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Posts Tagged ‘the Lord is my shepherd’

Jo 23I wonder what traditions have emerged in your family or among your friends over the years. Perhaps they involve doing something together at a particular time each year or celebrating birthdays or some other special event in a particular way. And if or when these traditions are overlooked or cannot be continued for some reason, we feel their loss keenly.

Almost every school holidays, my husband takes our two older granddaughters out separately for dinner. They are free to choose where they want to go and what they will eat—but, would you believe, most times, they choose the same restaurant and exactly the same meal they chose the previous time? So …  is it still really their favourite restaurant and favourite meal? Or is it that the power of tradition is so strong that it wouldn’t feel right if they chose something different when out with Granddad?

Recently when my husband came home from taking our thirteen-year-old granddaughter out, I asked him how it had gone.

‘Oh, lovely, as usual! We chatted about all sorts of things!’

I left it at that. Obviously, he had enjoyed their time together—and I trust our granddaughter did too. Yes, the day might well come soon when our granddaughters may have other interests and be less willing to accept such invitations. And no doubt one day, my husband will no longer be able to do such things with them. But when those times come, I hope they remember how much he enjoyed listening to them, providing for them and treating them as young ladies.

As I reflected further, I began to wonder how many times I myself have been less than willing to accept a dinner invitation with the most perfect and gracious host of all. How often have I acted like those ungrateful Israelites who forgot how the Lord had set them free and ignored his pleas to submit to him so that he could rescue them from their enemies and fill their mouths with good food?

If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn my hand against their foes! … But you would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you. Psalm 81:13-16

The beautiful words of Psalm 23 came to mind too, where David writes how the Lord our Shepherd delights to provide a wonderful spread for us, anointing our heads as a host would anoint an honoured guest, and providing us with more than enough food and drink, as well as the space and time to enjoy it, even in the face of our enemies:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows. Psalm 23:5

I hope and pray in this coming year, I will value those precious times of being in the Lord’s presence and sharing my life with him each day so that they become a tradition I cannot do without.  And I hope and pray you can too.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. Revelation 3:20

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Jo 17Recently, our youngest granddaughter arrived for the day, complete with swimming gear galore—enough for half a dozen children! I had promised to take her to the heated pool and spa in our village complex and she was more than a little excited at the prospect.

At top speed, she changed into her cute, little swimming costume, squeezed herself into her brightly-coloured, plastic, inflatable donut ring, strapped a little foam floating device to her back and perched her pink goggles on her head. So, thus attired, off we marched to the pool! While we adults are not allowed to walk through our complex in our swimming costumes, I figured four-year-old Maxine could get away with it. And she did, in the process bringing delighted smiles to the faces of so many who stopped to say hello to her.

‘Guess where we’re going?’ I said, laughing, to each one of them!

We arrived at the pool to find one or two others already there—but they informed us that, while the spa was hot, the water in the main pool was too cold for them. Something had gone wrong with the heating—but that was no deterrent for Maxine.  In a trice, she was bobbing around in that water, while her poor nanna stood waist-deep beside her, feeling a little sorry for herself and wishing she was back home getting those various Christmas jobs done!

We stayed for two hours in the end, chatting away and playing all sorts of games I had to try hard not to win. And from time to time, Maxine would decide to climb out into the much warmer spa, closely followed by her nanna. While I did not mind doing this, it was the reverse that was much harder to take, moving from hot to cold in two seconds flat!

Once or twice, I hinted it might be time for us to head home, but Maxine was definite she had not had enough. So I continued chatting and playing, all the while still feeling a little hard done by. But then, just as I was holding Maxine while she floated on her back and pretended to fall asleep, I sensed God pointing out that this exact moment would never come again. Next year, Maxine will start school. And, while she will visit us these summer holidays, her brother will also be with her, which will change the dynamics considerably. What I needed to focus on at that point was the lovely memories we were making together and the deepening of a bond that will, I pray, last forever.

I’m so glad I heard that little prompt from God. It would have been easy to insist on doing what I wanted to do and cut short our pool time together. And it is sadly so easy, I find, to ignore God’s gentle voice at other times in my life as well, choosing instead to forge ahead and do life in my own way.

Is that the case for you too? As this new year begins, may each of us resolve to choose to listen to those promptings from God more often and follow our Shepherd with our whole heart.

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27

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I have always longed to be an artist. I would love to be able to create beautiful scenes or stunning portraits for others to appreciate. Instead, I am a writer who weaves together words and sentences, in the hope of inspiring my readers to create their own scenes in their imaginations as the story unfolds. And I have to say I love doing this. But, while I might admit to being a tad envious, I also love celebrating those with different, God-given, creative gifts—artists, sculptors, photographers, craftspeople of all sorts—and allowing their creations to speak to me in their own unique way, maybe even revealing more of God in the process.

IMG_20171001_103745359And right now, there is a unique opportunity to do just that at our church’s Art Installation, which features a variety of creative works, all centred around our church’s vision statement—Led by God’s Spirit. Compelled to share Christ. Restoring the broken. Each weekday evening from 7.00pm to 9.00pm and on weekends (Sat 9.00am to 12.00 midday; Sun 9.00am to 1.00pm, 4.30pm to 8.00pm) until Sunday 15th October, someone will be present in ‘The Basement’ at our church, Parramatta Baptist, 84-94 Kleins Rd, Northmead, Sydney, to greet visitors and invite us to wander and look or simply sit and reflect on what God might be saying to us through the various creative works on display.

I hope my piece of writing below that is included in this year’s Art Installation will bless and encourage any who pause to read it. It is more a brief meditation than a poem and came to me one morning as reflected on the beautiful, well-known words of Psalm 23, the ‘shepherd psalm’. As you too read it now, may you be reassured of the presence of God’s loving ‘Shepherd Spirit’ with you to guide, restore, comfort, strengthen and encourage.

 

Shepherd Spirit

you long to lead me in paths of peace

to provide for me,

to empower me to live and serve.

You whisper gentle words to me–

‘This is the way–walk here!’

‘Don’t be afraid–I am with you.’

‘Not yet–wait!’

                Shepherd Spirit,

at times your voice is firmer, more fervent,

impossible to ignore, urging me

to lay down the old,

to explore the new.

Even when darkness descends and loneliness engulfs,

Even when I stumble on, seeking my own path,

you rise to rescue me,

securing my steps,

attending to my needs.

              Shepherd Spirit,

as I come to my senses, I see you are there,

offering me the finest of fare,

seating me at your table,

where healing and wholeness await.

Shepherd Spirit,

I stand in strength,

inspired again to write of you,

empowered again to speak of you,

rejoicing in your love,

relishing your leading,

ready to be all you call me to be.

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Jo 23‘Do you think a visit to IKEA might be in order soon?’ a friend texted me.

‘Great!’ I texted back. ‘I’ll look around here and see if I can think of anything we need.’

Then it struck me how ironic my response was.  If I had to work hard at thinking of something I might need, then the chances are I do not truly need whatever it might be at all! If I have to wrack my brains to come up with something that would make life better or easier for us, then it’s more than possible we can well do without it.

A few days later, after visiting a nearby weekend market, I sat down and enjoyed a lovely cup of coffee my husband had bought for me.

‘I really needed that!’ I told him, as I swallowed those last few drops.

But did I? Yes, it gave me that temporary energy boost I was looking for—and yes, it made me feel less thirsty. But I think I might have been able to survive without it. I wanted it, but I didn’t really need it—unlike people lost in the desert need water or a newborn baby needs milk to survive.

Then yesterday, I found myself using that little word ‘need’ in yet another context.

‘I need to fit in a swim this afternoon,’ I told my husband. ‘I’m heading up to the pool now.’

Yes, I do need to swim to help my back recover from past damage. So I am grateful for that heated pool in our village—and that I had it all to myself yesterday! But did I really need to relax in that beautiful, warm spa right next to the pool for as long as I did afterwards? Still, it was wonderful—and, all the while, I felt God was smiling and saying to me, ‘It’s okay to relax, Jo-Anne, and enjoy my company in the process!’ Sometimes we do need those moments of pure relaxation, don’t we—doing nothing except letting those ideas flow in and out of our minds and talking to God in the process, as I did while the water bubbled around me in that spa?

I’m so glad God knows what I need and is always there, ready to supply just that. In fact, all the resources I have, material and otherwise, are gifts from our generous and loving God, who, as Paul assured the early believers, is able to meet all my needs ‘according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:19). So how can I continually grasp at things, wanting this and that? Instead, I am trying to hold everything more lightly and to be much more willing to supply what is lacking for others.

If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 1 John 3:17-18

For me, it’s about walking hand in hand with God each day, listening well, opening my eyes to see the real needs around me—then doing something about them. And because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need to do just that (Psalm 23).

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I love Psalm 23. To me, it’s a psalm to be absorbed slowly, phrase by phrase, image by image. And that’s exactly what I was given the opportunity to do again at a recent retreat I attended, along with around twenty-five others. Together—and alone—we walked through this psalm with our Shepherd, listening, reflecting, praying, waiting, imagining, allowing our own spirits to be stilled, comforted and strengthened.

And at various stages throughout our day together, we were invited to put ourselves right in the centre of that psalm—to picture what those green pastures and quiet waters might look and feel like, to walk again in our minds into those deep valleys and sense that right path beneath our feet, and even to sit at a table with the Lord, watching our cup overflow and sensing that goodness and mercy all around us.

Now I am in no way an artist, but twice when we were invited to draw what we saw as we reflected, I did just that. At one point, I drew an expanse of green grass and those quiet waters flowing nearby, surrounded by lush vegetation. I drew myself seated on a rug on that grassy bank—and there with me was the Lord. But more than that, he was holding my next book Soul Friend—and enjoying it immensely! Now I have been looking towards the release of this book with some anxiety, even foreboding. Not only is it my first work of non-fiction, but it reveals a great deal about me and my journey over recent years and gives my own personal perspective on all sorts of events in my life. But here was Jesus, reading and enjoying it, looking at me and smiling, with a twinkle in his eyes. And he was saying, ‘Oh, Jo-Anne, I love this! I know I was with you when you were writing it, but it’s wonderful to hold it and see it completed. Well done!’

Was this just my imagination? Even if it was, surely this is a God-given gift, to be able to imagine and see beyond what is there in the natural? Even now I can picture that scene, feel the warmth of the sun there, hear that running water and know the delight of the Lord who sits nearby. And that to me is what Psalm 23 is all about—the wise and loving Shepherd walking our journey with us, refreshing us, guiding and comforting us, protecting us, providing for us, renewing us, loving us.

I encourage you to walk through this psalm again with the Lord—perhaps even now. And as you do, may you know his close, loving presence and sense his great delight in being there with you.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

he restores my soul.

He guides 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 love will follow me all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

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