03 December 2010

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life...

Earlier this week, I shared during our staff devotional time. The past few weeks have been crazy busy for me, so I was wanting to share something simple, short and sweet... something that was near to my heart because it was something God had already been teaching... working on in me... something that was "testimony" rather than "teaching," simply because of my personal convictions regarding devotional times in mixed groups...

And the Holy Spirit led me back to where I'd started at the beginning of this school year. During our staff orientation time, way back in August, just after we'd returned to Niger, we were given a small chunk of time to get alone with the Lord and meditate on Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
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 your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
Psalm 23 (ESV)

I've shared from this Psalm several times recently...  the Lord has spoken to me about shepherding the children He's given... His Spirit has convicted me regarding the importance of reflecting on and listing our many blessings (and no matter how difficult or hard things seem, we all have more than we can count) changes our perspective from saying we have just what we need that to recognizing that our cup is overflowing. And as He brought me, over the course of the past few weeks, back once again to these familiar words, the following picture came into focus...

David begins the Psalm testifying that he is adequately cared for; he begins listing the myriad of ways that God, his shepherd, cares for him, meeting every need. The Lord is the One Who leads, Who provides, Who renews, Who protects, Who limits, Who encourages.  What is striking is that the first instances of shepherding are all positive - things we humans traditionally appreciate and/or enjoy. But then, David begins listing hard things. God, his shepherd, is the One Who leads him into times of death (which I believe can be figurative, as in dying to self, or literal, as in the death of a loved one or even a brush with our own mortality and unavoidable death), the One Who brings hard things into his life, the One Who applies the rod when chastening is needed, the One Who puts everything into order as He brings us into places of confrontation with our enemies...

What I find so striking is David's response to those hard things: He annoints my head with oil... or He honors me; my cup overflows... or I'm totally overwhelmed by all of these instances of the Lord's blessing and the unmistakeable evidence of His hand caring for me, of His shepherding, exquisite and difficult as it might be. That bit about the honoring - it made me think back to something I shared a few weeks back, a part of Helen Roseveare's testimony: Can we thank God for entrusting us with those impossibly difficult and hurtful things in our lives? Can we thank Him, counting it a privilege to suffer as He suffered for us and to hence share that experience with Him?

A few years ago, after a teaching a Bible study on Colossians 3:12-14, the Holy Spirit really impressed upon my heart that He wanted to teach me what it meant to be gentle, as described in those verse, as a part of the fruit of the Spirit. I'd always heard gentleness described as strength carefully controlled. That may be one facet of it; however, I believe that a better synonym for gentleness is teachable-ness - holding my hopes, dreams, desires and goals for today and the future with an open hand so that whatever/whenever/however, I can thank the Lord for His orchestration of my life. I think it means not throwing my hands up in despair and crying, "Why, Lord?" when He places challenging, painful, scary, unexpected or otherwise-unpleasant-as-defined-by-me circumstances in the path, refusing to see the multitude of blessings past, present and remember the promise of ones future.

The people to whom we seek to minister have an expression that essentially means "As God wills, so be it." At first I struggled with how this was... but wasn't... an accurate reflection of our Shepherd. The confusion, however, has finally cleared. Our friends here? They toss around this phrase without the confident expectation that their god is looking out for their absolute best and his perfect will... and that, because he is capricious, he will do so for each and every individual. They can't trust that all God does, even the hard things - he does,  because he loves intimately and infinitely.

Followers of the Great Shepherd, the One and Only I AM, can. I can be confident that the Almighty is arranging all for my absolute best, His perfect will and His never-ending glory. He does so, continually, for every soul He has ever created. I can trust Him implicitly because He loves me intimately and infinitely. I want to become one of His children who, because I'm not grasping and clutching to whatever it might be that I've decided I value, shouts, whispers and even cries: "As God wills, I will thank and praise Him for it!" because the only One to which I cling is God alone.

Photo is one my parents recently sent: me as a little tyke, gently resting, completely trusting, in my earthly Daddy's arms.

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