A couple of months ago, I shared during our staff devotional time at the MK school where I teach. The past few weeks had 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) which 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 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 this 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 challenging things into his life, the One Who applies the rod when chastening is needed, the One Who puts everything into order while He brings us into places of confrontation with our enemies…
What I find so striking is what David says right after he lists those hard things: He anoints 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 unmistakable evidence of His hand caring for me, exquisite and difficult as it might be. That bit about the honoring – it made me think back to something I shared awhile 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 thus 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 verses, 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 now believe 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 thank the Lord for His orchestration of my life, regardless of whether I define my situation as satisfying or difficult. 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 the Lord, my Shepherd. That confusion, however, has finally cleared. Our friends here? They toss around this phrase, but WITHOUT the confident expectation that their god is looking out for their absolute best and his perfect will… because he is capricious and so far removed from the nitty-gritty of his followers’ lives. They CANNOT trust that all their god does, even the hard things, he does ONLY because he loves intimately and infinitely, and that they too are evidence of grace.
Followers of the Great Shepherd, the One and Only I AM, can rest in that knowledge. 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. And so, 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) proclaims… testifies… whispers… or even cries… “As God wills, and I will thank and praise Him for it and for His amazing, overflowing grace manifested to me through each and every situation!” because the only One to which I cling is God alone.
(Post by: Richelle)