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Posts Tagged ‘the Shepherd Psalm’

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 12I wonder if you have ever discovered you misunderstood the words of a song you heard as a child. Years ago, one of our children asked me, ‘Mummy, why does God put the kettle on a thousand hills?’ Eventually, I worked out they had kind of melded together in their mind an old Sunday School chorus ‘He owns the cattle on a thousand hills’ with a nursery rhyme song, ‘Polly put the kettle on’!

On another occasion, this same child asked me, ‘Mummy, is God a lady?’ What a profound question, I thought—I wonder where that came from?’ Then I realised they must have been listening to one of the old Scripture in Song choruses popular in the seventies, ‘God is not a man that he should lie’. Now those words are from Numbers 23:19, where ‘man’ obviously means ‘human’ rather than the opposite of ‘lady’! Certainly tricky for a child to understand.

But I too made similar mistakes when I was around that age.  I well remember listening to my mother singing the 23rd Psalm to the old ‘Crimond’ tune, where the first two lines went as follows:

The Lord’s my Shepherd, I’ll not want,

He makes me down to lie

I was unaware of that comma between ‘Shepherd’ and ‘I’ll’, however. The words were sung in one smooth line—which led me to wonder why on earth anyone would sing about a shepherd they did not want! And why would they not want the Lord as their Shepherd? Furthermore, why would he make people lie? That didn’t sound good. But eventually I realised that the Lord wasn’t about to make us tell untruths. Instead he was inviting us to lie down in those green pastures he provides and be restored deep in our spirit. Then in my teens, I discovered I did in fact very much want the Lord as my Shepherd leading and watching over me for the rest of my life.

Sadly even now, when I sometimes think I know better, I still choose to go my own way and turn a deaf ear to the Shepherd, as he urges me to stay close to him and head for a safe place where I can rest. How much these wilful choices of mine must grieve the Lord! Yet he still keeps following me and calling out to me in love, ‘Come this way, Jo-Anne! Here I am—I haven’t left you!’ How much I need to turn then, listen carefully to his voice—and do what he says.

Recently, I finished reading a wonderful novel by Charles Martin, Long Way Gone, a kind of modern-day telling of the story of the prodigal son. The son in the story walked away from his loving father, causing so much pain and heartache for all. He resented his father’s control over his life and decided to go his own way. But the father kept following him and watching over him, finally rescuing him from certain death. And that is what our Shepherd faithfully does for us his sheep too, year in and year out—forever. How amazing is that?

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:6

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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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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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