Step into the Shade
This is a picture of my backyard. I absolutely love trees. I grew up in Southwest Kansas where trees were at a premium. As a child, I spent a lot of time outside during the summers in the wind and blazing sun. While I loved the heat, I greatly welcomed the opportunity to step into the shade anytime I had the chance! The shade represented relief and protection (i.e., relief from the heat and protection from the sun’s rays). I love every single tree there is from the scraggly ones to the kempt ones. As far as I’m concerned, the more trees the better! For some reason when I am surrounded by trees, I feel safe. I wonder if this was God’s intent from the beginning (Genesis 1:1).
As I have aged, I have become a bit of a nature lover. I went on a long hike recently. The trails were intermixed with wooded areas and wide-open spaces. It was close to 100 degrees, so I chose to hike the shaded trails knowing I would be protected from sunburn and heat exhaustion. Every now and then I would come upon a clearing in which I had to step into the sun. While the heat was unpleasant, it was bearable knowing I would encounter another opportunity for shade soon.
Hikes are great time for me to get alone with my thoughts, and I often catch myself having a conversation with the Lord. At one point on this particular hike, I can remember thanking God for His protection. Every time I stepped into the shade, I was reminded of the “trees” God had planted in my life for my protection. On the other hand, every time I stepped into the sun, I thought about the “heat” we encounter through life’s challenges and trials. The only way I could find relief from the heat during my hike was to step into the shade. The same is true for our spiritual lives. Protection can be found when we step into the shade beneath the trees God is cultivating in our lives.
Take a moment and think about the trees God has planted in your life for protection from the heat. Here is a partial list of the trees that come to mind for me.
· God’s Word
Let’s explore how these metaphorical trees can serve as a form of shade and protection from life’s all too frequent heat waves!
I can’t begin to describe the power, purpose, and protection found in God’s word. It is crazy to me that we try to navigate this life with out it. When the heat is on (and even when it isn’t), God’s Word must be our lifeline. These verses just scratch the surface.
Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.Proverbs 30:5
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4
All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Being an educator for nearly forty years, I can tell you rest is an anomaly. It is difficult for many teachers to find sufficient rest. Teaching demands not only our time but our emotional energy as well. On top of this many educators take on extra duties. Add to this our efforts to be fully present within our own families, and you have a situation that often results in a lack of adequate rest. However, rest is a Biblical concept; it is necessary to protect us from physical and emotional exhaustion. Even Jesus encouraged his disciples to get away to a desolate place and rest (Mark 6:31).
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Hebrews 4:9-10
For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. So let us do our best to enter that rest. But if we disobey God, as the people of Israel did, we will fall. Hebrews 9:10-11
I’m sure you have heard the phrase, “We become who we hang out with.” As educators we see evidence of this on a regular basis, especially during children’s adolescent years. However, this idea doesn’t just apply to teenagers. As believers it is critical that we surround ourselves with other believers, those who will encourage us, pray for us, challenge us, hold us accountable, and build us up.
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Hebrews 10:24-25
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
It makes me so sad to see believers who have lost their joy. Not only are they unhappy, but their doom and gloom attitude communicates a persona of negativity. No one wants to be around negative people. Jesus came so we could live an abundant life (John 10:10). Granted, we may not always feel bubbly, but choosing joy will shield us from discouragement and pessimism. One of my favorite definitions of joy comes from Kay Warren.
Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all of the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11
If you have been a believer for any amount of time, you have felt God’s protection through prayer. I think the greater issue for most of us is when we choose to pray. During my teenage years my friends and I used to put oil all over ourselves and lay out in the sun until we were fried to a pulp (not my brightest moment). Not only were we all in pain, but we risked long-term skin damage. Similarly, how many Christians put themselves in harm’s way by staying in the sun too long (trying to handle the heat on their own) refusing to step into the shade of prayer. Prayer should never be our last resort but our daily opportunity to talk with our Heavenly Father.
God never meant prayer to be difficult. John Bunyan defined prayer as “a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit.” When we step into the shade of prayer, we are not alone. Prayer not only feeds our soul but also protects us against temptation and pride.
Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere. Ephesians 6:18
“Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” Matthew 26:41
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26
These past couple of years have felt like one long heat wave. Thriving during such times depends on our choice to step into the shade beneath the trees of God’s protection. Will we choose to stay out in the heat and risk damage to ourselves, or will we step into the shade where we can find guidance from His word, rest, community, joy, and sweet communion with God? I think the answer is pretty obvious.
Step into the shade!
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1-2