Friday morning on July 10th after making the “dreaded phone call,” to find out that, yes, my position at work was no longer there, I went and sat in my car at a church parking lot, not too far from the house, looking in the rearview mirror contemplating where to go and what to do next. This place where I was at, is where I like to go periodically when I need quiet time to think, but isn’t as far away from the house as my “special prayer place” (My Tree) is.
I wasn’t as shaken up by this as much as you would think. It was unnerving, yes, but I also had a sense of peace inside, and after the past “whole forty days,” I knew God was in this, I just wasn’t sure how at the moment. However, the eruption that I had just experienced had been extremely unexpected and a little bit shocking. But after the dust had settled, I realized that God was saying, “I have plans for you and if you won’t move on your own, I will move you.” When I think back, I am reminded that even the Israelites didn’t want to leave Egypt at first. But one way or the other, God had plans for them, and leaving is what they were going to do! So when it came time for me to go on to what God’s purpose for me was, He made sure that I moved!
The following is a chapter from “The Very Heart of Worship” that I wrote telling about what happened following this very unexpected change in direction and over the course of the next several months, that I would like to share with you.
GOD IS MY GUIDE
… So there I was on this Friday morning. I had already gone to a place where I had known for a while that they needed a manager, but the week prior they had found someone. I have to tell you that instead of being upset or worried, I was at peace. I didn’t know where I was going or what I was going to do, but at that moment I was not surprised the position had been filled, nor was I overly concerned about my next move, which was why I was sitting in my “parking space.” I was somewhere between praying and just talking to God. Every so often I would look in the rearview mirror at the traffic driving past on the main street behind me. Verses kept coming to mind:
“Seek first the kingdom of God…”
“Be still and know that I am God…”
“For I know the plans I have for you…”
“Don’t go away searching, stay where you are…”
I remember sitting there letting this concordance of verses filter through my mind. Again, I caught myself looking in my rearview mirror, but after remembering Lot’s wife looking back and becoming a pillar of salt, I stopped. After a while, I drove down to a spot at the river that is very important to me and went and sat at my favorite place to pray which is under what my children refer to as “my tree.” And pray I did! I didn’t so much pray for help, as I did surrender to God. Then I went home to spend time with my family. My thoughts were that it was a Friday and nothing could really be done at the end of the week, so I would wait until Monday and get a fresh start. Dear friend, I never had to. And this is the part of the story that I really want to share with you.
That evening it was brought up during a conversation with a friend, that I should go back into business for myself, that I should start doing private bookkeeping for small businesses. I was totally against it, thinking there was no way, we didn’t have the finances, the timing wasn’t right… the list went on and on as to all of the no’s. Then an interesting thing happened: my friend asked unexpectedly, what I would call it. Out of my mouth came “cypress.” When I was asked why, and what was a cypress, I found myself looking around the room trying to see what in the world would have brought that word to me and out of my mouth.
I had a fleeting image in my mind of the huge tree I was sitting under earlier while I was praying, but as I said, it was fleeting and so I didn’t think much more of it. I went on to explain that down south where I am from, a cypress is a huge tree. As we were talking, the thought of “Cypress Bookkeeping” became more of a possibility. Before going to bed that night I got on my knees and prayed, telling God I didn’t know what He was up to, or what He was doing, but I trusted Him, and if this was something I should consider doing, then I was willing, but He was going to have to bring it to pass.
The next morning I got up and made coffee for everyone, then went and sat down with a devotional I had been reading. It was a nice devotional, though I will admit that I now can’t quite remember what it was about, but it referred to a passage in Isaiah 55. Now, I am no Bible scholar, but I am somewhat familiar with Isaiah 55, however, for the life of me I couldn’t think what part of Isaiah 55 the writer of the devotional would be pulling from in reference to his topic. So, I went and got my Bible to look it up. Yes, Isaiah 55 was what I thought it was, but I kept on reading and in the last two verses of Isaiah 55 this is what I read:
“So you will go out with joy and be led out in peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees in the field will clap their hands. Large cypress trees will grow where thorn bushes were. These things will be a reminder of the LORD’s promise, and this reminder will never be destroyed.”
I have to tell you, I sat there dumbfounded! I read it and reread it! There it was: “cypress trees.” Now I am thinking and wondering, what are the odds of that? I was already convinced that this was a God thing. Nothing had occurred the night before to bring thought of “cypress trees” to my mind and out of my mouth, so in my heart I was already reeling from this, but just to appease the skeptic in me, I went and did a word search. Keep in mind that there are over 31,000 verses in the Bible. So I chose the four most common Bible versions plus my own preferred version. I figured five times 31,000 verses is 155,000, so how many times would a word search of “cypress trees” produce results? Seven times. Out of over 155,000 Bible verses from these five Bibles, the phrase “cypress trees” only came up in seven verses. When I looked to see what terms where used instead, I found that in several places in the different versions it said “large pine trees” instead of cypress.
Not only did God give me the name, but He did it in such a way that “in my language” I saw it and understood it. If I had just read the phrase “large pine trees” you probably wouldn’t be reading this now, because I would not have thought anything else about it.
But you have to remember that when God is working in us, or talking to us, He will do it in a way or in a “language” we can understand. When God is giving us directions, He isn’t going to speak Spanish to you if all you speak and understand is English.
If it had been one of my sons that morning reading the Scriptures, in their version Isaiah 55:13 says, “large pine trees.” They would never have thought anything of it. But, because I had been praying for direction and guidance and asking God, “What do you want me to do?” when He gave me direction, He also made sure that it would come up and be confirmed to me in a way that I would see it and understand that He had spoken. I often think of the sign above the cross when Jesus was crucified and how the same phrase had been written several times in different languages so that everyone there would be able to read it and understand it.
However, my story of God’s divine direction doesn’t stop there. After reading these verses and doing a word search my mind started racing. By that afternoon, I had found a completely furnished office, with quite a bit of temp work along with it. By Monday, I was opening a checking account and was bonded. Two weeks to the day that I sat in the parking lot, I was sitting in my new office working. And life was amazingly good. For all of three and a half months!
For three and a half months, temp work kept coming, I was staying really busy, and I was convinced that God had put me in that office, doing what I was doing. But I could never get full-time assignments. It was just one temporary assignment after another and then it started slowing down until several months later I came to a complete standstill! I couldn’t go this way, I couldn’t go that way, and I sure didn’t want to go backward, but there was no going forward either. In fact every time I would start to pray, the word “standstill” was what I kept coming back to. I kept praying and asking God for clarity. I knew that He had led me to it, I knew He had put me there, but I didn’t understand and so I kept asking Him what the “standstill” I had come to was all about.
Then over and over again, everywhere I turned, every time I read anything, including sermons and devotionals, everything kept coming back to “health” and “healing,” so I started reading about healing and health. Also Jeremiah 33 started becoming a major Scripture reference. Someone was always quoting something from Jeremiah 33, so one morning I decided to slowly and with openness read Jeremiah 33. What startled me was verse 6: “But then I will bring health and healing to the people there.”
One evening, I downloaded a sermon to listen to while I was working on some things. I was listening but not real intently. The sermon was about Paul’s imprisonment in his own home for two years. The pastor was talking about how active Paul had been and that his primary objective before this imprisonment had been about starting and planting new churches, so it must have been quite something for Paul when God had brought him to this standstill in his life.
As you can guess, this got my attention very quickly! Now I was listening very intently. In fact I rewound it just to hear those words over again! Yes, the pastor really said Paul had come to a standstill in his life! God had brought him to a point where he couldn’t just keep going and going. But what others might have viewed and had even intended as an imprisonment, God was using for good. It gave Paul much needed time for rest and to physically heal. It also gave Paul time to write four of our New Testament books. Books that may not have been written had Paul not had the downtime his imprisonment had given him.
Immediately, I was brought to conviction! I knew what my standstill and downtime was about. A few years earlier I had started the rough drafts to this book you are holding and one other. But for many reasons, I was forced to put them down, and then aside, and after awhile completely out of mind.
I spent several days in prayer about this and the whole “cypress” thing. I asked for wisdom and understanding and most of all clarity! Then it started becoming clear. God had brought to me and given me the name “Cypress” and I added bookkeeping to it and ran with it! God got me an office, gave me divine guidance, and even gave me a name, but then I went racing with it. I realized then that God was trying to do something totally NEW in my life, but I was trying to turn it into something I was familiar with. I was trying to take the leading and direction God was giving me and turn it into something I could do!
I quickly began to have a new appreciation for Joshua 3:1-5: Early the next morning Joshua and all the Israelites left Acacia. They traveled to the Jordan River and camped there before crossing it. After three days the officers went through the camp and gave orders to the people; When you see the priests and Levites carrying the Ark of the Agreement with the LORD your God, leave where you are and follow it. That way you will know which way to go since you have never been here before. But do not follow too closely. Stay about a thousand yards behind the Ark. Then Joshua told the people “Make yourselves holy, because tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.”
In looking at God as our Guide; there are several lessons here that I hope you are learning and grasping. Also, I hope that in sharing my story with you, it will help you to have confidence in the fact that (1) God does give us divine guidance, and (2) when God is ready, He will take you someplace completely new! But I also hope that in sharing my story with you that you will learn from my mistake in following too closely, so that you don’t wind up in front of God and deterring from what it is that He is trying to do.
Just like the Israelites I had never been this way before, so I needed to focus on God. Yet Joshua told the people, not to get too far away from the ark, but not too close either. I understand both reasons now. I guess hindsight really is 20/20. If we don’t stay focused on God and we get too far behind, then we run the risk of getting distracted and losing our way completely. But, on the other hand, if we follow too closely we run the risk of running out ahead of Him trying to do it our way and then we realize we’ve missed a step or even a turn!
I shudder to think of all I would have missed if I hadn’t stopped to ask God for His counsel that Friday. Or even several months later, when things weren’t working out as I had planned. I could have just assumed that I had “misunderstood.” In fact I had several people ask the whole Eve question, “Now did God really say?” I could have, in my discouragement, decided that maybe this wasn’t what I was supposed to do. But I kept looking back at my journal of the “Cypress trees” and what followed over the course of the following months.
If I have learned anything, it is that God is faithful and God doesn’t lie. I knew there was no way that the name “Cypress” had just somehow come from me and by random chance it was in the Bible verses I was to read the next day. I did not imagine the furnished office and everything that fell into place over the next few days. And let me tell you, I strongly suggest that when God is moving in your life, write it down! Journal it and pick up a few of your own Ebenezer stones to remind yourself, “That thus far, God has helped.” (Read First Samuel 7.) You will need them. It’s very easy for the enemy to rob you of your memories of God’s faithfulness when you are going through struggles or unexpected battles. It’s very easy for your shield of faith to become a mass of doubts when going through seasons that look like the dead of winter. But if you will journal your “God Movements,” if you will write down the traces of God’s hand that you have experienced, then it is easier to hold on to the truth of God’s handiwork in your life during seasons of limited sight.
So when I came to what seemed to be a wrong direction leading right into a dead end, I asked God, “What is this all about?” Had I somehow misunderstood the direction He was giving me? Did I take a wrong turn? I knew that God had moved me to this point, but I didn’t have clarity or understanding. Instead of throwing my hands up in the air and saying, “Oh well,” I went to God and asked for counsel. I prayed for understanding.
I am so glad I did. Because what I found is that yes, God was moving me, and if I would just wait, and spend some time at God’s feet, I would see that He had some major plans. Not just for me, but my whole family. Sometimes we as humans think we constantly have to be “doing.” We don’t realize that at certain times the most important thing we really need to be doing is following Mary’s example and sitting at Jesus’ feet. Most often, when God wants to do something new in our lives, He will start off first with requesting that we spend a season of quietness with just Him. During these seasons, we need to take some time to just learn from Him and give Him a chance to come in and clean house, to let Him revamp some things in us, to restructure us, and most importantly, to heal or repair any needs in us before moving us forward.