I have never been big on sports. Growing up as a clumsy, socially awkward, slightly (okay, maybe more than slightly) chubby little Jewish girl, athletics was just not my thing. Being an introverted loner, I also did not like to play games. So I thought it strange that God spoke to me recently, saying,
“It’s time to get back in the game.”
Game? What game? I hate games. But soon the message became clear. The question is, “Do you feel like you’ve been sitting on the sidelines of life?” I know I have. There are times when God, like a good coach, will yank a player out of the game when necessary and appropriate.
God is not necessarily giving us a ‘time out’ as a punishment. Having to sit on the sidelines for a period of time does not always mean that we are in the penalty box. It could very well be a much needed time to heal after a serious injury. Our time on the sidelines could be a merciful respite rather than an act of discipline.
We may be having an enforced rest rather than a mandatory detention. Even when we are not willing, the Good Shepherd will, at times, ‘make us’ to lie down in green pastures and rest beside still waters - for the purpose of restoring our soul.
After the death of my eldest son, Clayton, I just wanted to ‘sit out’ for awhile. I didn’t understand the rules of this ‘faith game’ anymore. In my understanding, I served a big and mighty God for whom nothing is impossible; a God who heals, saves and redeems – a God who answers prayer. But my son still died. So I didn’t want to play anymore….
And I think God understood this, so He agreed that I could simply sit on the sidelines of life while He worked on healing my broken mother's heart. I sat in the bleachers, watching the game, not really all that interested anymore in which team was winning or losing (or who was even playing in the game).
Then we moved back to Israel - to a small, quiet, peaceful village where nothing ever really happens. Perfect for someone who wants to hide from life. We found a house at the end of a dead end street – at the edge of a nature reserve overlooking the Judean mountains. Miles and miles of trees and hills and valleys and vast open blue skies.
Finally, I had the time to sit on my balcony, listen to bird songs and watch sunsets.
So what else did I do during this time in Israel? Not much…. Cooking, housework, cleaning floors and toilets, shopping for groceries, running errands, driving kids and grandchildren to and from their various lessons.
Winter came and passed; spring arrived and with it hundreds of pretty butterflies as they migrated through our Middle Eastern Village. I watched them flit around our lavender bushes along with the occasional metallic blue hummingbird.
Photo by Liat Nesher www.liatnesher.com
I seemed to have nothing better to do. Israel is a male-dominated country (even in the Messianic community) such that no one was beating a path to my doorway, and certainly no invitations showed up in the mail. Churches and congregations are mostly small compared to Western countries; and they have their own men to preach the Word.
And anyways, what could I tell people to encourage them in their faith when my own had taken such a beating? So I did what I could – mostly just helping out with the ‘oneg’ – the light meal we shared as a congregation after Shabbat services. For someone who had led Messianic congregations and shared the Word of God in nations around the world, it was a humbling experience. I felt like I was on a spiritual time-out.
Then I had another hip replacement surgery and even these mundane tasks were taken away from me as I recovered. Two weeks later, my daughter also moved away from home to take a position with another ministry in a different city. It was time for her to fly out of our cozy eagle's nest on her own two wings. Although I was happy for her and thankful for this blessing, I missed her terribly. She had been my primary prayer and ministry partner, worship leader, and my #1 biggest fan. She was not only my daughter; but also a beloved friend to laugh with over all our silliness and a shoulder to cry on in times of sorrow.
Liat flies from the eagle's nest
Instead of feeling the freedom of a rapidly emptying nest, I began to feel bored, lonely, restless and dissatisfied. Although physically I was feeling stronger each day as my body healed from the surgery, my life began to seem empty and meaningless. As God ministered healing and comfort to my heart during our quiet times together, I began to long for something more.... It almost felt like the faint stirrings of a desire to get back into the game of life.
On the rare times I would watch a Canadian hockey game, I could see that the players who had been taken out of the game always seemed so eager to get out of the box and get back into the game. Something inside of them just wanted to participate in the action – even though it would likely mean some bumps and bruises - perhaps even serious damage.
Same for the kid on the baseball team who has to sit out on the bench game after game; it becomes dull and boring when one can only watch but cannot play. How dejected he looks as he sits and kicks at the dirt under his bench; how his face lights up when the coach sends him back in.
I think that God has created us this way – with a deep desire to participate in the game of life. We may want to sit out for a season; but eventually this longing will spring up again; like a well of living water, bubbling up, seeking for expression – to share, to create, to be a blessing to our community and our world – to make a difference.
We never know how long we will be sitting on the sidelines until our ‘coach’ puts us back in the game. God gave Moses a very long l time –out. After he killed an Egyptian slave master for striking a Hebrew slave, Moses fled Egypt and ended up on the back side of nowhere for forty years – 40 years! Now that's an extreme time out! It almost seems like cruel and unusual punishment.
What did Moses do during that time? Not much…. Tended his father – in-law’s sheep. Not even his own sheep, mind you, but his father in law’s sheep. A humble position indeed. Maybe a step up from ‘oneg helper’ but not by much.
Moses - who probably heard the story a thousand times of how his mother placed him in a basket on the Nile River as an infant; and how he was supernaturally rescued from the waters of death by none other than Pharaoh's daughter! Moses - who knew deep inside that he had been delivered for a destiny; Moses - the great deliverer of Israel – walking through the endless stretches of sand in a lonely desert – for a long, long, very long time.
Can you relate? Do you know that you have been saved for a purpose? Delivered for a destiny? Do you sense deep inside that God has a special calling on your life? And yet here you are - maybe serving lattes in a cafe, or working at a cell phone company, or pumping gas, or changing diapers, or answering phone in a stuffy office, or sitting behind a computer screen all day long ....or...or....
Nothing wrong with any of these jobs; but maybe you know you were created for so much more.
Now, we have read the book, so we know that God called Moses from a burning bush to go back to Egypt and rescue His people Israel from slavery. We know that God had a mission in mind for Moses – that he would eventually be called back into the game play; but Moses had no way of knowing if he would ever be used by God again or not.
I suspect that some of us sitting on the sidelines feel that way too – wondering if there will ever come a day when God, in His mercy, would choose to use us again? To take us off the sidelines and put us back in the game? Will there ever be anything for us besides tending sheep? Or serving food, or looking after the kids and washing the floors?
Perhaps you too have begun to cry out to the living God, “Hineini Adonai, Shlacheini” (Here I am O Lord, send me.”) I believe He hears this prayer from a sincere heart; and he knows when the appointed time (mo’ed) has come to send us back out there.
Sitting on the sidelines can be good for a season; and may be a very necessary part of the process for us. Rather than just idle, wasted time, God is at work restoring, rejuvenating, refreshing, redeeming and repairing the damage inflicted upon us by the world, the devil, and even ourselves.
There may come a time, however; when God says ‘Go’ (Lech lecha) – get back into the game.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance, (Eccl. 3:1-4)
I would also like to add that there is a time to sit out on the sidelines of life and a time to get back in the game. There is a time to sit in ashes and lick our wounds; a time to weep and mourn; but then there is a time to let go of the grieving, get over the disappointments, and participate in life again.
The prophet Samuel understood disappointment. He had anointed Saul to be the King of Israel. He had invested so much time and energy in him; had so much hope in his potential. But King Saul didn’t turn out to be the man after God’s own heart that Samuel had hoped for; and so God ripped the Kingdom away from him. All of Samuel’s hopes were dashed and he sat, mourning for what could have been… what should have been…
Until the day God said, “How long will you mourn for Saul”? (1 Samuel 16:1) The time for mourning had passed and God had a new mission for Samuel – to fill his horn with oil and go find the new king of Israel.
Is it perhaps time for us to stop mourning over the disappointments of the past – over who didn’t do what they should have; and what didn’t end the way we wanted it to? I have found out that God wants us to trust Him even when we don’t understand - even when it doesn’t go according to our expectations of what coulda…. shoulda… happened.
During my time out with God, I have learned that even though God doesn’t always prevent every loss and save us from every disappointment, we are not alone. He walks through them with us and He comforts us. This is our new faith game message.
“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 staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)
If we will allow Him to, God will anoint us with fresh oil (just as He did with the prophet Samuel) and send us out on a new mission. In His perfect timing, He will take us off the sidelines and put us back in the game.
“But You have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox; I have been anointed with fresh oil.” (Psalm 92:10)
We may come to a crossroads in our lives; where we either decide that it’s over for us and all that is left is to sit watching the game from the sidelines – or we can choose to dive back in with gusto straight into the heart of the game of life.
The Word of God says that the righteous will be fresh and flourishing like the palm tree. Palm trees bend in the fiercest storms; they don’t break. We can be fresh and flourishing and bearing fruit even in our old age.
The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;
planted in the house of the Lord,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.
They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green,
proclaiming, “The Lord is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”
Have you possibly been feeling like it’s over? The end of the road? Perhaps it is just beginning. … maybe God wants to anoint us with fresh oil; because He has a new assignment to send us out on. It may very well be time to put on the protective pads: the helmet of salvation, the belt of truth, the shoes of peace, and the shield of faith – to boldly take up the sword of the Spirit – and dare to get back into the game.
Even when we are not willing, the Good Shepherd will, at times, ‘make us’ to lie down in green pastures and rest beside still waters.