Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thankful for the Shepherd

For weeks now God has been rolling this well known scripture around in my mind, it's rested on my heart, and has settled soul deep. Every morning (quite literally) this is what is rolling through my mind as i open my eyes and begin again.

It's a chapter that gives us all the "W"s of God. It helps define "who" He is; "what" He does; "where" He is; "why" He cares for us; and "when" He is with us --- always.

The verses have been so strong and prevailing, i've even had to pray against fear with it's whispers of --- "uh-oh - something hard must be ahead -- why else would God spoon feed you these scriptures..."   Well --- the truth is --- something hard is ahead --- for all of us. Not one of us gets off "easy". Life is not fair. God tells us over and over again in His Word - we live in a fallen world -- it's not what was behind HIS door #1. He had Eden for us --- but A and E chose door #2 --- and the trouble began. So --- anyone who acts like they are skating through on this icy pond with no bumps and bruises --- is faking it --- period.

So, when those whispers of "fear" try to get my attention --- i've learned to speak strongly against them and declare the truth. We live in a world filled with injustice, pain, sickness, and trouble. BUT we live in the hands of a loving, faithful, holy Abba -- who will carry us through to the other side. And then these words roll out...

 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. My Abba is taking care of me - He knows what is needed, He knows what is not. He knows what is best. What i think i want, may be the worst thing for me -- i'll trust only in what He knows i need and will be blessed with the overflow of His plans for me. "He must increase; i must decrease"(John 3:30) -- it's a sweet plan -- i'm stickin' with it.

Our Jackson resting after a great game of football at Tuamini.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures --- Not desert places or perilous cliffs, no, He chooses green pastures to MAKE me lie down in. He could choose to "make" me lie down on a bed of nails, or He could choose to not allow me to lay down anywhere, but instead to grow me in hard ways to make me tougher --- but no -- my Abba "knows the plans He has for me, and they are not to harm me, but to bring me a hope and a future". So He gives me a glimpse of His good intentions, by making me "lie down" and rest in a lush green pasture of HIS choosing -- He is good -- the world is not -- but my Abba --yes -- He is good.
He leadeth me beside the still waters. He knew we would become parched in this dried up world, He knew we would need refreshing waters. But, He also knows rushing waters can be dangerous, we might fall in and be swept away from His presence. So He gives us still waters and He leads us to them. The craziness of this world would try and force us into white rapids. But not our Savior.  To actually find ourselves beside the still waters, we have to center our focus on HIM and His Word. We can't try to dance to the drum of this world and expect to find ourselves beside His waters. I must lay down my plans and take His hand --- trusting He will lead me beside the still waters. NO MATTER what life looks like around me --- with HIM i can feel those still waters.

He restoreth my soul --- He restores my mind, my thinking, my thoughts, my feelings --- He will restore me back to health after the world has bashed my soul into bits. There are many "dead men walking among us", their souls have been ravaged. Our Abba knows, we will need our souls restored if we are going to endure this place. But it's so important to remember --- my soul is restored after i surrender my wants, lay down in His green pastures, and rest beside His still waters. We can't go from 90 mph to "He restores my soul" -- we must gear down, slow down, be still and know -- that HE IS GOD. Then He takes great delight in restoring our soul. He is a good, good God.
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. I can't find paths of righteousness on my own; the pathway of righteousness is "the good part". I can try and decorate my path and polish it up, i can try and market my path and make it look appealing, but no path is righteous that is designed by people. It may look pretty, but it will decay quickly. Abba will lead us in the good way, in the paths of righteousness --- for HIS name's sake. So as we journey on this good path --- may it always be clear --- it's HIS WAY, His path, His design, His plan, His gift to us. May all the stepping stones on the path and all the flowers growing along the borders of the path point towards His goodness --- may no person try and take credit for them. May the name of Jesus be celebrated because of the overflow of the path we walk.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil No one is immune to this valley. Much is lost in the valley of the shadow of death, people, dreams, hopes, comforts, plans. The valley of the shadow of death could be on us when we bury someone precious to us, or the valley of the shadow may be the season of aloneness that seems unending. It may be when we realize that what we had dreamed of and hoped for will not become a reality, and we grieve the loss of what will not be. The valley walk may come on us when we realize we are not going to get our way (Praise God)-- because others we were trying to control will no longer be manipulated, they are no longer pawns on our board. The valley walk may come when what comforted us most is removed from our presence. The valley of the shadow of death is not only found at a graveside --- it can be felt most intensely sometimes in the hustle and bustle of life, but there can be a mourning present even as lungs continue to breathe in and out and blood flows through the veins. He knows this, our Abba knows when something dies inside us, and He knows the next feeling that comes flooding in --- fear. Because when something dear is taken from us, we can't help but lean towards fearing the days ahead. Abba knows, and so He reminds us to look to Him and not embrace the evil fear that would consume us and take us to a deeper valley of death. Look to the Shepherd, He knows the way out of the valley. How blessed we are that He cares enough to walk there with us so He can lead us through.
For thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Our Savior is with us, in the valley. But He won't just sit there and cry with us. He will guide us out of the place of grief and pain. When a child holds the hand of a loving parent they can trust, they will easily move in the direction the parent guides them. So it is with the Shepherds rod and staff. If the sheep will trust the urging of the staff and respond to the tappings of the rod on its back --- than the journey will be easy. But if the child does not want to go where the parents hand is taking them, if they want to lay down and pitch a tantrum instead, that loving hand will become firm and unyielding. Likewise, if the sheep strains against the rod and staff, the journey will not be pleasant, but will be hard and grueling. To feel His rod on my shoulder reminds me, He is near, He will show me the way, He will comfort me in the journey.  No more straining against His loving rod and staff. 

A beautiful daughter of God, Kenzie. The enemy was cancer, but  it did not keep Kenzie from God's table before her.
 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies -- What a good Father to warn me that i will have enemies, but more importantly --- God is with me always. This verse always reminds me of the stories in the Bible as the Kings of old described enemies coming near their cities. In most cases they could see the enemies approach from many miles away. They had time to lock down the gates and prepare for battle. But then there are times when the enemy came from within their fortified walls. King Xerxes certainly had an enemy inside His walls, Haman.  Enemies can be found in the most unexpected places sometimes.  When our enemies come from far away places it is much less painful than finding an enemy who has been allowed to come near our heart. Those are the hardest enemies of all --- those that are "closest" to us. But God is clear ---- HE WILL PREPARE A TABLE for us to feast on --- a table filled with His goodness and life and love ---- and He will allow our enemies to even see His goodness in our lives -- we are not to be deterred or distracted by their sneering, smearing, painful words or actions. We are to feast --- on the table before us. And pray for them. "But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," (Matthew 5:44). Only because of God in us, is this one possible. Oh how good God is ---He reminds us -- we will not "starve" for lack of food or love, because enemies are present. He will provide for us and prepare a table before us. We will trust HIM and Him alone --- and love others --- because our Shepherd tells us to -- with His rod and His staff.
Thou anointest my head with oil --- oh how humbling to imagine that the Shepherd would pause in the midst of all His work, to anoint our tiny little heads. But He does, because He loves us. I'm reminded of Max Lucado's Traveling Light -- where he explains that shepherds anoint the heads of their sheep for two main reasons. First, the oil deters dangerous larvae producing flies from laying their eggs in the moist nostrils of the sheep. Gross yes -- but it's a fact, that unless the head and nose are anointed, the flies will lay their eggs in those moist, dark places and when the eggs hatch the larvae will literally drive the sheep insane. So the anointing of oil makes the tender moist places too slick and the sheep is saved from certain death through insanity. Second, the shepherd anoints the sheep's head with oil so that as they bang their heads together (which all sheep -- and people do) -- they will easily glide right off each other because of the slick oil. Amazing --- our heads are anointed to save us from being hurt and from hurting others --- with our careless banging around in this world. But we can not miss the monumental fact -- the anointing on our heads is from the Shepherd, the Savior, the Redeemer. He blesses us with His touch, and the oil that remains on us is proof that HE HAS TOUCHED US. I'm so thankful. 
My cup runneth over.  ---- my cup does not run over because of anything i have or have not done. My cup runs over because of the overflow of goodness from God's hands. In this world, we can become so conditioned to focus on what is wrong or bad --- and by doing so, we miss the beauty around us. It's a tragedy when this happens. We all know people who live life with their cup half empty -- always seeing the negative side to every situation. Then hopefully we all know people who live life with their cup half full --- always seeing the positive side of every situation. These are the people who have chosen to adjust their focus and their thinking  to all that is good and right around them. There are still problems present, circumstances might be just as overwhelming for the positive person as they are for the negative person ----but the response to the circumstances is vastly different. The positive person (by choice) decides to focus on what is right and attend to what is wrong. The negative person (human/flesh reactions) decides to focus on what is wrong and wrap themselves in a blanket labeled self pity. The blanket of self pity will smother the life out of us. How easily we forget to notice how richly our cup is running over ---- and praise God for His goodness to us.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life --- What an amazing image, to visualize God's goodness and mercy following us all the days of our lives ---- so that wherever we go, we are escorted by His goodness and mercy. Not because we have done anything special --- but instead because God is good and merciful and His overflow surrounds us. I love the image as well --- that wherever His children go --- a trail of goodness and mercy remain after them, as long as they are walking the pathway He laid before them doing the work He called them to do. If we could paint the soles of our shoes blue for goodness and green for mercy ----- and leave a visible trail behind us of God's overflow through us into this wounded world --- wouldn't it be beautiful to see. It's what our Father can and will do for us, and for those we minister to --- His goodness and His mercy overflowing.
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. --- No more suffering, hunger, pain, sin. No more tormenting, separation, loneliness, betrayal. No more unfaithfulness, war, famine, disease. No more lack ----- no more loss. What wonderful news this is for all of us who know the Shepherd as our Savior. He is preparing a place for His sheep, His children --- and we will be blessed to live there for eternity. When i was a little girl, i confess, i thought it all sounded quite boring in Heaven. Sitting around singing all day long... Sounds good for a little while --- but my little girl attention span was surely hoping there could be some softball games and picnics mixed in there as well. :) But as i've grown --- and as i've seen such suffering in this world, i long for Heaven in a wonderful "not of this world" sort of way. I often joke --- that i'll be serving cheesecake and chocolate cake every day in Heaven, for surely Heaven will be filled with all sorts of wonderful treats. But in this i'm always joking. In truth, as i've grown in my walk with my Savior --- i long to see His face, hear His laughter, memorize the lines of His hands, see the color of His eyes, and experience the holiness of life with God --- where no pain or suffering will exist. No more hungry people, no more abused children, no more tormenting in prisons, no more abandoned babies or wounded hearts.
Our Savior is preparing a home for us --with Him.

So there you have it --- Psalm 23. It's a simple chapter to memorize --- i would encourage you to do so if you have not already. And add your own "life" words to your memorization. Not to add words to the completeness of God's Word --- never for that reason. But add in the ways you see God in your world through the lens of David's writing in Psalm 23. God's Word is alive --- how He must surely smile when we line up His Words of Life with the life He has given us to live.

I hope you are blessed beyond what can be measured as you are led beside the still waters, as you lay down in green pastures, as you walk the path of righteousness, and feel your soul being restored, as you hold God's hand walking through the valley and feel His nearness to you, as you follow the guidance of His rod and staff and take in the feast Abba has prepared for you, as you sense God's goodness and mercy following after you, and anticipate dwelling in God's house forever.

Psalm 23 (KJV)

 1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
 2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
 3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
 4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
 5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Photos taken at Yellowstone Park, Panama City Beach, Kenya, and Cades Cove, Tennessee.

©2011 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

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