“He makes me lie down in the shadow of trees in the deep forest…”
Oh No, Lord, that’s not the way King David wrote the Twenty-third Psalm. It’s “…lie down in green pastures and besides still waters.”
My child, let Me program the GPS of your life. The woods may be exactly where I want you to grow and flourish in your spirit, where I will be with you, My rod and My staff comforting you, and where I will prepare a festive table before you.”
“How are you?”
That’s what friends ask who know something about my cancer surgery in the past, or current tests I’ve been going through—or who figure that’s what you ask someone who is pushing beyond their mid-eighties.
“Oh, I’m not out of the woods yet!” I sometimes catch myself replying.
I don’t know where that term originated, but it implies that there is some inevitable light at the end of the tunnel, that I will eventually emerge from my present woods by the path I’m on.
However, that’s not always the case. The name of this woods may be like the other “C” word that we also try to avoid. But this “C” is for “Chronic.” God’s loving answer to our prayers for healing or relief from pain or an increase in strength may be “Not yet” or even a more permanent “No.” or “I have a better plan for you and it involves continuing to live in the woods.”
That was apparently the case for the Apostle Paul. He pleaded with God three times to remove something that might have been physically painful since he called it “a thorn in the flesh.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10) God knew that it was better for Paul to learn to live in the woods the rest of his life, which he apparently did. He witnesses that God’s grace and strength were sufficient for his weakness.
It is better for us not to know what Paul’s aggravating ailment or affliction was so that we can fill in the blank with our particular situation. He was in a classroom where God was teaching him to be “well content” and “most gladly boast” about his infirmity and chronic state while continuing to “live in the woods.” It was in that condition that God’s power would be manifested and perfected through him, rather than if he were to emerge healed and well and whole from his woods.
Many of God’s faithful friends live their entire lives in their unique woods with limitations, weaknesses, illnesses, unrelieved pain, disabilities, acquired or genetic, or suffering the same problems over and over again with no path through their woods but to endure.
Some of God’s precious children no matter what age are not even able to walk through their woods. Wheel chairs, even the electric kind, would find it tough going to navigate over the branches and tangles and undergrowth of their woods. Still others are bedfast and shut in only able to gaze out the window at their woods where the trees seem to stretch endlessly into the distance.
Some live in the confusion and disorder of emotional or mental woods, or relational, social, or financial dense forests. Still others, eventually all of us, unless our lives are shortened, are making our way through the wilderness of aging with all its attendant fears and uncertainties.
Blessed are we when we experience God’s healing touch and we are “made whole.” God heals now as He did through Jesus in His days on earth, when it is His will and perfect plan to do so. Also blessed are we when His loving, sovereign will for us is that we remain “unwhole” in some aspect during this mortal lifetime and continue living in the woods. We are no less His precious, beloved children whether He chooses that we should live in the woods or out of the woods.
God promises to all of us the fullness of His presence and strength. “The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10) whatever our disabilities or limitations or problems. Living in the woods, if that is God’s will for us, is the way to holiness in this Third Millennium just as it has been through ages past. Spiritually we are already “complete in Him” (Colossians 2:10), whole, and well. In the future, in the full splendor and brilliant light of God’s eternal presence, our wholeness will be realized—no more woods in heaven with its dark and fearful shadows!
As Christians, our faith teaches us that we may answer the How are you? question with,
“I may have to live the rest of my life on earth in the woods, but there God gives me the joy of sharing in the sufferings of Christ (Phil. 3:10; Col. 1:24) as well as provides me with more opportunity to lean heavily on Him, draw closer to Him, pray for fellow travelers in the woods and appropriate His ever-generous supply of strength and mercy.”