“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion” (Psalm 84:5-7).
For me, the month of May is a month filled with momentum. Winter has fully lost its grasp, spring is in full bloom, and May brings a promise of success to businesses and relationships. After all, didn’t we as children learn that April showers bring May flowers? And as early as 1600, Thomas Decker’s poem, “The Merry Month of May,” gave us a phrase that still encourages us to look forward to a month of good tidings.
In fact, May is chock-full of holidays and festivals that are upbeat, optimistic and fun. Here are just a few of them:
- The Kentucky Derby (first Saturday in May)
- The Indianapolis 500
- The Daytona 500
- Mother’s Day
- Cinco de Mayo
- American Bike month
- National Bar-B-Que month
- National Strawberry month
Psalm 84 has a month of May feel to me. The author, cognizant that God refreshes everything, is filled with awe and respect, and acknowledges that nothing is as significant as spending time with God, residing under His care and protection. Even though the earth and its pleasures offer many delights, the author affirms only the Lord is permanent and trustworthy. The psalmist desires to pursue the Lord and appropriate his message into his life. The result: barren places will be made to feel like springtime; strength will be granted for the pilgrim’s journey.
A “pilgrimage” is a journey to a religious place or a place with significance to the pilgrim. The implication is the journey will be long and difficult. The effort and diligence required to reach the goal often make the journey and its relevance take on deeper meaning. Lately, I have come to think of my years as a business leader as a pilgrimage. Looking back across the years in retrospection, I see goals, dreams, or desires, once pursued by diligent and purposeful activities, differently than before. Leadership and the journey have given me perspective.
Last Thursday, I received an unexpected call from a Christian organization (Cursillo) that, among other things, sponsors Christian retreats, and a spiritual weekend was to begin that evening. I attended as a pilgrim in 2007, and have returned to serve on staff four other times. One of the staff members for the retreat (the piano player) had gotten sick and a replacement was needed (I have served as piano player on three different occasions). I was able to rearrange my schedule and agreed to serve as the replacement. But when I arrived, the staff member who had been sick had made a full recovery and I was no longer needed as the piano player. Nonetheless, the team allowed me to stay on and pitch in wherever an extra set of hands were needed to serve the arriving pilgrims. I admit I was puzzled Thursday and Friday about what God was up to since I was really not needed at the event, but on Saturday night, I found out.
Each weekend provides an opportunity on Saturday evening for the pilgrims and the staff to spend a quiet time of reflection with God in the Sanctuary. However, the piano player continues to work offering background music that helps set the atmosphere for reflection and meditation. No longer the piano player, the quiet time was afforded to me, and it was remarkable. I have not had this opportunity since 2009, and the time was a gift from God.
There is a lot going on in my business. The first quarter of 2014 was extremely difficult due to harsh winter weather. Our initiatives in Texas are bearing fruit, but the effort is strenuous and slow slogging. Uncertainty is taxing on morale—mine included. For a few months the story of Elijah, fleeing from Jezebel to the mountain of God has been on my mind. I have even whispered “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:13b) to myself as I walk in the morning. Elijah had his time in the cave with God; I had my evening at Cursillo in the Sanctuary. Refreshed, I am going on “from strength to strength.”
The month of May provides an excellent opportunity to instill a spirit of optimism by building on the natural experience of renewal and life that spring restores. All that you have done in the first four months—accomplishments and set-backs—provide the necessary raw ingredients to inspire, invigorate, challenge, and motivate yourself and others to strive for hoped-for outcomes in the months ahead. May is a pivotal month to restore confidence and make necessary corrections in actions and expectations.
I pray that God whispers hope and renewal to your spirit so that you are refreshed for your journey, and that you use your strength to encourage and strengthen others. Times of difficulty will give way to better times; times of peace will move into times of unease or discord. But our God is above all time. He is never uncertain and always seeks after the good of those who love Him.
As we enter the month of May, contemplate for yourself the phrase, “they go from strength to strength.” What would it be like to know with certainty that each obstacle, each problem, each opportunity, can be encountered with the assurance of strength sufficient to overcome?