The Banner

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

There is change in the air; I can feel it. I stand on a gentle rise and see that same banner in the distance snapping boldly; vivid colors weaving and twisting in the steady breeze. It’s been there, just beyond those high, craggy mountains, since the start of my journey with You, like a back drop in a production.  Oddly, I feel very drawn to it; I yearn for it, yet can’t quite explain the pull it has on me. Something bright under that banner catches my eye.  What is that glinting in the sunlight? I survey the path opening up before me in the soft grass; wildflowers nodding and dipping as the perfumed air lifts them and tosses them about on their slender green stems.  Such beauty here; such peace – must I leave this place?  Is it already time to move on?

Memories return of days spent resting and healing, when time seemed to stand still as I walked with You by the quiet waters, drinking in Your presence as You restored my soul.  My scars have begun to fade, pieces of my shattered soul returned to their rightful places, stronger than before.   My mind and spirit are full of the sweet memory of grace and mercy poured out over me as strongholds fell and angels rejoiced over the victory. Strength has returned to bones made weary from battles only fully comprehended in the Heavenlies.  You revealed a pathway of righteousness and truth and my feet were set upon it, leading me to Your place of safety and rest.

I turn toward the sound of Your footsteps coming toward me, firm and strong.  “Come child,” You say, “today is the day.”  “Well, I’m not sure I’m ready yet, Father, I’m not fully healed.”  “Please, can I rest just a bit longer?”  I notice Your staff in Your hand and turn to look again at the path open before me.  Level at first, it seems to ascend, and not too far off, I see the beginnings of hills and further in the distance, the mountains; bigger than the ones I journeyed through not so long ago.  Can I do it?  I sense something familiar and uneasy begin to rise up in my throat; the tiniest whisper of Panic. No, I think, not again!  Haven’t I passed through enough mountains? Haven’t I already stumbled through the darkest valleys?  The grass stirs at my feet as You cradle my face in Your scarred hands. You bend Your mouth to my ear and You whisper; “You are stronger than you think, beloved.  I AM here.”  The scent of Your breath revives my soul and the fear is pushed away.  The sight of Your Staff brings me comfort. Didn’t it beat back the brambles and reveal paths where there seemed to be none?  Did it not stave off the enemy’s fatal blows as I passed through that last valley? And was it not there, always before me, as You led me around that mountain and parted the waters that threatened to engulf me?  Yes, yes it was; yes, yes You were.

With renewed hope and remembered faith, I take one last look at the tranquility of this place and turn to face the path You’ve laid out before me. You are already walking and I hurry to catch up to You.  The beauty we pass as we walk side by side along this wide, easy path is breathtaking.  The sights, scents and sounds are water to my soul and each grows stronger as You pass by, as if they know their Maker is in their midst.  Joy!

We travel in comfortable silence for a good distance before You stop, looking beyond the mountains. I follow Your gaze to the snapping banner, past the last looming mountain.  I look at You.  You’re smiling.  You are beautiful.  Laughter rolls from Your lips and You turn to me.  “Wait ‘til you get there,” You say.

Time passes too quickly in this place of beauty and soon the wildflowers begin to fade away and I notice small rocks have replaced the quiet swish of the grass underfoot.  The path narrows a bit and the footing is a little less sure. I find I am paying more attention to the growing size of the rocks than to my surroundings and to Your presence.  Unpleasant memories of what happened last time I became distracted flood my mind.  Stay alert and focus on the Staff, I chide myself, remember what you were taught.  I am not alone and I am not forsaken.  He makes a way when there seems to be none…remember…remember…

You are up ahead, walking with confidence and silent strength.  I watch as Your Staff easily moves larger rocks and thorny bushes out of my way.  You are not worried, not concerned.  You have my destination in Your mind and You will not be swayed or deterred.  Day after day goes by as we walk this new path of rocks and brush; gnarled roots jutting up just enough to pose hazardous to my tired feet.  I stumble more frequently now and You patiently stop and help me up each time.  Soon the sun dips out of sight and night falls.  The going is getting harder now and I tire more easily.  Sleep comes quickly as I lie down near You.  I rest in Your peace.  As I drift off to sleep, my mind is soothed and quieted, as the fears and worries of the day’s journey are eclipsed by the sound of You singing over me as I rest.  I have never heard a lovelier sound.  Heaven.

In the light of morning, I take in our surroundings.  Today we start up the first of the mountains, having traveled over the hills for a while now.  I’m not looking forward to this part of the trip. I have grown comfortable in the hills and I remember what the mountains of the past held.  The path is steeper and much narrower.  Not that far ahead, the path winds and twists out of sight and I cannot see ahead.  Fear slowly and stealthily attaches itself to me and I do not follow You as quickly or as closely as I had at the start of our journey.  I hear noises that frighten me as I pick my way up the path.  Shadows flicker and slink in the dark shade of the boulders that line my path.  Panic joins Fear and my thoughts get muddled as their voices mock me.  “You are out of control”, they tease, “You’d better make your own way; You are alone.” “This way is much faster,” they reason smoothly, “go ahead and try it, you may just beat Him there.”  ”Yes,” I say, “no harm in taking an easier route; why I’ll plan it out myself, no sense in getting too tired and sore climbing over and sliding about on this slick, uneven, unknown path.  This path over here looks well worn and safe.”  Panic and Fear retreat a little and Arrogance moves up to whisper in my ear.  “You can do this, no problem.  Once you arrive, you can teach others how to navigate these mountains, show them the short cuts. You’ll be a pro.”  The well worn path veers sharply to the left and I march on with renewed self importance. I can get there quicker and it will save so much time and effort.  How smooth and easy this new path is…why would anyone take that twisting and unknown one I was traveling on?  Briefly, an image of that brilliant banner flashes through my mind, but Arrogance and Self Reliance quickly distract with a tantalizing reminder that I am in control now. Pleased with myself, I continue down this wider path for a while, lost in my self serving thoughts.   After a bit, I begin to notice it’s getting hard to breathe.  It seems awfully stuffy and stale; suffocating. The lightly fragranced breeze that had been tousling my hair and buoying me onward has died away and it’s very still.  A bitter, pungent smell begins to filter through the still air.  There is a distinct odor of decay, of loss.  This seems too familiar.  I see the white glint of bones in the shadowy darkness that has begun to descend around me. This path is wider but filled with death.  No! No!  I know this place, I know it. I know it and I am terrified of it…wasn’t I just here? Panic rushes forward and I am having a hard time thinking clearly.  I can’t go on, can’t go further, but Fear and Dismay dance and leap around me, shrieking, laughing, knocking me down, convincing me I’m stuck, that there is no way out. I huddle alone on the ground, visions of a brightly colored banner streaming through my mind.  If I only I could get to it.  Before the wet heaviness of despair fully falls, the faint sound of the sure and steady tread of familiar feet, catches my attention.  A glimpse of something solid and safe comes slowly into view.  It comes closer and closer and stops above my head, the taunting jeers ended. I look up and see You standing above me, the Staff in Your hand. The eyes I see looking down at me are filled with compassion and something deeper I can’t name, yet I respond to it willingly, feeling my parched throat soften and my ease of breathing return.  I feel a sweet release as what were the beginnings of chains, clatter to the ground.  You lift me up. You carry me in Your arms.  As You take me through this deep, dark valley of shadows and death, I fear no evil.  The mocking voices are silenced, the stench of death is overridden by the breath of Life.

There are more days of arduous travel left, yet Your Staff comforts me.  There are more mountains to conquer, valleys to endure, storms to weather and paths to be revealed.  There are times when You go before me to show me the path and make my way clear, yet You are also behind me, hemming me in.  My Protector.  At other times, You walk by my side, Your hand resting gently, yet possessively on my shoulder.  I am safe because I belong to You.  I am Yours and no words can describe what that knowledge does for my soul.  Knowing my every thought and points of weakness, You speak out words of encouragement when snippets of mocking laughter or menacing shadows threaten to overwhelm or distract me.  Fear, Panic, Dismay and Arrogance have no place here.  Prophesy flows out from Your mouth as You shout over me Your plans, Your vision, my destiny.  It is more than I can take in; my thoughts are not Your thoughts, but Your Spirit captures those declarations and plants them deep in my soul, to be watered by my tears and looked after by Your very words which will not return to You void.

As I struggle on the slippery rocks of a steep slope, my fingers scrabbling for a hand hold, You reach out Your right hand to me and pull me up over a craggy out-cropping of rock.  As You settle my feet on the ground, I see that the path is once again soft and smooth, caressing my feet after the pain and sharpness of the rocky trail.  Ah, what a blessing.  “What do you see?”, You breathe in my ear, “look all about you, listen and look.”  My eyes and ears are met by the vivid colors of the snapping banner. A steady, fragrant breeze billows it out and in, out and in.  The colors are rich, deep, mesmerizing; colors of royalty, purity, power.  I can’t look away.  There is safety here. I never want to leave.  I look to You and You throw back Your head, smiling, and laugh!  The sound is beautiful and untamed as it ripples out and out, echoing off the mountains, resounding through the trees.  Joy fills my heart just hearing it.  “Keep looking, daughter”, You shout, “I’ve only just begun!”

I scan the path ahead and notice a large open space.  In it, is a lavish table, set with the finest of dishes, glinting gold and silver with brilliant blue and brightest white.  This is what I saw glittering near the banner at the start of this journey.  You had already planned it and set it out for me? You prepared it for me and me alone?  The magnitude of Your love descends and envelopes me and I am undone.  I weep without shame before You; completely captured by Your perfect, unconditional love.  Oh, Father, this is what I have been searching for in vain on those wide, well worn paths, straying far from the narrow, uncertain one You urged me to follow. I thought I could find it on my own; thought I could control and command it. All along You were leading me to it; in Your way, in Your time.  I see it now.

On this table is the most sumptuous feast I have ever seen. Fruit ripened to perfection is strewn in perfect chaos around about the table.  Delicacies I have never encountered before are placed before me and You gesture I should eat.  I do and I taste Your goodness, faithfulness, patience and generosity in every bite. In the middle of this beautiful table is a pure white marble fountain. The purest, clearest water bubbles up from its center.  The water never stops flowing. The source originates from the right hand of Your seat. Mercy. My cup runs over.

Every good and perfect gift does come from You. I have tasted it and I have known it.  I dine with You in the presence of my enemies. Fear, Arrogance and Abuse; Rage, Pain and Bitterness.  They are there, watching from the paths I didn’t take, peeking from the thorny bushes that pricked me and drew blood.  They taste defeat, while I taste victory, freedom and deliverance.

As we dine together, You rise and stand next to me, raising a golden horn of oil above me.  You anoint my head.  I am chosen, wanted, redeemed and purified in Your sight.  You set Your seal upon me and pour out Your blessing over me.  “You have an open invitation at this table, child, do you not know?  After all, I set it for you.  How long I have waited for you to come and dine with Me!  Dwell here in My house all the days of your life.  I have given you all you need; you are well equipped to be about My business.  My goodness and love will follow you; watch for them, listen.  Keep your eyes on My banner, never let it out of your sight, for it is My love.  Yes, His banner over me is love.

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