. This is the peace that Jesus talked about in John 16:33. We can have trouble and should expect it. However, we can overcome and have peace because of Jesus’ triumph over sin and death. That triumph extends to every arena of life.
When Jesus spoke to the women at Jacobs well in the fourth chapter of the Gospel according to John, He spoke on worship. Jesus stated that God the Father searches for those that will worship in Spirit and in truth (John 4:23). The conversation basically boils down to the point that true worship does not depend on the physical location of the person but their spiritual position before God.
So what hinders our worship from being in Spirit and in Truth? Here are a few issues impacting our personal and gathered worship.
An unrepentant and deceitful heart (Acts 5:4-5 & 8:9-25)
In these two passages, we see the damage caused by unrepentant and dishonest hearts. Highlighting the necessity of a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ, made into a reality by the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit. God is not pleased by anything that is not done by faith (Heb. 11:6). The activation of faith begins with repentance of sin and belief in God. If there is unconfessed sin in our life, we are deceiving ourselves and hindering our worship. We need to come clean with God and allow Him to do the full work of Grace in our life.
Lack of prayer (Mt. 21:13)
When Jesus made his way into the temple at Jerusalem, He was disturbed at the marketing chaos and lack of respect for prayer. He turned over tables and drove the moneychangers out. Now, we might say this is a location but let us cross-reference with the Scriptural teaching that our bodies are the temple of God as well (1 Cor. 6:19). We are to be a people of prayer. Prayer marks our lives because it is more than a ritual of obedience. It is intentional dialoguing with God. If we do not have a habit of speaking with God through prayer, how can we also talk, sing, and serve Him in worship? Prayer is a part of worshipping and can’t be separated from it.
Limited Biblical knowledge (Hos. 4:6 & Col. 1:9)
Despite those with an attitude of intellectual snobbery, Scripture has much to say about the need for Biblical knowledge. Knowledge of God’s Word and His Ways in the world have a significant impact on our worship. Worship is more than emotional outburst and your feelings. A limited Biblical knowledge leads to shallow worship. C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity noted a conversation that demonstrates this. The individual he witnessed to said they did not need the Bible because they thought it restricted what they had already experienced with God through personal observations and feelings. However, Lewis noted that there is a difference between standing on the beach and going out on a ship into the ocean. You can only experience so much in the shallows. But, to go out deeper and experience the totality, you need a map, or you will get lost. The Bible is our map, and it helps us navigate deeper into our relationship with the Lord. The more we know of God, the more we can honestly know God.
Toxic attitudes (Phil. 4:8-9 & Eph. 4:32)
Attitudes of ungratefulness, dishonesty, irreverence, pride, jealousy, cynicism, and more also hinder our worship. We are challenged to think about things that are pleasant and good in the sight of God. We are challenged to have a spirit of forgiveness and preference of others instead of self. If we harbor this ill-feelings and negative thoughts, without ever giving them to God, we will find our souls drifting farther and farther from God.
“Push-Through” is a saying that I grew up hearing. It was immensely valuable and still is today. To me, it carries encouragement and challenge. Let me ask you a question. How do you approach God? If the Old Testament teaches us anything, it is that there is a right way to approach God. And, the New Testament echoes it. Clearly, in the OT this would seem to happen by purity laws and sacrifices, but what we know the New Testament does not focus on these works? Instead, a connecting theme to both testament, and the through behind the idiom to push-through, is faith. Faith is the thread, from Abraham to Christ today.
Let’s look at two individuals who had to approach Christ in faith in their most desperate hour. In Luke chapter, a man comes to Jesus to heal his sick daughter. Moved by the humility and hope of this man, Jesus follows him. However, a woman pushed through the crowd that surrounded these men. She was there for her own healing. Read the next passage to see what took place:
And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me. And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately. And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace. While he yet spake, there cometh one from the ruler of the synagogue’s house, saying to him, Thy daughter is dead; trouble not the Master. But when Jesus heard it, he answered him, saying, Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole.
Did you notice that both of these people are exhorted to have faith? Verse 49, “Daughter be of Good comfort, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace. Verse 50, “Fear not: believe only and she shall be made whole.” Faith from the Greek word πίστις (pistis), and believe from πιστεύω (pistoue) are connected foundational.
The woman with the issue of blood, who was healed, had to push through a crowd to get to Jesus. It is a picture of what it is like to have faith. The man, Jairus, found out that his daughter died while he and Jesus were on their way. No doubt, the advice to not trouble Jesus seemed sound. But, the Lord said to him to basically push through the grief, shock, and fear. To keep believing and as we read on, she really was made whole.
You need to push through. Keep your faith in Christ. Romans 10:9-14 talks about salvation and makes the statement, “whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” Hebrews 11:1 reminds us, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Even during the most challenging situations, we need to keep the faith and push through. Living as though Scripture is true and God is really real.
In every church, there are some primary ministries. The size of the congregation or the purpose of a new pastor to come in doesn’t matter when it comes to these essential activities. In a way, the following four types of ministry describe much of what groups of believers do in the world.
Ministry of the Word in Discipleship
As a foundation, the Word of God is the starting point for everything else. So much Scripture attests this point (for example Mt. 4:4; 28:18-20; John 21:15; Acts 6:4; Eph 4:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:15; 3:16-17). The great commission found in Matthew 28:18-20 focuses on our teaching the Jesus’ word to all nations. The Scriptures are to be used in evangelistic and discipleship efforts. Everything the church does is to be biblically-informed. Our worship is to be in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Second Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that the Scriptures are sufficient in fully equipping people to do the work of God.
Christian caregiving is not something that only the pastor does. The whole congregation should be involved in the care of souls. The pastor should take the lead here to model before the congregation and equip them to provide care for one another. Acts 6, Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4 each demonstrate that all believers have a place of service in God’s assembly of believers.
It was already stated that worship is to be done in spirit and truth (John 4:24). This is more than musical experiences in congregational services. Worship is both personal and congregational. In both settings, the character, position of the heart, and development of the believer in Jesus is essential to true worship. Worship is coming before God in thanksgiving and praise (Psalm 100).
Sharing the Gospel
Evangelizing is another essential component of church ministry. The church is supposed to teach the Gospel, pray for sinners, help individuals develop a personal ministry of evangelism and incorporate them into the larger outreach ministries of the church. Sharing the Gospel as found in Matthew 28:18-20 notes that all the people in the world are the scope of our mission. We are to go global and go local with the Word of God.
If you are a new pastor, church leader, or a new believer, these four essential church ministries make up the foundation everything else we in the Church. Make sure they are Biblically-based and give honor to God and not man.
The fourth verse of Psalm 23 is very popular and has been quoted by people from different walks of life. Not just by Christians either. It is a very relatable verse. However, this flippant usage of this verse underlies a more damaging notion. It is an approach called moral therapeutic deism. What does that mean? Let’s break it down:
- Moral – This is not Biblically founded morality but rather a humanistic morality. IT is the idea that people are good and all are on their way to heaven, except for those deemed to be thoroughly evil. Just be a good “ol’ boy or girl,” and everything will be alright in the end.
- Therapeutic – Christianity is therapeutic and good for guidance in this sense. It can help teach morality and how to cope with stressful life issues in a self-help book approach. All you need is a daily verse of inspiration, and anything more would be like fanaticism.
- Deism – As this perspective goes on, it approaches a type of deism where God is distant and unneeded, except when needed. Classic Deism taught that God created and sustained the universe but since then has remained distant and left the world to naturalistic movements. However, moral therapeutic deism, there are times of crisis when this god will react and help. However, whenever there is no crisis, he’s not around.
Does this help explain many of those in who claim Christ but are none of His? I believe it does and with moral therapeutic deism as a backdrop, we can understand why Psalm 23:4 is therapeutic.
“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.” – Psalm 23:4
Albert Barnes wrote, “The idea is that of death casting his gloomy shadow over that valley – the valley of the dead. Hence, the word applies to any path of gloom or sadness; any scene of trouble or sorrow; any dark and dangerous way. Thus understood, it is applicable not merely to death itself – though it embraces that – but to any or all the dark, the dangerous, and the gloomy paths which we tread in life: to ways of sadness, solitude, and sorrow.”
The Scripture is no stranger to grief and is one of many reasons for its undeniable relevance. Passage after passage paints the picture of reality we live in:
“Before I go whence I shall not return, even to the land of darkness and the shadow of death; A land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness.” – Job 10:21-22,
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” Isaiah 9:2
However, Psalm 23:4 is not a lament but praise. Notice it says, “Though…I will fear no evil.” Just as much as Scripture paints our grim reality, it is also using a backdrop of God’s majesty. Let’s sample some of these passages that remind us not to fear because God is with us:
“But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill. Selah. I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about.” – Psalm 3:6,
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked, even mine enemies and my foes, came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident.” – Psalm 27:1-4.
“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” – Isaiah 41:10,
“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – 1 Cor. 15:55-57
Why can we have this confidence? Because “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” The staff is a symbol the shepherd guiding his flock, and the rod is a symbol for protection. However, there is a greater implication that goes against the idea of God be afar off. These symbols are of tools that had to be used nearby. Again, remember the verse says, “I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” God is near His people. We exclaim that, “he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” What a great comfort this is to us.
When we are in trouble, He is already by our side. Yes, and when we pray, He is already there. However, the implication is that He never leaves. Even in the good times, God is right there by our side. He is offering us guidance, correction, and protection, at every moment of our existence. The Lord is not distant, but truly “God with us.”
So far, we have seen that in the Lord, we do not lack in the first verse. In the second verse, we find provision and rest. As we continue, we see restoration for our souls.
“He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” – Psalm 23:3
This verse is about restoration and not just a refreshing as with the previous verse. It’s the difference between an invigorating soda in one instance and the doctors working to restore a patient from dehydration. The severity of our circumstances requires a more profound work when we come to this verse.
Jesus Christ is the only one who can bring complete restoration to our lives. Isaiah 53:6 reads, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” It is through Christ’s sacrificial death, resurrection, and ascension that we have this faithful promise.
What is this restoration of the soul? In the context of shepherds and sheep, it is speaking about a lost sheep being restored to the sheepfold. The parable of Jesus from Luke 15 comes to mind:
4What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? 5 And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. 7 I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
This restoration speaks of our justification. It is a change of positions. Such as from sinner to saint, from lost to found, from orphaned to adopted, from death to life. It also speaks powerfully to our moments of weariness and straying. There are times when life brings us so low, and we succumb to our temptations. It is at these times we find God restoring our strength and faith.
We also see that “He leads me in paths of righteous, for his names sake.” As we live as believers, our aim is become more and more like Jesus. It’s not about us. It’s all about his excellent name. Psalm 25:4-5 records a beautiful prayer in this same mind, “Shew me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.”
Still, God’s grace to us is his namesake. It’s not selfish, it’s scandalous. His name is on the line. How far would you go out of your way for a person like you? God gives us mercy when we are undeniably guilty. God had displayed His love through His Son even when we were sinners. God’s actions are considered foolish by the world, but they are lifegiving. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” The Lord has went out of His way (which is actually His way) to restore us to Himself.
For many people, Ahab’s reign may have seemed like the end of any hope of a return to the worship of the true God. Scripture pointed out that Ahab did more evil in the sight of God than any other king before him (1 Kings 16:30). In fact, to some, the famine might have signaled God complete withdrawal. However, we see in this passage that God will not leave or forsake His people. This is a great and precious promise.
Read 1 Kings 16:29-19:18
God brought an end to the famine and even brought refreshment to Elijah in the worst of places. We see the Lord’s provision when Elijah is alone. Still, it seems that for every time God provides for Elijah when he is alone, there are more times that Elijah is reminded of God’s provision through Godly followers. The Christian community that we have surrounded ourselves with is a blessing from God.
God sustained Elijah through the widow and her son. They were a reciprocal blessing to each other. Obadiah also reminded Elijah how God was protecting him from Ahab. Finally, when Elijah was at his lowest and had always told himself that he was the last follower of God, the Lord spoke to him and said: “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him” (1 King 19:18).
I remember once when an elderly couple was having a difficult time while out traveling with a group from our congregation. It was camp time, and the husband had some chest pain and was taken to the hospital. They would bring him back to the home hospital two hours away, and the wife would have to drive home the next morning. After I had helped her to get to the hospital and then back to her hotel where she was met by another couple from the church that brought her a dinner, she was overwhelmed with emotion. She exclaimed when she saw them, “This is why you belong to a church.” God used His community of believers to sustain and support one of His hurting children. He will do the same for you.
One of the most familiar stories of the Bible is that of David and Goliath. This is a story of a young teen facing impossible odds and through the grace of God was victorious. The stance that David made is admirable. The faith that he displayed is inspirational. The commitment he had to God is challenging us to us.
Read 1 Samuel 16:1-18:16
The Spirit can leave a person. Saul is a testimony to this. Scripture reminds us,“And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). The Holy Spirit is the testimony to our soul that we are a child of God (Rom. 8:16). Saul grieved God so deeply and for so long that the Holy Spirit moved away from Saul. This is the sad condition of many people, and like Saul, they do not repent of their secret or open sins and errant thinking. Instead, the chasm between them and God widens.
God will raise up leaders after his heart. The Scriptures substantiates our hopes at this point. These leaders may not always replace toxic leaders, as in the example of David and Saul. They may challenge leaders in the wrong, they may only offer a new direction to follow, or they may inspire and bring hope to those while enduring a difficult situation. God would remove Saul from leadership and David would step up into the position of king. However, David was leading the people long before he was king. You lead from proximity and manage from a position. David spent time with the people while Saul became separated. Leaders today must guard their relationships if they hope to remain a good leader.
Did you know that Israel was tempted in keeping up with the Joneses. They were still on the roller coaster of morality and obedience that we found in the book of Judges. Even Samuel, who was a great person, could not keep his children in the fear of the Lord. The people who had not given themselves over to other forms of worship asked Samuel for king. God was not pleased with this but gave them a king. He would eventually use the kingship of Israel in his plan of salvation beginning with the second king. However, God gave them the king they wanted. This is the beginning of Saul.
Read 1 Samuel 8:1-10:27
There is more to be said about wanting to be like someone else. As a nation, Israel wanted to be like the other nations that had kings. There is nothing wrong with being unique and not copying what others are doing. At this time Israel was a theocracy, meaning that God was understood as their sole ruler. They wanted a monarchy, a visible representative of God’s authority in human flesh. Samuel represented God’s holiness, and now Saul would represent God’s divine rule. We can look forward from this point to where the fullness of God was wholly invested in Jesus. In fact, the Greek title, “Christ,” or Hebrew title, “Messiah,” means the “anointed one.” Jesus was the anointed Prophet, Priest, and King.
Saul looked the part of a king. At least in everyone’s eyes. He was bigger than anyone else and God even gave Saul a heart to lead. Apparently, Saul could even preach, to the surprise of everyone. However, when it came time to announce him, we are given a hint about his true character and why God had to work in giving him a new heart. First Samuel 10:21-22, noted that after Samuel proclaimed Saul as king, they couldn’t find him. God answered their prayer and told them, “he heath hid himself among the stuff.” Deep inside this man who would be king, was major personality issues that would continue to surface. He did not have courage in several occasions when leading his army. He was jealous, angry, and conniving. He would even compromise his integrity and the Word of God by seeking help from a practitioner of the dark arts. God worked on his heart in the beginning and gave him a fresh start. It was hopeful, but, Saul would not always seek the Lord and it ended up costing him the kingdom.