Finding Wisdom in the Valley of Shadows

dreamstime_Noah xs_44915612A few weeks ago I received a call from my doctor:

“…we found a shadow on your mammogram and we want to do more tests.” A sonogram led to a biopsy last week.

They said the spot was vague, and, of course, assured me that these spots are most often benign, but they advised precaution.

I occasionally pray with and encourage friends through such ordeals, and most of their biopsies result in nothing. There are those few, however, that result in something serious.

I had bold faith to encourage them to trust God’s love, whether He walked them through it or healed them from it. But now it happened to me. Instead of standing strong, I trembled inside.  “Where is the bold faith now?”

A number of precious friends surrounded me with prayers, encouragement, listening ears, standing with me in love and faith. I knew the doctors would most likely find nothing, so I convinced myself in faith, “I won’t be concerned until after I see the test results.”

But when the doctor reported that the biopsy showed nothing but benign tissue, I felt a marked release as the burden of fear lifted. Until that moment, I didn’t realize how much this trial had affected me.

Some of you might remember the line from Rich Mullins’ song, No, we are not as strong as we think we are.

He was right. That’s why we desperately need Jesus and His people, because we endure and thrive only in our union with Christ and others through Him. Our trials open our soul-windows to The Light that reveals the fear-shadows that we didn’t see when it was dark and quiet. In those moments of humility, The Light burns away fear, leaving less shadow, and opening up more room for Jesus’ presence to move in, closer and deeper.

I’d already empathized with others who went through such trials, but now I have deeper empathy that I didn’t even know I’d lacked. Indeed, drawing closer to the Lord also draws us closer to each other.

When I reported the results to my sisters and brothers who encouraged me, one friend and mentor summarized it well:

The waiting period can be an unsettled (think frontier) journey
inside the mind and heart.
It is a valley of shadows.

It is so good to be able to walk out into the light again.
Don’t rush into the light,
but walk carefully reflecting on your experience in the shadows,

so that you may more fully know the light—
and its Source.
From one who has walked through shadows…
(Keith Yoder)

– Patricia Tillman

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5 Common Traits for Finishing Well… Self-Evaluation…

How do you transform your world and finish well for Jesus’ sake?

Fruit that LastsHow do we finish well with fruit that will last into eternity? What will it take to hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant …”?

Consider this study by Allistre Petrie*:

*Of 400 men in the Bible, only 80 finished well.  All 80 had the following common traits…
[What could those traits be?  Solid finances for retirement?  Good friends? Happiness? Good health?  Being a good preacher who draws large crowds?…]

    • Intimacy with God
    • Willingness to seek counsel from others
    • Humility
    • Obedience to God
    • Faith to Believe

Petrie’s outline is enough to provide meat for a thousand sermons, but knowing and speaking the truth is not enough for nourishment. Jesus said, My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work … (John 4:34, KJV)

Let’s “examine our motives and test our hearts” (I Cor 11:28). Start with the following questions, and take time to wait before the Holy Spirit to reveal areas of strength, and places in our hearts in need of His touch and cleansing:

  1. Intimacy with God: Do I focus on the Lord daily, throughout the day, in every situation? Or do I focus on Him only during devotions or when I meet a crises?
  2. Willingness to Seek Counsel from Others: Do I freely “hear” what others have to say? Do I resist the input of others due to fear of intimidation, or trust in my own self-sufficiency? Or do I trust the Lord and what He can speak through others?
  3. Humility: Can I freely admit my errors, or do I try to find excuses for them? Am I at peace when others disagree with me, or do I have to prove I’m right in order to “save face”? Is “cleaning the toilets” beneath me?
  4. Obedience to God: Am I following the way in which Christ leads my life? Can I pray this prayer honestly and without hesitation: Lord, “see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting…” (Psalm 139:24)?
  5. Faith to Believe: Have I heard the Lord’s direction in my life and released the faith to believe He will accomplish His will in me? Or am I striving to control my own will, outside of true faith? Do I make myself available to the Lord, moment-by-moment?
*Observation by Allistre Petrie’s presentation, Transformation Summit, Feb 17, 2006, Ephrata Community Church, PA
Micah 6:8; Matthew 25:18; John 15:4,16; Acts 20:24; Philippians 4:13

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– Patricia Tillman

Move Beyond Status-Quo Culture: Cultivate a Culture of Prayer and Honor

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We hear a lot about leading as a culture-changer, or culture-creator, and most of us want to do it!

I love the way Eugene Peterson translates the familiar Romans 12:1-2. Read slowly and soak it in:

So here’s what I want you to do,
God helping you:
Take your everyday, ordinary life—
your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—
and place it before God as an offering.
Embracing what God does for you
is the best thing you can do for Him.
Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture
that you fit into it without even thinking.
Instead, fix your attention on God.
You’ll be changed from the inside out.
Readily recognize what He wants from you,
and quickly respond to it.
Unlike the culture around you,
always dragging you down to its level of immaturity,
God brings the best out of you,
develops well-formed maturity in you.
– Romans 12:1-2, The Message

We’re not saying that status-quo is necessarily wrong or right in any given moment, but that the tradition and demands of culture should not factor into how we lead, how we make decisions or handle our callings.

It’s not about going against status quo for the sake of being different. It’s about giving Christ the reigns of our leadership—becoming yoked with Him, partnering with Him, seeking His perspective, hearing His direction, dancing in His rhythm, loving with His love, trusting Him in His provision and peace.

Take a look around your leadership sphere and assess the culture. If we interviewed the people you lead, would they say it’s transformed beyond status quo?

Have you seen changes, but you’ve hit a plateau, or eventually reverted back to status quo?

Honest questions for honest answers.

What would a godly culture look like?

Many Christ-following leaders, whether business, congregation or organization, would desire a culture that:

  1. First of all honors Christ (loves the Lord with heart, soul, mind and strength…)
  2. Secondly, honors and collaborates with others (…and loves your neighbor as yourself).
  3. And a combination of the first two: one that follows the Lord’s wisdom for fruit in the organization and in the hearts of people that will last into eternity.

We’ve found that leaders and leadership teams can cultivate such transformation in two ways:

1) Nurturing the group’s relationship with God by cultivating a Culture of Prayer.

As with any culture change, we need to develop a Culture of Prayer first of all among the leadership. This is more than “bookend” prayers—or beginning and ending a leadership meeting with a request for God’s blessing. This is remaining in a stance of prayer throughout the meeting, and cultivating a posture of prayer in all conversations and relationships. We outline practical steps for developing this culture in Mastering the Art of Presence-Based Leadership.

2) Nurturing the group’s relationships with each other by cultivating a Culture of Honor.

Each person in the group can hear from God just as much as the leader. We serve in different roles, but we honor people not only for the roles they fill, but as valued ambassadors for Christ in the gifts and purposes for which He’s called them. Developing a culture that validates people and ignites the potential of who God made them to be is the ultimate call of leaders. It can only be done in the strength of relationship with Christ. We also cover the principles of a Culture of Honor in depth in Mastering the Art of Presence-Based Leadership.

Sound impossible? When Jesus said, “Nothing shall be impossible with you” (Matthew 17:20), He wasn’t telling fairy tales, and He promises to lead us into this partnership with Him to create a powerful culture that glorifies God.

Matthew 11:29-30; Mark 12:30-33; Luke 10:27

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Is the flood from the enemy? or from God?

Open the floodgates to “times of refreshing…”
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“When the enemy comes in like a flood
The Spirit of the Lord lifts up the standard.”

       What is the standard?
       Do I even want the standard?
       Will the standard hurt?

Maybe it depends on exactly what the floodwaters are.
If I’m in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water,
floodwaters might sound pretty refreshing.

Peter said God would bring “times of refreshing.”
After Peter watched a lame man
leap and jump and praise God, he pronounced:
“…times of refreshing … from the Presence of the Lord…”

I think the ex-lame man was refreshed from the Presence of the Lord.

But where are times of refreshing for me?

Why should I even ask that question,
since I know I have the blood-bought mercy and privilege
of walking in the Presence of the Lord—the sole source of refreshing?

But sometimes the dry and thirsty land lingers.

Yes, I know the LORD is an awesome God of refreshing, radical love.

Maybe it’s the “radical” part that stuns, sometimes—
like a crashing wave that knocks me down,
tumbling me over and over.


It washes me away
by the waves and billows of a flood.

“Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls
All Your waves and billows have gone over me… “

…the sons of Korah cried.

To them the flood came from God,
not the enemy.

And Jonah cried,

You have cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas
And the floods surrounded me
All Your billows and Your waves passed over me…”

       So, does the flood come from the enemy?
       Or from God?

Isaiah said that the enemy comes in “like” a flood—
not the flood itself,
if technicalities matter.

After all, I don’t think the enemy has that kind of power,
to wash away any blood-bought believer in a flood,
unless we allow him that honor.

God is the true flood.
And He told us what His standard is.
Peter said it in his “times of refreshing” proclamation:

Repent therefore and be converted,
that your sins may be blotted out,
so that times of refreshing may come
from the Presence of the Lord.”

dreamstime_xs_35845534And so,
The “standard” that the Lord lifts up
when His enemies try to mimic His flood
is repentance—
letting go of sin
so His protective Presence
can capture us
and penetrate us.

Jonah certainly experienced the flood—
from the viewpoint of a whale’s belly.
But it didn’t refresh.
Rather than surrendering to the flow of billows and waves,
Jonah clung to the sin of pride.
And only by the mercy of God the flood didn’t destroy him.

Holding on to the sin of pride blocked the refreshing.

If I cling to my sin, the flood drowns me;
But if I cling to the Spirit of the Lord,
the flood cleanses and refreshes me!

And even if it hurts sometimes, it brings “joy inexpressible and full of glory.”

Scripture References: (All scripture is quoted from NKJV.)

  • Isaiah 59:19b: When the enemy comes in like a flood,
    The Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.
  • Psalm 63:1b …My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You
    In a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water.
  • Acts 3:19: Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out,
    so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.
  • Psalm 42:7:  Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls;
    All Your waves and billows have gone over me…
  • Jonah 2:3: For You cast me into the deep,
    Into the heart of the seas,
    And the floods surrounded me.
    All Your billows and Your waves passed over me.
  • I Peter 1:8: … whom having not seen you love.
    Though now you do not see Him, yet believing,
    you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.

PBL Front CoverDon’t forget to pre-order (10% discount)
Keith’s new Mastering the Art of Presence-Based Leadership
Available April 26, 2016