Wednesday, 18 September 2013

I am a sheep

God, I am a sheep.

For many reasons. Because I am quite often not very bright, because I have a tendency to want to follow the flock without thinking for myself, because when I do think for myself I am likely to wander off and get myself into trouble, because I often bleat on about things and because I am cuddly and built for comfort rather than for speed. And because I do a good line in sheepish, haha.

Also, because you are my Shepherd.

I am glad you're my Shepherd. I want to be looked after. I'm feeling a bit pathetic tonight, Lord, and I want to cuddle up and be safe and not have to make much of an effort. I'm tired; it's been a long day and I haven't got much left. I'm not sure which way to take and it's getting dark early. Come and find me, will you? Gather me up, Lord God, put me on your shoulders and take care of me.

'The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.'
Psalm 23:1

Oh, Lord, there are so many things that I'm convinced that I need. Things that I want, things that I think I'm entitled to, things that I long for. I want a new pillow because I wake up every day with a crick in my neck. I want some peace and quiet and solitude in the middle of family life. Ha. I want to be a patient, creative, energetic mother to my little girls. Ha. I want to be thin. Ha. I want inspiration. I want a packet of biscuits. I want to go to sleep.

Help me to remember that I have all I need already. I do know that, deep down. You don't say that you'll love me when I'm a better mummy, or when I lose a few pounds (or more) or when I write something profound that people want to read. You take me as I am, right now, and you love me. Even though I am a sheep, you love me. I am precious to you. I am worth protecting and you go out of your way to keep me safe. Even though my legs are short and my undercarriage often gets muddy. Even though I nibble things that I shouldn't and make myself ill. Even though I am woolly and stupid and get stuck on things and need rescuing. You always come for me.

'He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.'

Psalm 23:2-3

Green pastures. Lush, grassy meadows. Grassland for the express purpose of grazing. A field full of good stuff to eat. You know the way to my heart, Father. A sheep would like that. And me...

I lie in the pastureland and I can feel the softness of the grass under my back. The sky above me is blue and there's a gentle, refreshing breeze in my hair. I can see the tall grass waving and the sun warms me. I can hear the sound of gentle water nearby and birds singing and all is calm, peace.

I know that you are close by and I need fear nothing. I am completely relaxed. I am safe, knowing that I can drift and dream and find space to recharge. There is rest in your presence.

'He guides me along the right paths
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, 
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; 
your rod and staff, they comfort me.'

Psalm 23: 3-4

I'm glad you guide me, Father God, because I can't fathom the right way to go on my own; I just can't do it. So many signposts, so many people to persuade me that I should go this way, do this, stop doing that. I need your voice, not that of the satnav, however clever it is. I need to learn to hear you more clearly, and I need to learn to stop and listen more often rather than pushing on regardless with my own ideas, my own plans.

Lord, I've been in some scary places and I know with complete confidence that you have never left me. You are there in the tough times as well as in the green pasture.
You keep me close, you never falter.
You are endlessly patient.
You reassure me and you comfort me.
I am never lost in the cold. I want to stay by your side, Lord Jesus. I'm not wanting to do this on my own.

'You prepare a table before me 
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.'

Psalm 23:5

You promise that if I stand by you, then you'll stand by me. I'm on the winning team. If you are for me, who can be against? The God of creation is happy to tell the world that I am his child. You won't disown me; instead you'll make it clear that I am yours. You and me, Lord Jesus. We'll eat together. I'll be your guest at the table. Me. How amazing is that? I'll be your honoured guest. We'll open a bottle. It's all too much; you are more than generous - so very much more than I deserve.

'Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.'

Psalm 23:5-6

This part always touches me on some deep level that takes me by surprise. These days, Father, I'm coming to understand that it is the Holy Spirit in me that enables a reaction like this; I am incapable of it on my own. I realise that when my soul reaches for you as it does when I read these words, it is because you have planted eternity in my heart. Lord Jesus, my Saviour, your goodness and love are wrapped around me. I feel it. I am trying to dwell in you now, in this busy, crazy world with its beauty and cruelty and its wonder and despair, but I know that one day the struggle will be over.

Father, you've never let me down. I have let you down more times than I can count, but you - never once. You have stood by me when you could have disowned me. You have stood up for me when I was indefensible. You have blessed me more than I will ever know and I have been so far short of grateful.

You are good and you are love. You are always there. You have said that you will never forsake me or abandon me and you never break a promise.

You hold my life in your hand, Lord God, and I know that there is no safer place.

In this world I find that I'm constantly looking for glimpses of your kingdom; a shaft of light from your doorway, but I know that one day I will dwell there for ever. Sometimes in this world I see you for a fraction of a second; I see the work of your hand, I see the little notes of love that you leave for me. For every one that I see and snatch up and hold close to me I'm sure that I miss a hundred, for I know how much you love me.

Lord, I want to notice. I don't want to miss a single thing when the God of Heaven reaches down to speak to me. Whether it's a sunset or a rainbow or a flower or a flame, Lord, I want to see; really see. Give me eyes to see, Lord Jesus, and ears to hear. Don't let me be too busy wandering off in my own little world bleating discontentedly, to see your glory.

One day, Lord, I'll see, won't I? I'll be right there. There'll be no more predators to stalk me and no more cliffs to fall down. No more distractions from the main event. No more confusion or frustration or inability to hear.

I will dwell in your house forever. 

There'll be a party and the wine will flow.

Yes please. But in the meantime, I'm your sheep. I am a sheep in your flock. I want people to look at me and see how well looked after I am; to see that I live my life with confidence in my Shepherd, not in fear of the wolves. That I am cared for. I am safe and I have peace.

I have peace even when the storms come; that's what I want, Lord. I think that sometimes I'm no different from sheep in other flocks who mill about in a panic when the thunder rolls and the lightning flashes. I run about wildly and risk getting lost or hurt when all I need do is nestle close and sink into the warmth of your protection.

I am a sheep of your flock and I'm proud to tell the world that I am.

I am a child of God. I carry your mark and I know to whom I belong. I know that I am loved.

There is no safer place but in your pasture with my brothers and sisters. I know the sound of your voice and I know that you will never let me down.

'The Lord is my Shepherd'.

I am your sheep.

'Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
will praise you for ever;
from generation to generation we will proclaim your praise.'

Psalm 79: 13

Oh yes. Amen.

Reposted from 2012 because today I feel very sheep-like. 


Thursday, 12 September 2013

Be still


Just stop. 

I see you. I know what you're doing. I'm here, right with you, as I always am, and this morning you've been going about things all wrong. 

No, don't start to object and explain yourself. I know. I see it all. 

There's a lot going on at the moment and you've let it swirl around you like a whirlpool, sucking you down until the water is lapping at your chin. You're restless, unable to settle, lots of things to do but incapable of concentrating. 

Listen to me. Let me catch your attention for a minute as you flick between screens, between books, between gadgets, between problems. Between the kettle and the biscuit tin. 

Stop, my little one. 

You tried to stop earlier. You knew from instinct and experience that you needed to stop, didn't you? 

You got out your journal and you read your devotional but you did it with one eye on the computer screen as you were carrying on an online conversation with a friend at the same time. I want your full attention.

You offloaded your problems to me in shorthand in your notebook but not until you'd offloaded them to several other people first. Did that help very much? It was clear to me that afterwards you still felt the same confusion, the same knotted up sensation in your stomach. You knew that you needed something else...

You dashed into my presence with an eye on the door and you didn't give me time to speak. You dumped your difficulties but you were in such a panicky rush, you spun around, gathered them up again and left. 

I had things to say, but you didn't stay to hear them.

So I'm interrupting. 

Stop. Stop the fingers on the keys, on the biscuits, worrying away trying to unpick the knots in your life. 

Be still. Breathe deeply. Stop holding your breath. Not that quick, shallow breathing that fuels anxiety, either, or the heavy sighs that you're so given to at times like this. 

Slow, gentle. Think about the air rushing into your lungs, filling the alveoli, being absorbed miraculously through the walls, swept along in your blood, pumped directly to the brain. Go with this for a minute; I know you love these little flights of imagination. Think of your poor harassed brain at last able to inhale deep draughts of oxygen. Those frantic, overworked little cells firing off in all directions at random, and then finally slowing and relaxing with the nourishment they need. 

Soon you'll be able to think clearly. 

I know you. I know how it works. You get overwhelmed. You don't know where to start and so you flail around, beginning a lot of things and finishing none of them, letting your mind flit around from one thing to another. You get discouraged when things don't immediately fall into place. You tire yourself out trying but you achieve nothing. 

Stop running to stand still. You often liken your days to those of a hamster on a wheel, but that's your choice. You can climb off any time you like. Stop running and stand still. I'm waiting for you.

You know when I said, 'Be still and know that I am God' in the psalm? Well, it was for such a time as this. 

Be still. Stop. Stop moving. Stop planning, worrying, dithering, probing the painful parts. Just stop. 

Relax your muscles. I know, that pain in your shoulder that you used to have years ago, it's back. Don't add it to the list of worries; it might just have something to do with the fact that your shoulders are high with tension. You've bitten your fingers until they're sore. You've finished a packet of biscuits this morning even though you've been telling yourself that you don't eat for comfort any more. 

Be still. Keep breathing. When your body is still, your mind will eventually still as well. I know it's alien to you - the world you live in is in constant motion. But I am asking you - no, telling you - you need to be still. 

Come back to me, not with a list of requests or anxieties, but just be. Be still, with me. 

I have things for you; things that you're familiar with, but you forget about. Over and over again you forget, and you're going to kick yourself, my little one, that you forgot again. 

When you make yourself still in my presence, you will start to see things differently. I want to change your perspective. Open your hands and drop all the stuff that you have in that white-knuckle death grip of yours. You're carrying so much round with you that it must be heavy. Let it all fall to the floor. The worry, the anxiety, fear, the decisions to be made, the jobs to be done. All those questions.

When your hands are empty, they are free to take what I'm giving you. Here it is:

'It's going to be alright.' 

I have peace for you, and confidence, and comfort. I know all the things that clamour for your attention and your time, but I want to remind you that the only important thing of all these things is that you spend time with me. 

I see what you're going through, and I want to help you. Stop rushing around as if you can get everything sorted out by sheer act of will. You can't. Things might be out of your control, but they're not out of mine. I will not let you down. We'll deal with all these things, you and me, when the time is right. Trust me.

But you have to stop and be still from time to time. 

You won't find peace doing what you're doing. None of those things on your 'To Do' list will bring you peace. Not answers to your many questions, not the knowledge of what's happening tomorrow, or next week or next year. Not success or achievements or people's respect and approval. 

Peace is from me. It's yours whenever you need a top-up. But you have to come and pick it up.

I am God. I AM, always. I always will be - the only unchanging, one hundred per cent reliable thing you can know. You're in safe hands. You know that. 

Be still, and you'll know - I am God. 


Is that better? 

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