Drivenness is dangerous

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Galatians 5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Graham reminded me of this truth yesterday as I was catching up with him. I had just face-timed my granddaughters as they were en route home from school. After chatting with them Graham and I talked.  This older son of ours has been an inspirer, sounding board, tech resource and overall great listener as I have fleshed out a ‘business’ called English without Fear.

In 2018, having taught French for years, I started to help second language learners acquire English the same way I teach French, through listening with understanding. What I call ‘Mommy Talk’ as opposed to left-brained, rule-based learning.  It works.  Many, many students can attest to the joy and confidence they have received in my classroom because of this method.  I personally know this is the optimal way to teach and pick up a language because I am acquiring Spanish that way.

Three months after thinking and praying about this new venture, I settled on a target market or niche –  those wanting to learn English as a second language. I learned to write, record and upload story videos in slow English with lots of images. I set up a YouTube channel and some tech support sites.  My idea was to eventually bring in some income that would supplement our retirement, post classroom.

But ‘retirement’ came sooner than later.  Seven months ago, God opened the door for Mike to step back into full-time work and we moved here to Huntsville, Alabama.  I left the schoolhouse after 27 years, not even finishing out the spring semester.

Suddenly, my identity was no longer ‘French teacher’.

Mike’s new job generously would provide enough income so I knew that I wouldn’t be looking for another job teaching French.  I recognized that God was gifting me with time and flexibility to spend with our far-flung family.   I would also be the support at home for Mike so he could focus on this new challenge of re-entering the workforce.  We were swapping roles, in essence. He had come from 6 years doing some part-time work at home in North Carolina while managing the house.

What I didn’t anticipate was how challenging it would be for me to move into this new role.  Only once in my life had I stayed home and that was when Wes, our second son, was born. And then for only 2 years.

I now see, though, that since the end of March, I haven’t let myself rest in God, allowing Him to lead me.  I don’t think I even ASKED Him through prayer about what kind of life He wanted for me in this new season, in this new place.

As I had done (and later recognized with repentance) in previous years, I just announced my plan and prayed for Him to bless it.  Blind to my folly.

Bereft of my ‘uniform’ of working woman, French teacher, I dressed myself in new clothes.  My new identity? Content creator for a digital product.  Without a pause, as a stay-at-home wife, I set up a daily schedule.  Discipline comes easily.  (‘she said smugly: Doesn’t it for all people?’)

Long story short, I have now become my own slave driver, but with tears.  No one has done this to me.  Deep grooves of habitual self-drivenness: I start something – and I’m all in.  Zeal and ambition are not, in themselves bad.  But when they become part of one’s identity, they can be deadly.

But God!

His gentle and persistent grace have caused me to blink twice and clear my eyes.  I realize, now with alarming clarity, that I myself had shackled Maria.  My body knew it, though, and my husband.  He’s skilled at reading body language.  He is also a good listener.  Empathetic.

What alerted me? tears, dread of having to do something with this ‘business’, and 2 days with Regina.  This friend of 13 years met me last week, half way between her home in South Carolina and my house here in Alabama.  We spent 18 hours catching up.

While describing how pleasant Huntsville is, I realized how I don’t ‘let’ myself just take an afternoon and wander, explore, go for a walk.  Why not?  ‘I have work to do.’  My boss/dictator has been telling me every day that I need to make this English without Fear endeavor into a successful business.

But why? To what end?  We don’t need the money.

Here’s my reasoning for undertaking this project:  I have experience, aptitude, some gifts and a sense of what is needed in the Second Language Acquisition space (encouragement for teachers who feel overwhelmed, as well as learners of English).  There is a need!  I can help.

But what was missing? Wherefore the dread and tears?

I lacked the desire.

Yesterday, in the car driving home from an ‘intercambio’ with a Columbian gal where we spent 30 minutes in English followed by time for me in Spanish, I was thinking about ‘what I had to do’ the rest of the day for ‘my business’.  And I dreaded the plans.

I turned off the podcast I was listening to in the car.  To think. What is it I REALLY want to do, where I don’t feel driven? That’s easy.!  I really want to speak Spanish easily. I already spend time each day with Spanish content.  And I look forward to it.  NO DREAD!

Aha!  DESIRE!!!

That is what has been missing all along in this business.

So yesterday when Graham reminded me of Paul’s word to the Galatians, I knew he was speaking Truth. Direct from my good and loving Father.

I don’t have to pursue English without Fear as a business.  God has given me space and time to slow down. To enjoy life. To savor NOT rushing.

But what about…..

I don’t know. But, here’s a thought: I could just keep creating English without Fear videos as a ministry.  No schedule.  Nothing to prove.  Just as a service.

I already have the identity Christ bought for me – ‘chosen, redeemed, beloved daughter and little sister in Christ’.  I already have a purpose for living – to glorify God by enjoying Him THIS day.

Phil 4:5 says – Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;

Please forgive me, ALL of you who have graciously put up with and borne my grim, head-down, no-time-for-play presence.

I’ve been living contrary to God’s Word, by letting my DRIVENNESS be known to everyone.

Which Maria do you think will refresh others?

 

 

 

 

Who am I, functionally?

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Do you recall Aesop’s fable about the scorpion and the frog? It goes like this.

A frog was about to cross a stream.  A scorpion sitting on the bank asked him for a lift on his back.  The frog hesitated: “What guarantee do I have that you won’t sting me?” he probed. The scorpion reassured him: “If I sting you, then I’ll die, too, as you sink into the water.”  Reassured, the frog started off across the stream with the scorpion on his back. Sure enough, in the middle of the journey, the scorpion stung the frog.  “Why did you do that?” blurted out the frog as paralysis set in. “It’s my nature,” shrugged the scorpion.

I’ve been thinking about identity and actions and the interplay between them ever since I read this verse in Nehemiah 9:8: You have kept your promise, for you are righteous.

What I realize is that the pattern of actions flowing from character and identity work both ways.  Whether we talk about God or you and me.

You can SEE my identity from what I do and say.  Not my true identity but what I functionally believe is my identity.   A lot of times I don’t ACT as a chosen child of God.

The Bible gives us many descriptions of who we are IF we are in Christ, that is if we have been made alive by Christ.

Here are just 3 of these ‘who you are’ statements:

Galatians 4:7 So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if you are a son, then you are also an heir through God.

Hebrews 2:11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.

John 14:26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

From these facts above, this is who I am:

  • I am a son/daughter of the living God, PLUS an heir.
  • I am the brother/sister of Jesus.
  • I am the recipient of the permanently assigned Holy Helper/Counselor/Teacher.

First off, I hear, that is I learn, that I have a family.  I have a holy Father and a divine Brother who is NOT disappointed or ashamed to call me sister.  On top of that, I am coming into an inheritance. Furthermore, I have a protective tutor and guide who will be with me every day on this earth.  I will NEVER be poor, overlooked or ill-advised, ever!

What’s the problem, then?

Just that, if you judged me by my thoughts, my words, my fears, my obsessions or actions, you would NEVER know my identity, that I belong to such an amazing Family.

I know I am not alone in this case of ‘identity amnesia’.  There is, after all, a war going on.  A spiritual battle against the evil, dark, power-full, hate-filled sworn enemy of God.  He uses our brokenness and the pressing needs about which we daily/hourly petition the Lord.

Isn’t this so? Aren’t you dealing with, as-yet unanswered prayers regarding:

  • broken or breaking marriages
  • unsaved family members
  • on-going health issues that drag one down because there seems to be no possible resolution
  • work problems – not enough work or painful work with no immediate relief in sight
  • addictions, whether porn, alcohol, food or pain meds
  • fears of children committing suicide
  • money issues

We say, HOW LONG, LORD!!!!

We get tired.  I know I do. We fall prey to discouragement and fatigue and maybe even some cynicism.  We get used to living with our fears, of worrying. We get used to the voices that say, “It’s never going to change.”

But no!!!  All this may be so, but I don’t want it to be so.  No more!  I don’t want to smear the character, the good name of my Father, the Spirit or my Brother.   I praise God that He is helping me by SLOWLY rearranging my ‘wants’ and priorities:

  • He is increasing my desire to be holy, like Him.
  • He is ordering what prayer tops my daily list.

How so?  It has finally sunk in, that when Jesus taught his disciples, Pray like this…., the first 3 petitions (what should be our TOP PRIORITIES each day) are that the Father’s name BE hallowed, that His kingdom COME, and that His will BE DONE‘DONE’ as is done in heaven by the angels.

When I reflect on my words, thoughts and feelings, I see just WHO I believe myself to be.  As a daughter and a sister of the Holy Family, I have no business being fearful, anxious or discouraged. Those patterns of behavior and speech reflect really horribly on God.

I’m beginning to check myself daily:  If I am the only Christian people meet, well, would they want to join a family and gain a sister like me, one who is grumbly, worried and not sure if she can trust her Dad and Big Brother?

Are you as close to God as your underwear is to you?

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I almost missed it!  Mike and I were sharing our ‘take-aways’ from the day’s Bible reading when I realized I had stopped short and not read Jeremiah 13.  So, after dinner I sat down outside with Mike while he worked on his nightly NY Times crossword puzzle. Bible and notebook in hand I caught up.  Boy, did I get an ‘eye-fill’. Chapter 13 portrays a startling view of intimacy our Father desires with us.

Like my dear friend Regina, I visualize much of what I read in God’s Word. Just ‘look’ at what God proclaims to His prophet:

Jeremiah 13:11 For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the LORD, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen. (ESV)

Okay, let’s think about underwear, about loincloths.  Various translators have used other English words such as “belt” or “waistband” to render this Hebrew word less earthy.  But the sense of the Hebrew is ‘that which covers one’s intimate private parts‘.

With THAT in your mind’s eye, reread the verse.  What is God saying to us?

WE are to CLING to the LORD as closely as underpants cling to our private parts. That’s pretty darn intimate, wouldn’t you say?  (as Mike just chuckled to me: “No boxer shorts here! Nothing unmanly about wearing ‘whitey-tighties’ “)

Since the LORD is the One saying this, we have to go by His words and the plain meaning of the text. But why would He use this word picture?

In some way I don’t quite understand but I accept as true, the Bible affirms over and over that when we move closer to our God, our clinging to Him showcases His perfection, love, goodness, power, and holiness.  Those parts of our body that we cover and whose odors we try to mask are not shameful to our Creator.

I mean, husbands and wives can be intimate and feel secure about their bodies when they enjoy a safe relationship. But even though Mike and I are blessed with that kind of  GOOD marriage, I still don’t want him smelling my underpants!

But our God is different. This means that NOTHING about us, in our personality or experiences or in our frail humanity, nothing makes us repugnant to our Father.  Maybe we can think of it more easily when we recall how it’s no big deal to change our own babies’ diapers, however stinky and explosive they are! After all they are our kids.  We love them completely. So it is with our Holy and earthy Father.

Something else in Jeremiah’s account of loincloths spoke to me of how God and I are different – how we react to clinginess.

I don’t like clingy love.  My instinct is to draw back a bit.  I felt great guilt about this as a teenager because my mom and grandmother were affectionate in that clingy sort of way.  I don’t know why their spontaneous display of love bothered me, but I could not bring myself to respond in kind.

But our God is not like that!  He doesn’t say:

  • You gotta stand on your own two feet
  • Okay, that’s enough.  I have work to do
  • Stop hanging around! Give me some space

Au contraire – our Father DESIRES that we:

  • get and stay as close to Him as we can
  • not be ashamed at all of that which makes us smelly and soiled
  • depend on Him 100 %
  • obey Him because we love Him and need Him
  • KNOW that He will never grow tired of us

And if this gentle, wooing, loving posture of God toward us is not enough to make us want to be close to Him, then we need to consider God’s evaluation of us if we DON’T cling intimately to Him. For in that case, we will be as the loincloth Jeremiah removed from his body and buried near the Euphrates:

Jer 13:7 Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; IT WAS GOOD FOR NOTHING.

The only conclusion that makes sense to me is that we were meant to stay that close to God all the time, as close as our underwear is to our body. If not, then we are ‘as good as nothing.’

 

Lessons from the Shadowy Valley

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Some wandered in desert wastelands,
    finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
    and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
    to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things.  Psalm 107:4-9 (NIV)

Mike and I are beginning to come out of a LONG trek through the wilderness, a journey without much light or clear vision. For the past 4-5 years, Mike has felt stymied in finding enough satisfying, suitable and value-adding work.  His original business plan when we moved to western North Carolina in the summer of 2013 aborted.  Another enterprise got off to a good start and then stalled one year later.  The door that God DID keep open these years of desert wandering has been as the tech reporter for World News Group.  But the work, as God-glorifying and useful as it was, left him with unexercised analytical skills and isolated from incarnational, face-face-face community. He grew depressed and increasingly beset by some irrational fears.

But thanks be to God, who provided a good biblical counselor and subsequent understanding and clarity to both of us.  The result? We are leaving western North Carolina shortly, something neither of us envisioned when we moved to these beautiful mountains.  But our good Shepherd, our constant guide and driver along the meandering ‘straight’ path He calls ‘good’ (see underlined verse above), has brought us within sight of a new city where we can settle.  The next God adventure awaits.

What have we learned in this God-appointed long trial and trek in the Valley?

  1. God gets our attention in adversity.  Neediness forced us to plow beneath the surface of His Word, unearthing treasure.  We grew hungrier for our daily reading through the Bible, year after year. We each started writing down in a notebook what we noticed in our readings and then sharing them at ‘Happy Hour’, while I was fixing dinner.  Discussing each other’s observations, unanswered questions and insights drove Scripture further into our hearts.  We now know experientially that man does not live by temporary food and comfort-providing stuff, (those good gifts God provides that come with the potential to become what we most value), but by God’s living Word.
  2. We each individually battled daily temptations to WORRY and FEAR.  We still do, but we have grown quicker to repent and remind ourselves of the Truth about who God is and what He says in the Bible.
  3. We practiced enunciating specific, measurable God-requests.  So many people prayed for us on and off these past 5+ years.  When you ask others to lift up your needs before God, you have to articulate well just what you do need.  Why? So you can recognize God’s provision when it comes and so you and the ‘pray-ers’ can properly THANK God for hearing and acting.
  4. Since early December 2018, we began keeping a prayer notebook.  We set it up like this: one page per day with a vertical line to make two columns:  Mike’s needs and Maria’s needs.  We each articulate and explain what is on our heart and our mind, for instance, a dreaded task to do, a burden or a fear.  I write each of them down in measurable detail.  Then we take turns praying out loud for one another.  My favorite part of this process is to look back to yesterday’s needs and see which ones God has already answered!  Then we praise our good God.
  5. A final lesson that we want to retain is this:  wilderness paths along which the Spirit leads us are prescribed by God as His good plan to conform us to His Son.  The trials are part of God’s curriculum designed to make us like more holy.  For what purpose?  to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the Beloved One. Eph 1:6 Berean Study Bible.  Why do we want to hold fast to and not forget this fact about struggles, this truth, this component of God’s School of Discipleship?  So the next God lessons don’t catch us by surprise or alarm us.
  6. We also want to continue this habit of daily praying together.  Not only do we see tangible documented evidence of God at work, but that sacred space with Him has provided a safe place for Mike and me to invite the other into some of the dark corners of our hearts. Our marriage benefits from that practice.

Providentially as I meditated on how to record my thoughts for you, this timely meditation by 19th-century the famous English pastor cycled through again:

Charles Spurgeon’s morning devotion for 8 March

“We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”
Acts 14:22

God’s people have their trials. It was never designed by God, when he chose his people, that they should be an untried people. They were chosen in the furnace of affliction; they were never chosen to worldly peace and earthly joy. Freedom from sickness and the pains of mortality was never promised them; but when their Lord drew up the charter of privileges, he included chastisements amongst the things to which they should inevitably be heirs. Trials are a part of our lot; they were predestinated for us in Christ’s last legacy. So surely as the stars are fashioned by his hands and their orbits fixed by him, so surely are our trials allotted to us: he has ordained their season and their place, their intensity and the effect they shall have upon us. Good men must never expect to escape troubles; if they do, they will be disappointed, for none of their predecessors have been without them. Mark the patience of Job; remember Abraham, for he had his trials, and by his faith under them, he became the “Father of the faithful.” Note well the biographies of all the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, and you shall discover none of those whom God made vessels of mercy, who were not made to pass through the fire of affliction. It is ordained of old that the cross of trouble should be engraved on every vessel of mercy, as the royal mark whereby the King’s vessels of honour are distinguished. But although tribulation is thus the path of God’s children, they have the comfort of knowing that their Master has traversed it before them; they have his presence and sympathy to cheer them, his grace to support them, and his example to teach them how to endure; and when they reach “the kingdom,” it will more than make amends for the “much tribulation” through which they passed to enter it.

What do our needs tell us?

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‘You’re so needy!’

“Yep, and your point is?”

Why is it that we think something is wrong with us if we can’t do it all?  I can only speak for Americans.  It seems as though being needy is un-American.  Since our pre-founding, we’ve grown up imbibing the ambient atmosphere of:

  • pull yourself up by your own bootstraps
  • you can be/do anything you want in life
  • if it’s going to be, it’s up to me
  • plan your work, then work your plan
  • follow your passion

Actually all that rah-rah positive motivation denies the FACT that God has designed and created us AS creatures with needs.  Before the fall when He created man, He called His male and female creation VERY GOOD!  And they were needy, ON PURPOSE!  They required human companionship, food and productive work.  And they had to sleep.

As I learn to depend more on God each day, I am embracing and even liking my neediness. The Father is teaching me to request His protection, strength and wisdom in the ordinary and not just to call on Him for the ‘big things’ I can’t handle on my own. Somewhere I read that if we don’t invite God’s covering and help with the ordinary routine activities (such as cooking, driving, taking a shower without slipping, hiking/walking), then in effect we’re announcing to the Creator and Sustainer of the universe:

  • I’ve got this, God!

Besides, when we DO ask Him for help in writing a blog piece, or shopping for groceries, we re-awaken ourselves to His presence and gain an occasion to thank Him, to praise Him for His grace.

A couple of weeks ago, I read this quote from a sister blogger:

“If you’re meeting your own needs, it’s quite possible you’re not meeting the right one.”  (Quoted by Pippa in her blog, linked here)

That wake-up call to humility connected with an experience I read in Joyce Huggett’s book, Listening to God.  Seeking spiritual counseling to deal with fearful thoughts of suicide, she staggered into a new reality. Her guide led her through a confession of the sin of wanting to kill herself and prayed for her to believe and receive God’s sure forgiveness. Then he added this:  (I’ve paraphrased)

  • Now that you’ve confessed to trying to meet a very real need in a sinful way..
  • Let’s look at this underlying emotional need and see how we can address it in a way that is healthy and God-reliant.

That extra step turned out to be a turning point for the author and eye opening to me! It fit right in with the FACT that God has designed us as dependent, needy creatures. Dependency is woven into the fabric of life.   God created us incomplete and unwise without Him, cracked jars of clay requiring His support.

As Paul boasts in 2 Cor 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

Notice also that God intends to MEET our needs, Himself!  The inadequacy, or lack of confidence I feel is SUPPOSED to be the norm.  Insufficient on my own, I have been created precisely to live moment by moment, dependent on God.  And grateful.

So what does that look like in everyday life?  I’m finding a new quality of contentment in my days.  I tend to reply to myself more and more, “Well, what do you expect, Maria, from a clod of earth?  Trust the Master Gardener and rejoice that HE has written the divine Plan. He has just what you need for THIS, so fret not!”

How is embracing your neediness going for you?

 

The ball and chain of craving results

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How do you measure your day, your work, your life?  If you’re American, chances are you think only about measurable results.

What’s wrong with that?  Why would you do something if you didn’t desire a specific outcome?

This is the month when New Year’s resolutions are grasped with intensity and then discarded with quiet disappointment. Yet hope seems to re-sprout with each new beginning, whether that of a school year, a budget cycle, calendar year or sports season.

Recently I have discarded my lifelong focus on outcomes.  I had become a slave to working for a specific result.

As a professional French teacher, I long to see students achieve skill AND enjoyment in the language.  Nothing inherently wrong with that.  Except my approach has been to hand over far too much power to my students to grant me the ‘success’ or even the ‘peace’ that I crave.

Yes, ‘crave’.  In fact, I now see a pattern that has emerged in my life. As I approach the end of my 6th decade, I find it easier to see themes and responses to life that I, by my actions, have crafted, either consciously or subconsciously.  Finally, I’m gaining the courage to give myself permission to STOP.

Is anyone else like me, in measuring their day by how well people react?  You might be a kindred sister or brother if you are a doer/performer like a musician, stand-up comedian, speech-giver, writer, film maker or even a skill coach.  Or maybe you’re one of the moms at home who teach their own children and are anxious to see growth.  Or among evangelists sharing the Gospel and discipling new Christian believers.

Despair and insecurity probably haunt more people than I realize.  Will it ever end, this never feeling like we measure up?  And I’m not talking about meeting OTHER people’s standards or expectations;I’m talking about the SELF-imposed high bars?  Let’s be real and call them what they are – prison sentences!

Recently, a ray of real hope broke through this burden I pick up every day illuminating a path of escape to a more fragrant and lighter world.

My daughter-in-law, who battles the home-school version of  ‘you’re not enough’, shared a verbal picture of what another mom explained as her daily task with her children. It was SO simple and SO doable.  Boiled down, the advice is this:

  • Each day, your job is to spread an age-appropriate feast before your children of that, which is true, beautiful and good.  In such a way that they can TASTE and SEE that the Lord is GOOD. (from Psalm 34:8)

Period.  That’s it.  She is not responsible for the OUTPUT, just for the INPUT.

Light-bulb explosion.  Isn’t that also my job as a language teacher?  to provide compelling and interesting and appropriate comprehensible input to my French students?

I am NOT responsible for their output.  That is an impossible assignment.  I can’t control them.  But I CAN control what I feed them.

And is this not also applicable to missionaries, both foreign and domestic, wherever God has assigned them (and us)?  We’ve all heard stories of years of labor before even one convert results.  The heart-warming account below is just one of many such examples. Missionary who thought he had failed.

What really convinced me of the sin of prideful expectations for Maria was a quote from CRU’s last print magazine, dated Sep/Oct 2016.  To wit: “We focus excessively on our output, because we want to be judged according to our effort, not our ability to remain dependent on someone else’s finished work.”

I am seeing this new insight transform my responsibilities.  I neither DO nor CAN control results. But I AM accountable in all my relationships for what I do and say and perform per the strength that God gives.

This lessened burden seems almost too good to be true, but I am proceeding as though it is and trusting our God to keep guiding me in all truth.  To Him be the glory for to Him belongs the power.

A sheep’s reflection on the Shepherd

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Sheep

The Lord is my Shepherd:

Jesus is my protector, guide and provider.  And I belong to him.  Shepherds take care of helpless animals who can’t look after themselves.  That must be God’s assessment of me.  I’m not fit to go it alone.  I need to be with other vulnerable ones in Jesus’ flock.  He’s also not just ‘any ole’ shepherd.  He’s MY shepherd.  That makes me HIS sheep and he knows me by name.

I shall lack nothing:

Jesus is a good shepherd.  He provides all I need.  That promise, that he will give me the time, energy, desire and ability to do what is needful this day, comforts me.  Especially when not a day goes by that I don’t struggle with trusting that he really will come through.  He’s ‘forcing’ me to learn NOT to live each day based on the provision I see waiting for me.

Having a shepherd also means I don’t have to hoard my own supplies. Besides, sheep don’t have pockets! AND I don’t really know what the day will bring.

He makes me lie down in green pastures:

I obviously don’t know a green pasture when I see one.  Or else my shepherd wouldn’t have to lead me to one.  And the fact that he forces me to lie down there speaks of my needing to learn to wait patiently and keep my eye on him. If I were in charge of my life, I’d move on, ‘knowing’ what was best for me.

He’s a good guy and I can trust him, because these abundant grazing areas are first on his agenda. Because of our stubbornness, he has to drive us, his flock, to rich and nourishing pastures both to feed and to rest in security.

He leads me beside still waters:

Gosh!  I was thirstier than I thought!  The calm quality to the stream implies no danger or threats.  And along with food and rest, Jesus takes care of all my other most basic needs and desires.

We all thirst for something, whether recognition or accomplishment or truth or comfort. My good shepherd can sort all that out and give me what is best.  The fact that I require him to herd me and the other sheep along implies I don’t know what I’m really thirsty for or how to satisfy that need.

He restores my soul:

My French Bible translates this as ‘He gives me renewed strength‘.  Boy, do I need to know the shepherd cares about that!  Especially since my energy is depleted about 9 pm each day.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his own sake:

The direction Jesus takes us is ‘God-ly’ and in keeping with the characteristics of the happy, triune Godhead.  And since all his decisions accord with his divine nature, I can trust him.  If Jesus’ next step were contingent on how I acted or thought, my life would be precarious.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death:

The way is dark and confusing at times. I don’t see where I’m headed.  And I probably don’t detect all the dangers.  The text also reassures me that I’m not meant to live there.  I’m walking through it.  There’s an end to this scary trial.

I will fear no evil, for your rod and your staff comfort me:

I may not see you (Where are you, God???) but I know you are near me for I feel your correcting rod when I start heading in a dangerous direction. And when I ignore your warning, then I know from experience that you will haul my little sheep derrière out of each pit I stubbornly choose.

You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies:

Spiritual forces of wickedness directed by Satan seek to plant rebellious and wicked fear thoughts in my head almost every day:

  • Why trust what you can’t see?
  • There’s no way God can do that!

Often I have to battle anxiety that takes the form of ‘what ifs’:

  • What if I don’t have enough time to get all my schoolwork done this week?
  • What if Mike doesn’t sleep well tonight?
  • What if my Christian witness at school, as cautious as I am, gets me in trouble?

But Jesus feeds me daily with encouragement from the Bible, from devotional books, from others’ prayers, from podcast sermons AND most especially each time a prayer is answered.   Whether a need on behalf of a friend that I repeatedly and insistently brought before the Father or help I received via others’ prayers for me.  Seeing God come through is the biggest boost!  We, his sheep, get the help and I love to give God the glory. Each time God provides an answer to prayer, my faith deepens, even if by just a bit.

You anoint my head with oil:

Jesus has a job for me, one of his sheep!  And it’s work that he has planned just for me from before the creation of the universe. Tailor-made work meant to advance his kingdom, pushing back the darkness.  I’m reassured again that each one of us, his sheep, is individually important.

My cup overflows:

I receive more goodness from your hand than I need or desire. You keep pouring it on! It never ends.

It’s a fact!  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:

I’m hemmed in by the holy, happy, loving and compassionate community of the one true and living God.

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever:

My life is only going to get better. Living near Jesus forever means I will always be safe and completely satisfied.

**

Often on my morning walks I personalize Psalm 23 or the Lord’s Prayer. Talking it through TO the Father reminds me of these realities and reconfirms to ME my status as a child of God and the privileges and responsibilities that go with my position.  My life DOES matter and this day is a gift. The morning conversation reassures me of those facts and of the one who will be with me throughout the next 24 hours.

 

 

 

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