Dwell: By Still Waters

“He leads me beside quiet waters.” 
Psalm 23:2b

Sitting on the riverbank, I perched at the water’s edge on a tree root protruding from the ground like a small bench. It had taken half an hour, easily, for me to finally sit still once I’d reached the river. Fluttering butterflies had beckoned my attention. Turtles and minnows had drawn my eyes–and my camera–to them. 

But, even as I sat, I had the hardest time quieting my thoughts, which darted from one topic to another, much like the dragonflies around me. 

Up at the house, before I made the trek downhill to the river, I’d opened my laptop to ‘complete’ my post–this post–on the verse about being led to quiet waters. To my disappointment, I hadn’t written a word the week before. So, I began making the mental adjustment to start from scratch–when it hit me. I’m sitting in a very quiet place beside a very still river. What more inspiration could a writer want?

And that’s when I marched myself right on down to the quiet waters known as the Frio River. 

Only I couldn’t get my mind to stop thinking. Frustrated with myself, I finally took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I listened. The faint rumble of distant rapids up river. A Carolina Chickadee chirping playfully nearby. Acorns dropping with gravity’s pull–thud, smack, crash. Singing cicadas up in the top of a 1000 year old cedar tree.

I smelled and relished the freshness of the air. No dust. No pollution. I felt the sun’s warm rays on my arms and the cool breeze coming off the water, blowing my hair gently across my face. 

Then I opened my eyes to see water so still that if I didn’t know better, I wouldn’t think the current flowed. My eyes caught signt of a leaf floating across the water, caught in the breeze, making me think of my boys when they used to race leaves down creeks and streams.

The water was so clear that I could see the shadow of a fish. Only to my shock did I realize that was no shadow but an actual fish. A BIG fish. My vision zoomed out to see several fish. Of every size–from the tiniest minnows to the grandaddy catfish. And I smiled, thinking my brother would be disappointed not to be here to drop a line in.

My thoughts no longer swirling–sufficiently stilled–I called on God to lead me. And waited. 

Everything about me felt at rest. My lungs pain free. My breathing steady. My feet content to sit. My hands empty of phone and other futile tools. My whole body at peace. 

That’s when I realized what it means to be led by God to quiet waters. Yes, to quench our thirst. But also to be so at rest that all fear and urgency and to-do lists have been replaced by the peace of God’s presence.

This is where God wants to lead us.

This is dwelling with God–intentionally getting our bodies and minds still long enough to seek Him. And wait. And receive. And just be.

JD Walt challenges me all the time with his out-of-the-box thinking because he is one who dwells with God most intentionally–in His Word, in His presence. And when we dwell with God like that, we can’t help but be changed. Transformed.

But, too often in our western way of doing things, we come at our faith more transactionally–God, I’ll do this so You’ll do that. God, You do this, and I’ll do that. And, absolutely, the cross calls us forward to trade in our sin for His grace, to give up a life without Him for an eternity at His side. We call out to Him believing Him for all He has done for us, and we become His. Transaction complete.

That, however, is only part of the faith life, or what JD calls the first half of the gospel. The first half of the gospel is transactional; the second half is transformational. In other words, to believe IN Jesus is only the first half of the game. Jesus also wants us to suit-up and jump in for the second half. He wants us to step into a life where we are shaped and transformed by Him–what theologians call sanctification. It’s a daily dying to self and living for Christ. THIS is living the abundant life Jesus died for us to have (John 10:10).

Verse two of Psalm 23–the making us lie down in green pastures and being led to still waters–is not saying, “God will help me find green pastures and He will help me locate still waters or He will help me do a better job with my soul care. Help me. Help me. Help me.“** That’s transactional faith.

That’s not to say we don’t ask Him for help. It is just not all there is to God. 

In fact, what God would love to hear from us more than “Help me” is “Have me.”** JD calls this transcendent faith. Jennie Allen has dubbed this way of  living as an anything attitude–where our minds, hearts, and hands are open in such a way that we can honestly and wholly say, “God, I’ll do anything.” It’s a rising above fear and rationalization. It’s a transcendence of what the world (our famillies, our friends, even our own minds) would say is normal or good or right.

Like Abraham saying yes to a big move without knowing where God was leading.
Like Noah saying yes to build an ark for a flood when he’d never seen rain before.
Like David stepping up to kill a giant that no other soldier in Saul’s army would.
Like Jesus stepping forward to be arrested even when He knew what awaited Him.

So, as I sit here watching a quiet river subtly float by, I take in the beauty. I breathe in the gift of being in such a peaceful place. I receive God’s reminder of what it feels like to be in His presence. Then, I release everything that hinders me from giving God my everything. I name the fears. I name the doubts. I let them go, to float away like a leaf on a river. 

And I say, God, have me.

Father God, You, who spoke all of creation into being, continue to speak. Sometimes your voice comes in the earthquakes of life or in the burning flames of disaster. But most often, your voice comes like the gentle breeze across a quiet river. I realize now that if I’m not sitting still and quieting my mind and body, I’ll miss what You are saying. Lord Jesus, You, who willingly stepped into the chaos and pain of crucifixion on my behalf, continue to step into my life. Sometimes I need your help, and I boldly call on You in those moments. Sometimes I simply need YOU. Lord, I call out to You, HAVE ME. I know that You are mine. Today, I make sure You know that I am yours. Holy Spirit, You, who hovered over the waters that knew no boundaries, continue to hover over my life. Yes, You are IN ME. But, somehow, You are also WITH ME. As You hover with me, I pray that You will enable me to see each way I hesitate and resist giving Jesus my all so that I can surrender them to Him. I pray that You will empower me to speak “have me” every single day–and really mean it. I desire to be a follower who consistently and increasingly finds her soul restored not so much by the green pastures and the still waters but by the presence of God himself. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
(Inspired by Psalm 23:1-2, Genesis 1:1-3, 1 Kings 19:11-14, JD Walt)

  • Rhythms: A rhythm I have been hearing about a lot lately and have acutely felt the need for is Sabbath rest–taking set aside time on a regular basis to rest. And for each of us that may look differently. For me quiet walks, journaling while listening to worship music, or talking with a good friend at a coffee shop fill my soul. I am, however, learning the technique of just being. Especially with God.
    • A consistent rhythm for this series is to memorize Psalm 23. This week we add, “He leads me by quiet waters” to what we’ve already put to memory–so now we have verses one and two locked in our brains. What translation are you memorizing?
  • Resources: I love sharing with you the books, podcasts, articles, and anything else that has inspired, encouraged, or taught me. These are humble offerings with no expectations.
    • I quoted JD Walt from his Seedbed Daily Text, February 25, 2020. He did a brief series on the Twenty-Third Psalm that I love referring back to.
    • I cannot overstate how pivotal Jennie Allen’s book, Anything, has been for me. In telling her story, she has challenged and equipped mine. I knew as I read her book that I was not at a place in my faith journey to be able to pray “anything, God” as she had. About ten years later, I can say I do make that my prayer now!
    • Our current playlist is packed full of songs that help us settle into a quiet, restful space–led to quiet waters and the peace of His presence.
  • We’re a flock. We’re a fellowship of believers. We’re a community. Know that you are not alone. You’ll walk these paths with Christ at your side and your sisters hemmed around you.
    • As you feel led, share in the comment section. Let us know how God is leading you. And how we can be praying for you. Ask questions. And share your thoughts.
    • I hope you’ll invite someone to join our flock. All sheep need the Good Shepherd.
  • All the photos this week are by me (or of me).

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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