Saturday, May 16, 2009

Chapter 9 - Great Precipice Injury

I love Much-Afraid. Her temptations resemble mine. I have heard the same comments from my own head (or the Enemy) a thousand times. I have often resisted calling on the Shepherd for the same reasons: I am ashamed, or I am afraid that He is going to tell me that I really do have to do what He has told me to do. I'd rather sit in denial than receive truth, or at least that is how it looks from my response - or my lack of it.

What are ways that we don't call on Him? We don't get in His word. We don't attend church. We won't bother to call on others to pray with us when we are struggling. We avoid prayer and refuse to worship. We flee hope. We are so silly. We are silly because Christ is the cure. Applying grace to our heart through the means of grace brings on more grace. These things tend to create sweeter longings and more obedience. He proves Himself to be a tender lover and friend when we resist the urge to resist. It's like refusing an offer for a trip to the sea because we are happy with creating mud pies - as C.S. Lewis would say.

1. On page 121 Much-Afraid frets as she says that because she can’t get up to the high places the way that the Shepherd has chosen, she can’t go at all. Has the thought ever come to you that you won’t be able to pass the way set before you, and therefore you can’t get to a better “place” in your faith?

2. Does Craven Fear’s comments, “Did you really believe that you could escape me altogether. You belong to me,” sometime feel like they are words spoken to you? How can you fight that? What do you need to believe to silence that voice?

3. Look at the taunting of Craven Fear. How does Fear speak to you?

4. Much-Afraid resisted calling on the Shepherd. Why? What keeps you from calling on the Lord?

5. When the Shepherd spoke to Much-Afraid, how did he speak to her? Do you picture the Lord speaking to you as tenderly, or do you imagine Him differently? What is true?

6. How might the Shepherd’s comment to Much-Afraid, “I know you better than you know yourself,” cause us to have hope in our trials?

7. Do you believe that the Lord delights in doing the impossible with us? What impossible task might the Lord want to accomplish in you? Into whom might you be transformed?

8. Much-Afraid laid her will, her dread and her shrinking on the altar? Has this idea ever occurred to you? (I have often understood the idea of laying my will on the altar, but not so much my dread and my shrinking.) Why might that be a sacrifice?

9. The Shepherd warned Much-Afraid that her enemies would be at the base of the mountain waiting for her if she lingered. Have you ever experienced a time of temptation when you are getting ready to do something, but you haven’t taken the 1st step? How much harder is the temptation before beginning something than after you have begun? Can you share a time this was true?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Chapter 8 - On the Old Sea Wall

In this chapter, Much Afraid offers the contents of her heart upon the altar. What might an offering like that include if it came from our hearts? For some of us it might include some pet sin that we secretly don't want to give up yet. Or maybe one of the things that we might offer on the altar would be some desire or dream. Several years ago I broke my hip, and the break was quite serious. It altered a number of things. I experienced grief as I had to let go of things that I had begun to take great pleasure in. I had to offer what was in my heart to God and live in the tension of the loss. I know people who have experienced the loss of the dream of a perfect family - children have gone astray, children become ill or die, husbands leave, wives die, husbands are permanently disabled, the perfect career turns out to be a perfect storm, or if one is single, maybe the offering would be the dream of a family and more. We all live with the loss and disappointment of seeing dreams delayed or dashed.

Probably within each of our hearts there would also be something called our "will" that would need to go onto the altar as well. Maybe it is our determined desire to have the grand home, or an important job, or even a meaningful ministry. What is in our hearts that needs to be offered? Whatever He requires of you, please remember that if He requires something or if you offer him the contents of your heart as a sacrifice, you will never be disappointed. It's like trading dirt for gold, less for more, stagnant water for bubbling streams.

Why is the offering important? For one thing, He is Lord. By the definition of Lord, our hearts belong to Him. Another reason - He is all wise and knows best how to finish the work that He began in me. A third reason is that He is loving and is tenderly aware of who I am and how he wants to get me from here to the finish line. And of course, He is sovereign and knows where He is leading me, and He intends to make sure I get there.

But for my own selfish benefit, it is important to let Him have what is in my heart because it helps relieve the grief of the disappointments that I experience and it allows me to live. If HE has it, then IT is in good hands. No - it is in GREAT hands! It gives us a sense of release and growing promise. We let go of the dream and agree to live fully again in the reality of the power of God in us and in his vibrant, colorful intentions for our lives. Paul lived a vibrant colorful life, but it was laced with trials, tribulations, and pain, and I KNOW that if you could give him a call, he would tell you that he does not regret any of it and that he would have borne more if he had known what he knows now in the full awareness of God's glory and majesty. Let's all join Much-Afraid by giving the Shepherd of our Souls the contents of our hearts to heal, deliver, save, resurrect, empower, comfort, enable, and hold.

Here are some questions to consider from Chapter 8.

1. “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick.” Proverbs 13:12 All of us have areas in our lives that need healing. We often experience victory in our lives, only to face the same trouble, sin, or circumstance again, and we are disappointed or heart sick over the fact that we haven’t conquered the “whatever.” When has your hope been deferred much like Much-Afraid? How did you react? Pretend like you are giving Much-Afraid encouragement. What would you say to her?

2. How did Much-Afraid get victory over Self-Pity and Bitterness? What promises did she cling to and shout at the waves and the roar? What is the best remedy for our self-pity and bitterness?

3. “This further delay is not unto death, but for the glory of God; that the Son of God may be glorified.” Taken from John 11:4. Sometimes when we hear that “this” is for the glory of God, we couldn’t care less. In many ways Much-Afraid’s offering involved more than just giving up the idea of a quick resolution of the situation; it also involved her acceptance of the fact that the glory of God was worth the suffering that she had to endure. Where would you rate yourself concerning the glory of God in your present suffering, sorrow, and/or circumstantial sadness on a scale of 1-10 with 1 being “not worth it” to 10 being “worth it”

4. What do you think the offering of the contents of her heart might mean? What was she in fact offering?

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Shepherd

Who is the Shepherd in this book?  Those who know Jesus Christ know that it represents Him. But I wanted to remind us of what the Word says about this shepherd.  Allegories are good, but we need the reality of God's word to truly sustain our faith.  We are going to look at Psalm 23, and I will discuss some of the truths that are found there, and then I want to examine the words that Jesus speaks about Himself.  As you read this selection from Psalm 23, please make it personal;  this belongs to you just as assuredly as it belongs to me.  I wrote "me" and "my," but it is also your "me" and "my!"  

In Psalm 23 we read that the Lord is my shepherd, and that because He is my shepherd, I shall not want.  This Living God shepherds me.  He shepherds you.  He shepherds us individually as we need and He desires.  We may be in a herd, but we are treated according to our need.  We have no lack, for the Lord God who made heaven and earth is our faithful friend and shepherd of our souls.  He makes me lie down in cool places when I need rest, he leads me to quiet, still waters where I may drink and be sustained.  He does for me whatever He knows is best for me.  He takes care of me and my needs.

He takes me down the paths of righteousness for the sake of His glory and His name.  Sometimes I might not even know where the path is leading, but He is faithful to lead me where I need to go.  Sometimes that path leads me into the valley of the shadow of death.  Still, He is leading me, and I am never, never, no never alone.  While I am there, I do not have to fear evil, for this strong, mighty shepherd is the one who is with me.  With a word, He can slay the enemy, with a whisper, my enemies turn and run.  He is an awesome God, and He is MY shepherd.  

Your rod, which looks like it could hurt me, actually keeps me from falling off the edge of the bank, and it prevents me from stumbling over narrow ledges.  Your  staff, is a comfort to me, because I know that if I fall, you will reach into the gully or hole and grab me with it's hook.  When I see it, I think, "Ah, that is my safety."  And you are strong enough to pick me up when I tumble into a chasm.  You are able to carry me to safety.  

Out in the middle of the field, when wolves and lions and other predators are surrounding me, hidden in the wood line, you let me feed and sleep and rest.  And as if to remind them of your strength and power over them, you take me up into your arms; you rub sweet oil into my wounds; you pour oil over my head.  I can lay my head and rest well, for I know you, my Good Shepherd, are watching over me.  I am completely filled with joy and awe at your goodness, and the abundance of your lovingkindness to me.  I have more, so much more than enough.  It overflows because of its abundance.

Because of your faithfulness over and over again, I know that goodness and mercy will always follow me.  They follow me because I am following you, and wherever you go, there is abundance and grace and overflowing love and kindness.  Mercy keeps me, holds me, and sustains me in my unsteady and often unfaithful steps. Goodness is with me because I am with you.

And most importantly, I will dwell with you forever.  Wherever you go I shall go; you will never leave or forsake; you have gone to prepare a place for me.  I dwell in you, and you dwell in me.  This union with you is beyond my wildest dreams and expectations, hopes, or dreams.  

When the shepherd sees us, he has compassion on us, because we are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  (Matthew 9:36)  When he sees us in this broken condition, He teaches us many things (Mark 6:34)  He calls Himself the Good Shepherd because He does not forsake us.  He calls us by name, and leads us out.  Then He goes before us.  He is so good, in fact, that He is willing to lay down His life for us.  A bad shepherd sees the wolf coming and abandons his sheep, but not our shepherd.  We hear His voice and we know it because it has a special music to it.  It's hard to duplicate such lovingkindness and tender mercy.  (John 10)  

Then, because He has all power, this Great Shepherd of the sheep will equip us with everything that is good for doing his will, and he works in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever an ever.  
(Hebrews 13:20)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Chapter 7 - On the Shores of Loneliness

Each of us has experienced loneliness at some point in our lives.  Some of it is a normal part of life.  We can experience loneliness when we move to a new location and can't find a friend.  The pain of loneliness is excruciating when our spouse dies or divorces us; we can also feel loneliness when something is joyful, like when our children go to school or marry and move away.  Many singles experience loneliness often - more often than they would like.  We can be lonely in a crowded room where everyone seems to have someone to talk to but us, or we can be lonely sitting beside our mate with whom we have lost a connection.  Loneliness implies that we are alone - or at least that we are feeling alone.  We are, however, never alone - because Scripture promises that over and over again.   “Be strong. Take courage. Don't be intimidated. Don't give them a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He's right there with you. He won't let you down; he won't leave you."   Deut. 31:6  The Message  

One of the biggest tricks that the enemy of our souls plays on us is to make us feel alone.  He speaks to our hearts trying to convince us that we are the only one in the whole wide world that: does that, feels that, acts like that, thinks that, responds that way, is afraid of that, can't do that, is sad, depressed, upset, angry, mad enough to murder, jealous enough to steal, lustful enough to commit adultery, fearful enough to run, shameful enough to hide, guilty enough to deserve hell.  He does that by creating shame so that we won't be transparent with one another.  I run around thinking you've got it together; you run around thinking I have it together; and we are both dying inside because we are both thinking "I alone am the failure."  It is very liberating to come out of the loneliness of self-righteousness into the freedom and understanding of my fallen nature and yours.  I am NOT ALONE in my brokenness.  You are not alone in yours.  We are equally needy at the cross.  This is one of the reasons that we should continue to try to live among a community of believers - even if it is hard.

Even in our pursuit of God, we can find ourselves facing thoughts and fears that we feel are only ours: no one has ever gone this way before.  But this is never true of the believer.  You have a whole parade of people, a "crowd of witnesses," as it were, who have gone before you, facing every kind of doubt, joy, fear, unbelief, sin, victory, power, weakness, persecution, trial, loneliness, and the list goes on and on.  If you have felt it, someone else has too.  

Nevertheless, we want the joy and pleasure of friendships and community.  We are made for it.  "It is not good for man to be alone."  Even though that is true, we cannot always have the depth of community and soul-connection that we long for.  There are times that our God takes us into lonely places in order to develop a deeper friendship with Him.   We should continue to pursue community, but when it isn't available (for whatever reasons) we should fight to believe that we are never completely alone in our sin, our sorrow, our weakness, fears, or doubt.  (Thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.)  Psalm 23  Take heart from the following verses.  

Hebrews 13:5 5Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for God has said, “I will never leave you or abandon you.” 6hence we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”

Deuteronomy 31: 5And the LORD shall give them up before your face, that ye may do unto them according unto all the commandments which I have commanded you. 6Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

1.  On page 96 there is a quote about Much-Afraid and how she begins to speak a verse to herself.  What is the promise that she quotes to herself?  How can that verse possibly bring hope to you as well?  

2.  Sometimes when I am in the middle of something hard, my mind wanders most often to the thing that is hard and I can dive into a sea of self-pity.  What are some Scriptures that can encourage you in the middle of some of your most frequent battles? 

3.  Which of the four enemies - Pride, Resentment, Bitterness, and Self-Pity – are you most apt to listen to?  What are some of the things that these four enemies say to you when you are not in a place of your liking?

4.  When they come, how do you fight to believe differently?   

5.  There is something about the idea of the physical presence of God bounding into your life when you are in the middle of difficulty that gives great peace.  Obviously, that is not part of our normal experience.  What hinders you from believing that He is just as present when you simply call upon His name?  Is He present when you call upon His name?  Matthew 28:20.

6.  The Shepherd's diagnosis of the problem Much-Afraid was experiencing on page 104 is very revealing, and Much-

Afraid agreed with Him.  Have you ever experienced something similar when you thought your deliverance was soon to

come, and then became so disappointed when your trouble didn’t end “on time” that you began to allow those same old

enemies to have access to your heart and mind?  

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Chapter 6 - Detour through the Desert

Ah, the desert.  Symbolic of spiritual dryness and loneliness.  If you have followed the Lord for any length of time at all, you have had the experience of spiritual drought.  It often comes on us without announcement.  We wake up one morning and we feel deaf and numb.  The deafness and numbness lingers - extending from one day to twenty - to forty - to ninety.  At some point we wonder if we will ever reach the end of it, and we begin to resent it and grow very weary.  I am very familiar with deserts.  

We see the desert dilemma in the life of Much-Afraid in Chapter 6.  Like all spiritual deserts, she learns some special things while there.  One of the most important things she discovers is the flower "Acceptance-with-Joy."  Explore this chapter with us, and find out what she is learning on her way to the High Places through what seems to be an uncalled-for detour.  

1.  Have you ever been placed into a situation where your life took an extreme detour in what seemed to be a wrong direction?  Perhaps you thought that you were headed toward spiritual success or a special victory and your path ended in difficulty. 

2.  How did Much-Afraid react?  Was your reaction similar or very different when faced with an unhappy detour?

3.  “It is not contradiction only postponement for the best to become possible,” is a statement that the Shepherd makes to Much-Afraid when she is feeling like He has broken His promise to her.  What do you think of this statement?  Is it something you believe, or is it hard to believe when you get thrown a curve ball?

4.  Page 82 and 83 discuss the pain that Much-Afraid experiences as she battles with her will and tries to overcome her pain and accept the Shepherd’s direction for her life.  Have you ever experienced anything that created that kind of pain and demand on your life at Christ’s command?

5.  On page 85, a statement is made, “although the path was very steep indeed, Much-Afraid was leaning on the Shepherd, and did not feel her weakness at all.”  Have you ever experienced the rest of God in a hard place that seemed to be continually going downhill?  Share that with the group.

6.  In the desert, the Shepherd took Much-Afraid into the pyramids.  While there, he took her to the threshing floors.  He tells her how the grain must be threshed in order for it to be made into bread for whoever needs bread.  Each type of grain needed a different type of threshing.  What are some metaphors/similes that you can draw from this picture for your own life and the lives of others?

7.  Do you think all of God’s servants must pass through the desert?  Are there any examples in Scripture of people who suffered in the “desert?”

8.  Does the fact that “Acceptance-with-Joy” (the little yellow flower) managed to grow in the desert impact your heart or mind?  

Monday, May 4, 2009

Chapter Five - Encounter with Pride

Chapter 5 – Encounter with Pride 

In this chapter, Much-Afraid encounters her cousin, Pride, who is attempting to bring her back from pursuing her journey to the High Places.  He tempts her to leave by accusing the Shepherd of planning to abandon her and leaving her to lasting shame.  Her fear of shame begins to overwhelm her.  He also tells her that she is too ugly to be loved - so the journey to the Kingdom of Love is an absurd one.  Read through the following questions and consider how Pride speaks to you, and how you can silence him when he speaks.  

1.  Much-Afraid encountered her old enemy, Pride, in this chapter.  Her Fearing relatives had plotted to prevent her from continuing on her journey.  Of the relatives that she had, which ones would be and are most effective in keeping you from the journey?  (Some of these you haven’t been introduced to yet.)  Why?  

Pride –  Craven Fear -- Coward – Self-Pity – Resentment – Bitterness – Dismal Forebodings – Spiteful –                   Timid-Skulking – Gloomy –

 2.  How does Pride keep you from obedience?  What form does it take? 

“My sin is too great for the Lord to forgive,” or “I haven’t sinned that much, surely He will forgive me.” 

 “I want to be recognized,” or “I’m afraid to be recognized because I might do it wrong and be put to shame.”

 “I deserve better than this,” or “I don’t deserve better than what I'm receiving.”

3.  There is a statement in this chapter that, “For the first time, Much-Afraid of her own free will held out both of her hands to her two companions, and they grasped her strongly, but never before had their hold upon her been so of pain, so bitter with sorrow.”   Do you find, like I do, that grabbing hold of your difficult circumstances often has more pain, especially when we’ve been telling ourselves that “we don’t deserve it,” or that “God isn’t good,” or that “it’s not fair?”

4.  How do those three questions in #3 demonstrate our pride?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

He Carried Me Kicking and Screaming

I wrote this poem several years ago.  It will remind you a little of Much-Afraid's journey.  You should also be able to tell from the language of the poem that my struggles with the circumstances God allows in my path has been a long-running theme in my life.  And much of His journey with me has occurred with me being thrown over His shoulders because I didn't want to go where He was taking me.  Maybe that's why I like this little book so much.  I don't like to embrace Sorrow and Suffering's hands.  But there can be purpose in it.  I just need to let God show it to me.  Enjoy the poem.  

He Dragged Me Kicking and Screaming

By Linda Barrett


He dragged me kicking and screaming through deserts barren and dry.

He never asked my permission, and He never told me why.

I resisted every effort, each tender word that He said

Was heard by my heart as torture, instead of my daily bread.


We finally stopped by a creek bank; I sighed with deep relief.

We took a drink; then off He went; the moment was very brief.

He threw me over his shoulders, determined to drag me on.

We went, through daylight and evening, continued from dusk to dawn.


We stopped once more for quick respite and we paused for quiet ease,

But my heart was hard and angry; in the moment I found no peace.

When we left, I let Him take my hand; my body was tired and sore.

I did not know what His plans were, or what He might have in store.


We went through dark frozen wastelands icy, cold, barren and bleak.

I never knew such deep sorrow, but my soul could at last hear Him speak.

We stopped again for comfort, and we laid our heads down to rest.

He whispered words of tenderness, and cold, I leaned on his breast.


When morning came, He waked me, and pulled me with ease to my feet.

Weary, I could not resist him, but feared what next we would meet.

We passed through a swollen river; I knew that I would soon drown.

But He lifted me over my trouble; at the bank, he set me down.


The trees were heavy with fruit there; it was a quiet, peaceful hill.

I listened as He sang to me; in awe, the songbirds were still.

It seemed for a time we had settled; I thought I had finally arrived.

But it only seemed like a moment, before He winked and smiled.


He grabbed my hand and we headed, which ever way He called right

I listened to what He said then, and held on with all my might.

So far the pathways he’d chosen, were not ones I would have made.

But… he never had left me; I was finding myself less afraid.


I was learning to like this Man, and enjoy His pleasant voice.

His melodies made my soul sing, His sweet words - my heart rejoice.

Then I suddenly realized, the pleasure I found just in Him,

My chest pound harder and sweeter; my heart was filled to the brim.


 Then warmth spread sweetly around me, His purpose was suddenly plain.

The point was His honor and glory, in joy, ease, sorrow, or pain.

The struggles I’d seen on the journey, had forced me to trust this Man.

The sorrow and pain I had suffered, had been instruments in His hand.


I looked in His eyes and I worshipped; I sobbed and sought His embrace.

His Glory and Grace was before me; I bowed before His face.

He dragged me kicking and screaming, my strong will He must destroy.

He dragged me kicking and screaming into His persistent joy.