I remember the first time I heard a preacher talk about “walls.”  I was eight years old.  It took me years to understand the implications of that lesson, but I still remember him talk about how we build walls around ourselves to protect ourselves from getting hurt.  But, he warned, “the walls that we build to protect ourselves, imprison us.”

I have no doubt that God sent that evangelist to speak directly into my life—even if it did take me years to understand his words.  By that age, I had already been hurt and I’d already begun to build walls, even though I didn’t realize that was what I was doing.  Nights were the worst for me.  I was terrified of the dark and terrified to be alone, so at bedtime, I would get into bed with my legion of stuffed animals and dolls lined up around me like an army.  I would burrow into the center of the bed, in the glow of my nightlight, and listen to the tapes of this sermon over and over again.  Long after the tapes had begun to screech and squeak from overuse, I played them anyway until I knew them by heart.  I didn’t understand what the words meant, but I felt the life and the hope in them.  They got me through the darkest nights of my life for literally about three years.

When Jesus and I began our relationship, He started tearing down the walls I’d built.  It was sorta like peeling an onion and even now, He still shows me layers that have to come down.  Pride.  Perfectionism.  Religiosity.  Selfishness.  Anger.  I don’t mind letting go of these sins when it’s convenient, but when it hurts or when it’s going to cause me to expose myself or make myself vulnerable, I find myself clinging to these rags and covering myself with them.

A few years ago, I was teaching a series in a Sunday school class.  One day while I was working on my lesson, I got the distinct impression to read the book of Nehemiah.  It seemed a bit odd, especially since it didn’t really go with my lesson, but I read it anyway.  And as I read, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and told me that it was time for our church to rebuild its walls.  I asked God what that meant and He answered, “There are hurting people that will be coming to your church looking for sanctuary.  You must build the walls by prayer so that it will be a safe place that they can come.”

Isn’t that what we all want?  A safe place that we can run where the people accept us, love us, and understand us?  The TV show “Cheers” was very popular in the 80’s because it was “the place where everybody knows your name.”  I once heard a pastor make the statement that he had seen more love in some crackhouses than he had seen in most churches.  And from my experience, that’s true.  To this day, some of my closest, most loyal friends that I can count on the most are not churchgoing people.    

Recently, my pastor started preaching a series of messages about Psalm 23.  My first two thoughts were that it would probably be boring and that at least it would be a warm, fuzzy series that wouldn’t step on my toes.  (Yes, you may shake your head at me here.  I deserve it.)  It has not been boring at all.  And I’d consider wearing steel-toed boots, but they don’t match my Sunday go-to-meeting outfit.

Last Sunday morning, my pastor gave an illustration that made “the top shelf” in my memory.  It’s something that I know will come back to me over and over again to speak to my heart and encourage me.  He said that at the end of every day, a shepherd leads his flock into a fold—a fenced, walled enclosure where they can be safe for the night.  As he leads the sheep into the fold, he kneels down and takes each sheep into his arms, one by one.  He runs his hands through their wool and feels all over their bodies for wounds so that he can take care of the wounds and heal them.  And then, when each sheep is safely inside the fold, the shepherd lies down in the doorway of the fold so that no sheep can wander out and so that no enemy or predator can come in without going through him first.

What a loving Shepherd we have!  He doesn’t mind me hiding behind walls—as long as He built the walls and as long as He is the protector at the door.  And each day that I’ll allow Him, He’ll take me into His arms and minister to my wounds.

It’s true—what that evangelist said all of those years ago.  “The walls we build to protect us, imprison us.”  But when the Lord builds the walls, they aren’t just protection.  They’re freedom.  And the One Who watches over us never sleeps.  And because He doesn’t, I can. 

“Indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep….  The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”  — Psalm 121:4,8 NIV 

“I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.”  — Psalm 4:8 NIV

About Sarah Salter

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