The Lord Is Not My Shepherd

Journal 2005

David thought in word pictures based on his experiences, so Psalm 23 made sense to him. But it’s hard to put myself in his sandals, for I’m not a sheep-tender. I love the imagery, and I know it’s scriptural, but the concept of “The Lord is my shepherd” doesn’t touch my soul.

I am a tree-lover. Inside the fence of our African compound, my missionary dad planted a variety of tropical fruit trees for food and a thousand neem trees for firewood. Just outside our property, a stately kuka (baobab) tree called my name, and further into the bush grew other exotic fruit for tasting and flowering trees for climbing. As a child, I made it my mission to try them all.

And so, I write my own poem.
The Lord is my Living Baobab Tree.

He wraps His massive branches around my slender frame.

I hide myself in the crook of His arm.

He is my place of peace and solitude and a gathering place for social encounters.

I view the world differently from Your height.

I soar in Your high branches and rock comfortably on your lower ones.

I might itch when I touch your pods, but the inside fruit tingles sweet-sour on my tongue.

You reveal Your secrets as I spend time in You.

You spread Your cool leaves above me and shelter me from sun and rain.

You invite me to climb, but I can never attain the topmost branches.

You are too lofty for me.

I want to dwell in Your branches forever.

I run to you when I feel pain or pleasure.

I run barefoot to Your roots and climb into Your lap, content.

You restore my soul.

Is God more than a shepherd or a tree? Of course. But the symbolism focuses on the senses. Can I taste God?  (“Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.”) Can I hear His rustling branches in the Spirit’s wind? Can I smell Him in the dampness of the roots of the earth? Or the odor of rain as it cleanses the dusty leaves? Can I touch Him? When I touch the unlovely, the poor, the prisoner, the orphan child, I touch the face of God. I can’t see Him with physical eyes, but I can see His handiwork, and I get to know the heart of the artist. I see His creativity, His passion, His bigness, His attention to detail, His order, His comfortableness with chaos. I sense His emotion in the fury of the hurricane as well as the gentle caress of whispered breeze on my cheek.

A 2022 Update. One day, while trying to still my heart on a hiking trail bench, the Lord said to me, “Be a tree.” I want to be an oak tree—stable and strong, where many can come and rest in my branches. Some of my leaves become diseased when outside forces ruin their beauty, but it’s okay for the bad parts to fall off so new growth can replace them. I want to feed the squirrels and provide shade for the tired and weary. And I want my branches to whisper, “Jesus loves you. God is here. Come and find peace.” He’s the invisible sap, the life inside me, flowing from root to healthy branch.

The Lord was David’s shepherd, but He’s my tree, and I want to be like Him.

“One that would have the fruit must climb the tree.”
1980. Revisiting what was left of my old, beloved baobab.

Lovingkindness

Journal 2005

The word lovingkindness intrigues me. “Loving” I understand. “Kindness” is obvious. But why the two together? Aren’t they mutual? If you’re loving, you’ll be kind; if you’re kind, you’ll be loving. How can you have one without the other? How is lovingkindness different from the definition of loving or kindness? I turned to Webster for help.

Loving: affectionate

Kindness: friendly, generous, warm-hearted, sympathy, understanding, humane, considerate, forbearing, tolerant, generous, good-hearted, tender, considerate

Lovingkindness: tender and benevolent affections

How do I wrap my mind and understanding around this attribute when I read of God’s judgment, fury, and anger toward the rebellious? How do I become the object or recipient of His affection? Can I really earn it? We’re taught: “No, it’s all one-sided. We love Him because He first loved us.” Without His initiation, we would not respond to Him.

But my part is necessary too. It’s not just one-sided. It’s not that I earn His love, but that I respond to His. I don’t turn away from, but toward, His love. He has offered me relationship. And when I embrace it and accept it, He responds back in relationship—and lovingkindness.

When someone spurns God’s love, He is patient, kind, and tender. He continues to woo and invite. But at some point (God knows the heart and the intents), He must exact consequences or punishment or judgment. That is His right.

If someone spurns the love I offer, I can leave him or her in God’s hands and turn away. But when someone spurns God’s love, knowing the consequences thereof, they have no one to blame but their own choices.

I can experience all of God’s lovingkindness or benevolence. It’s there for my heart. But I have to do my part and turn toward the warmth and light, not away from it.

A Journey into Victorious Praying

I learned to pray as a toddler at my father’s knee. Twice daily, our family read the Bible together and took turns praying—my parents in King James English, which I attempted to emulate. I remember the first time I returned home from college and tentatively prayed at family devotions, dropping the “thees” and “thous” of my childhood. I wondered if my parents would approve of my casual intimacy with the Creator.

Over the years I’ve read numerous books on prayer, including one that examined every prayer in the Bible. One book stood out to me more than all the others, however, because it came from the humble heart of someone who did more than study prayer. He practiced it. Here are some of my favorite quotes from A Journey into Victorious Praying, by Bill Thrasher. I highly recommend you get your own copy and begin your journey into the mysteries of the relationship with the Divine.

No one ever just decides to be a prayer warrior. God does something in a life that makes the person sense this need of God (p. 29).

I think this is true. My deepest prayers came at a time of my deepest need.

If you will take your temptations and turn them into conversations with God, you will learn to talk to God from your heart. . . . Temptations are an appeal to meet righteous needs in an unrighteous way to meet the longing your temptation has stirred (p. 30).

Again, this rings true to my experience. I could write a book on this one!

Martin Luther said, “Prayer is not a performance but climbing up to the heart of God” (p. 43).

For years, prayer for me was merely a checklist of spiritual disciplines. Relationship sheds the “shoulds.”

True spiritual fervency and compassion is a work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot work this up on our own strength (p. 44).

I tried my own strength. It didn’t work. I was told I should have compassion for the lost, and so, feeling guilty, I tried to drum up some feelings. Instead, God gave me compassion for those who hurt.

True prayer starts with God and the prayer burden He places on our hearts (p. 52). We aren’t called to pray for every request with the same intensity. God will not give any of us every prayer burden (p. 54).

Whew! My soul relaxes with these thoughts. Though I often pray for our leaders in government, for example, they are not a burden on my heart. Give me the name of an MK who’s hurting, however, and immediately my lips move in supplication.

I ask the Lord to bring to mind what He wants me to pray for. Sometimes when I ask, nothing comes to mind. Maybe He’s just calling me to silence (p. 55).

Once more, the “shoulds” in my head dissolve. I like contemplative silence.

Ask God to deliver you from anything that is hindering you from praying your heart to God.

It was only after relinquishing my tight self-control, my unforgiving heart, my anger, and my bitterness that I found true peace, resting in God’s presence. He always feels near now instead of far away.

Thrasher suggests that God is capable of taking my feeble prayer and interpreting my desires and deep longings and motivations.

Sometimes coming up with the right words feels like a chore. Sometimes I pray with pictures, sometimes without words at all. He knows my heart.

When we pray a specific prayer and God does not grant it, “could it be that it is because God is desiring to grant you an even deeper longing and desire of your heart?” (p. 60).

Ex:  Augustine, a leader in the early church, lived a sensual lifestyle in his early years. When he planned to go to Rome, his mother prayed, “O Lord, do not let him go to Rome because he will only get into further debauchery.” God did let him go to Rome. But it was there that he was converted. “The Spirit of God pled the deeper desire of the mother for his spiritual well-being, and God answered her heart.”

This story has stayed with me, reminding me that God is bigger than my feeble attempts at prayer.

You don’t “spend” time with God. You “invest” it. Time alone with Him can be one of the greatest time savers of your life (p. 114).

How true. Going to God first with a concern and working through my angst before speaking to someone has saved me hours of mop-up after a wrong response.

Prayer is not attempting to get our will done in heaven but His will done on earth (p.171).

I would love to hear about your experiences in your journey to victorious praying.

On the Edge of a Cliff

Journal 2005

Going for an Oral Interpretation major in college, I once performed a reading with a powerful visual about standing atop a cliff, desperately trying to stop people from going over the edge (presumably to hell). The point was to urge believers to evangelize. I even know one missionary who went overseas because of this visual. But all I ever felt was guilt, helplessness, and powerlessness.

As I sit with my emotions, I notice there are danger signs at the edge of the cliff. In fact, there are warning signs before the danger signs. I’m praying desperately for people to open their eyes and take notice, and if I take my eyes off the scene, I’ll miss someone. Still I feel helpless. I have to DO something. If I sit down to rest, I’ll get stampeded! Where do responsibility and trust intersect?

Jesus says, “Back away from the edge of the cliff, find a bench, sit there and wait. Offer cold drinks and sandwiches to the weary travelers. Invite; don’t panic. Invite them to rest with me and talk. Tell them about the cliff and encourage them to share the news with the other travelers on their path. And if while I’m talking to one, and another passes by, I can just wave and smile. And if I need to sleep for a while, I can ask Jesus (or an angel) to tap me on the shoulder when I need to wake up and pay attention. Whew! That feels better.

Negative Energy

Journal 2005. I am an introvert who knows I need people, but some people emit negative energy like a giant, pulsating sore thumb, throbbing like a plucked low bass guitar string.

I remember a former classmate whose aura left little barbs, fingers of electric shock that kept poking and jabbing me.

When I asked for God’s help, He gave me an enveloping coat of Teflon—not to keep the person out, but so I could get close to the person without getting zapped. The droning noise got mingled with a heavenly symphony of praise, and together we looked and listened for other sounds around us. I guess I needed another focus other than myself.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Thoughts on Luke 9-10

Journal 2005

Jesus’ disciples came across someone who was expelling demons using Jesus’ name, and they told the man to stop. But Jesus said, “Don’t stop him. If he’s not an enemy, he’s an ally” (Luke 9).

I confess I am guilty of being critical of other Christians with whom I disagree. Have I hindered the work of God? When does it become a work of Satan? And how do we know the difference?

Later, on their way to Jerusalem, Jesus and the disciples were going to spend the night in Samaria, but when the Samaritans found out they were traveling to Jerusalem, they refused hospitality. James’ and John’s immediate response was: Shall we call lightning down on them? (How creative! Or had they seen Jesus do this at some point?) But Jesus said, “No,” and they continued to another village.

Somedays I’d like to call down lightning on someone! But that’s not my prerogative. Revenge belongs to God in His own time. God’s patience and grace are longsuffering.

When Jesus sent out the 70 (by now the group had grown—it wasn’t just the 12 He was preparing), He told them to travel light—just as He had told the 12. But also—to get out if they were not well received and go where they were welcomed and wanted.

How far do we take this model? Missionaries often enter hostile environments. Should they be following Christ’s words to the 70, or were His instructions for a specific time and place? I know many stories of triumph where missionaries pushed through and stayed where they were unwanted, and God eventually blessed their persistence. Were they there at God’s calling or their own inner voice? Who am I to judge? I just know I must follow the dictates of the Holy Spirit in my own heart and let all others answer to God themselves. Personally, if I encounter opposition to an attempt to advance the kingdom of God, it makes sense to me to move on to an open door instead of continually knocking on a closed and bolted one.

Your thoughts?

God’s Extravagance

From my 2009 Journal.

My husband Scott and I were out of town visiting our middle daughter who was pregnant with our first grandbaby. We needed some milk and a vegetable for dinner, so we sent Scott to the grocery store for these two items. Ladies, you can already predict what happened . . . He returned with three bags of newborn diapers (not needed for another five months), a box of cereal, some salad dressing (both of which we already had on hand, but he didn’t know it), three bags of cookies, the milk, a veggie, and some tea.

I started to grouse about his overkill when the Lord struck me with this thought: “This is like Me—an over-abundant, extravagant, generous, over-flowing, more-than-you-need kind of God. Do not spurn generosity.”

Thank You, Lord, for my generous husband.

Using those diapers 5 months later

Profanity

Journal 2005

Recently a friend on Facebook used a four-letter word in her post, and I’m disappointed in the direction this young person has taken in life. I know she knows God, but her activities don’t match my understanding of biblical mandates. It grieves my heart for the woman she’s become when I knew her once as an innocent child. What seed of disappointment, pride, rebellion, hurt, or emptiness got planted in her heart and when? I’m not responsible for her choices, but her choice today impacted my eyes, and the impurity infiltrated my mind.

I was raised with strict rules about dancing, smoking, movie-going, and card-playing. Never once did my parents curse, drink alcohol, or travel on Sunday. As I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve had to decide which rules I want to shed and which I want to keep. I can happily play games with cards, go to movies, or golf with my husband on a Sunday afternoon, but I still seem to be quite sensitive to profanity.

And so I struggle to get that four-letter word out of my head. It’s like trying not to see a pink elephant by saying, “Don’t think of pink elephants”! I need a God-miracle to break the bond with it. I’ve tried every trick, tip, and tool I know, and nothing works. I’ve tried bond-breaking in memories and images, prayers against curses, repentance, forgiveness, praise, and prayer for purity for self and for others.

Forgiveness—this word jumps out at me. Why am I reluctant to pursue this? Why do I need to forgive her? Has she done me wrong? She doesn’t even know she’s impacted my heart and mind, and I’m sure if she knew, she wouldn’t care. I am not her judge . . . and that thought helps. I can forgive her. Apparently, I was standing in the judge’s seat, and that position is not mine, but God’s. And with that, I can let the stuck word melt away in my brain.

A 2022 Update. I would dance if I could, and I enjoy an occasional sip of wine, but I still choose not to add profanity to my vocabulary. I thank my parents for the example they set.

Photo by Liliana Drew on Pexels.com

Anger, Bitterness, and Resentment

Journal 2005

One day three guardians named Anger, Resentment, and Bitterness stepped into my heart, and one day I decided they needed a come-to-Jesus moment.

“I’m tired, says Bitterness. “I don’t want to carry this anymore. I’m willing for You to take what’s in my heart. I just don’t know how to give it to You.”

“I’ve been waiting for you,” says Jesus. And He stretches out a full-length cloak to place around the guardian’s shoulders, but Bitterness resists.

“I’m too dirty and ragged. I don’t want a cloak to cover me.”

Jesus smiles. “I was just measuring to see if it fits.”

“Oh, sorry.”

“That’s okay,” He says. “Now, let’s see . . . what shall we do with you?” He has a teasing twinkle in His eye.

“I just want to be clean!” Bitterness cries.

Jesus smiles and nods toward a nearby pool of Living Water. Bitterness leaps in, splashing and laughing as the cool water soaks into his scabs and melts away the dirty garments. He’s fascinated the water doesn’t turn murky as a result.

Little Emotion, now free at last, says, “I’ve been trapped here for so long, but Bitterness was too strong for me.”

Bitterness asks forgiveness of Little Emotion. “I was just trying to protect you,” he says.

“I forgive you,” she replies. “And thank you.” I watch as they hug.

Then Little Emotion eagerly runs to Jesus. “Can I have a cloak too?” she asks.

“In a minute,” He replies. “You have some wounded places that need healing first.” And He touches some spots on her shoulders, her back, and down her torso. In fact, the more spots He touches, the more appear. But when He touches them, they begin to glow, like they’re radioactive or something. I don’t understand what’s happening.

“This is just revealing where all the hidden spots are,” He explains.

“So many!” she cries.

“Not too many,” He says. He turns her around and examines each one. “There, I think we have them all,” He declares.

“Now what? What are You waiting for?” she demands.

His eyes are kind. “You’ll see.”

There’s an eruption in the earth at our feet, like an explosion, and a cylindrical structure rises from the depths. What in the world?? At first, I think it’s from the netherworld, the work of the underground, but Jesus says He wouldn’t allow that on my castle grounds.

It’s a Guard Tower, a turret, located on the back, right corner of the property, near the little pool. The three Guardians are curious. “For us?” they ask in wonder?

Jesus laughs and hands each one a cloak, just their size. Resentment, Anger, and Bitterness rush up the stairs, exploring their new digs. “So cool! Look how far we can see! Jesus, can we have some weapons too?! And please, can we change our names? We don’t like the old ones.”

And Little Emotion steps forward, tugs on His robe, and weeps. “Please, Sir, can I have one too?”

He kneels and embraces her. “Let it all out, Honey,” He says. And all the glowing spots begin to fall off like they’re made of plastic discs, clink, clink, clink on the ground. And still she weeps until the tears run dry.

“Little Flower,” He calls her, and slips a strange cloak around her shoulders made of multi-colored fabric petals. She doesn’t particularly care for it. “I’d rather have a rainbow one,” she declares, and it immediately turns into many colors. “Or a tiger-striped one” and it changes instantly.

“What kind of a cloak is this?” she wonders. “It’s not what I expected.”

“What did you expect?”

“Something soft and shimmery and golden or something.”

“Ahhh,” He says. “This is a special cloak. It is not fake, like you thought. (How did He know she was thinking that?) It changes with your mood. People can see what you’re feeling according to what color and shape it is. Bitterness hid the real you. You are now free to feel what you feel and enjoy the shifting and changing inside. It’s the beginning of Joy.”

“I’m related to Joy?” she exclaims.

“Yes, Little Flower. You may run along now to the castle, if you wish, and see her.”

The three Guardians are giggling and racing around and poking their heads through the openings in the turret. Jesus laughs with them. “Ready for your new names?” He calls.

They stampede down the stairs, nearly tripping over their new garments. These might take some getting used to, they think.

They line up in a row in front of Jesus, panting.

“You,” He declares, pointing to Resentment, “are Forgiveness.”

“And you, Anger, are Guardian.”

“And you, Bitterness, shall be called Sweetness.”

“Sweet! Can I have some candy? Preferably bittersweet chocolate?”

Jesus laughs. “Go on with you. There’s some in your drawer in your quarters upstairs.”

Forgiveness kneels before Jesus. “Jesus, I’m sorry for staying away from You so long. I’m sorry I held Little Emotion captive.”

“Ah, dear child, you are already forgiven. I took that for you two thousand years ago. Welcome home! And thank you for trying to help. I appreciate that.”

“I like Your way better, though, Jesus. Thank You.”

“Guardian!” He commands. “Step forward please.”

Anger Guardian bows his head, ashamed of his role in this little drama.

Jesus kneels, lifts his chin, and looks him in the eyes. “You did your job the best you knew how. There is no shame in that. Thank you for doing your part to protect Emotion. Are you willing to try My way now?”

“Of course, Jesus! It would be foolish to go back to my former life.”

Jesus nods sadly, “Yes it would. But I have a feeling you might change your mind under different circumstances. When you’re in the thick of the battle, you might resort to your old cloak again. But I promise to be there with you. As soon as you realize you’re doing that, I’ll be right there to exchange cloaks again for you if you wish. All you have to do is ask.”

“I’ll try to remember. I like Your way better than mine.”

Guardian bows to his Lord. “I’m still feeling bad.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know . . . I don’t like me very much when I use the old cloak. It’s not who You made me to be.”

“You’re not? Did you know I get angry sometimes?”

Guardian’s head pops up. “Really? You!? But I thought we weren’t supposed to use that cloak.”

“Oh no, my child. I don’t use that one. I use the one I gave you. I created you for a reason. You are a protector, a guardian. Your new Anger Cloak is for defending others who need it. When you defend yourself with the old cloak, you hide yourself from Me. When you defend yourself or others with your new cloak, you become strong and effective in battle.”

Guardian scratches his head. “I have to think about that,” he says. “How will I know which cloak I’m wearing?”

“They look quite different, don’t you think? But if you’re confused, just check with Little Flower. She’ll help you decide, for she can tell the difference. The old cloak will start squeezing her, and she’ll begin to feel restricted again. I suspect she’ll let you know when that happens,” He says with a wink.

“I love you, Jesus. And thank you.”

“You’re welcome. I love you too.”

His Choice, My Choice

Journal 2010

I struggle with the concept of predestination. Romans 9 makes it clear that before the twins Jacob and Esau were born, before they’d made any life choices, God declared that the elder would serve the younger.

Why?

To carry out God’s purpose of selection “which depends not on works or what man can do, but on Him who calls them” (v.11). God decided ahead of time. It had nothing to do with man’s choices. God loved Jacob; He hated Esau.

Question: Was God unjust to do this?

Answer: No! “I’ll have mercy on whom I want to have mercy and compassion on whom I want to have compassion” (v. 15).

Think of it this way:

            He didn’t reject Esau; he just didn’t have mercy on him.

            He could have hated Jacob, but instead He had mercy on him.

Verse 16 says God’s gift of mercy is not a question of human will or effort, but rather of God’s mercy. God doesn’t have mercy on me because I deserve it.

Somehow in my self-righteousness, I believe God owes me because I’ve done something right. Some part of me wants to take credit for how good I am. But I’m looking at the world through faulty lenses, not from God’s perspective. (Job’s friends made the same mistake.)

This same chapter in Romans says God raised up Pharaoh for God to display His power so that God’s Name could be proclaimed around the world. God is the Potter. He gets to choose and decide what He wants to do with the clay in His hands—the clay that He created and formed out of nothing. My part is to submit and be grateful for His mercy. Even my ability to make good and right choices is a gift from Him.

All humanity is in a big pit, wretched and blind, with sores all over our bodies, up to our waist in filth, “ripe for destruction” (Romans 11:32). God’s mercy reaches down and offers to pull us out of the pit. I am too weak, however, to even raise my arms to Him. In His mercy, He chooses me. He bathes me, puts salve on my sores, and restores my sight. I didn’t do anything to deserve His love, grace, and mercy. But once I’ve been chosen, in gratitude I pledge allegiance to serve Him with my whole heart and for always.

I see Him reaching down to pull another one out of the pit. But this one resists God’s efforts to rescue him. He wants to try to get out of the pit on his own, but he can’t. He, too, needs God’s mercy, but he blames God for the condition he’s in.

God’s choices are all about His glory and His Name:

           . . . display My power, My name proclaimed (v 17)

         . . . make known His power and authority (v 22)

           . . . wealth of His glory (v 23)

If I view God as self-serving, arrogant, and egotistical, I become a reluctant worshiper. It feels like a power struggle, like a kid who doesn’t want to take a bath—petulant, balking, what’s-the-point, I-like-being-dirty, leave-me-alone kind of feeling. I’ll take one because I have to because you’re the parent, bigger and stronger than I am, and you have the authority and power to force me into the tub. Never mind that it’s good for me! Stubborn, arms crossed, crying, “I’ll get the water all dirty!” How foolish! I’m caked in red-clay hair, filthy feet, and body sweat.

When at last I give in, God sends a gentle shower and sweet-smelling soap for silky soft hair, moisturized skin, and scrubbing bubbles between the toes. And then He engulfs me in a gigantic fluffy wrap, gives me warm flannel PJs with feet in them, and tucks me between clean sheets.

So, what about “His Name? His glory? His power”? After I’m all safe and secure, He returns to His job—the most powerful ruler of the universe. He has work to do in His executive office, affairs of state I don’t need to know or worry about. But if I get scared in the night or need a drink, all I have to do is call His Name. It’s not that He’ll come running to meet my demands, but He’ll assess the need and respond accordingly. He knows if I’m truly thirsty, or if I just need the reassurance of His presence.

And the funny thing is, one way He protects His Name is by demonstrating to the world His love and care for His family. Moses appealed to His sense of power, authority, and reputation when God was ready to destroy the Israelites. “What will the nations think? he queries Yahweh.

God may be the most powerful force in the universe, but He’s my Daddy!