Recently I have found myself laughing – belly laughing, the kind that shakes your stomach so hard it cracks through stress and any tightness left there by worldly situations. One of the memories that make me laugh like this is from a story when we were pastoring and had a surprise visitor who spoke Spanish. I tried to translate. I shared a story about making my kids breakfast – eggs and bacon. I was attempting to stress the importance of devotions before breakfast as a helpful discipline. I said it reminds you what to be “hungry” for, and its priority in the day. Instead of saying huevos (eggs), I said cervasas (beer). It ended up being a funny, embarrassing story but it connected us through laughter.
This week I have been laughing at myself again. I wrote the last blog about being persistent. Then I forgot to write the blog the next week. I’m not exactly sure why that happened but although I can follow through and believe in doing what we commit to do, there are times when the Lords’ “pause” is more important. That shouldn’t happen very often or we would never get anything done but His plans are better, higher, greater and much more effective. The pause was fruitful. The pause was refreshing. The pause had purpose.
Psalm 23. Just a little song passed on by David that is read at funerals and memorized by school children. I read it again this week. My mental cartoon character Sharon the Sheep went driving to the grocery story to get groceries. Wait… sheep don’t know how to park in a parking space at grocery store. Smile. How will they go in the sliding glass doors or even open a bag or oranges? Impossible. I thought of Sharon the Sheep wearing a pearl necklace trying on clothes at Dillard’s. Wait, sheep would fall on an escalator, they can’t go clothes shopping easily. Who will zip their zippers or button their blouses? Sharon the sheep would have an awful time baking cookies even with a Martha Stewart recipe, because her wool would be highly flammable near a hot oven. Sheep don’t have opposable thumbs so they can’t fix their own hair. Sheep need a lot of assistance, helpless, cumbersome and fluffy.
Because the Lord is my shepherd – I lack or want nothing.
Before I have a need He has met it. He gives us constant assistance, constant care, constant compassion, regardless of need. I want lots of things but I lack none of the things I truly need because my Shepherd is watching out for me in all things. That reduces much mental and physical striving.
He makes me, actually causes me to lie down in green pastures. Translation: where I can get good meals, snacks and provision. This is even when I have other plans, other agendas, other goals. His main purpose for me is not ministry or even serving my family. Manjia, manjia! Like an Italian mama filling her boys with pasta and sausage, the Lord’s prime desire is that we are filled with Him before we enter our day- His day.
Our Shepherd aggressively, completely and whole-heartedly with passion, wisdom and skill, leads us.
When I was in college I took an exegetical class in Hebrew. My patient professor knew I was scared to be in the class. It was mainly male students in the class. My first test I failed miserably. He brought me into his office and I fully expected him to say, “You need to go home girl, this is not your cup of tea.” It felt like I had disappointed my denomination, my church, my parents and I felt dumb, thinking I could ever study with the caliber of students called to this seminary. I packed up my carel and trudged to his office to hear the news of my demise. He showed me my test then said, “Go have lunch and come back this afternoon and I want you to take it again.” I slowly left his office; however, I did not eat. I put my head down on my desk in the basement of the library and cried, telling the Lord I desperately wanted to reach the nations but it would have to be as a prayer warrior because this was not for me. Later that afternoon I went back in and took the test, this time making a B plus. Performance anxiety gone, fear of failing already actualized, absence of handsome good smelling student sitting by me and the sun in a calmer place, I had passed! I couldn’t believe it. I wish I could say I elegantly thanked him for his understanding and went to study. What that moment meant to me was not a Hebrew test but a gateway door that maybe; possibly, I could serve the God I loved. It was big. I ran into the hallway and did a perfect cartwheel, jumping up and down like a high school cheerleader. They probably passed it off that it was some Pentecostal expression but it was sheer hope and delight. My professor did not release me to get off the path but redirected my focus so I could stay on the path. I think he wanted me to be able to read the Bible for all it was worth and press in. Smile. I’m thankful for his guidance to this day. We can trust the Shepherd that guides our path. The word tells us we go from glory to glory and He is guiding that.
The word for water here is mayim. Heaven is shemayim – a place John would later describe in Rev. 14:2 as a place of many waters and Ezekiel 43:2 expressed as Gods’ voice being like rushing waters. When your only water spot is in the ground or in the Heavens, you realize how important this Shepherd is that is leading you. He knows where these watering spots are and that becomes really important. We need this Shepherd to strongly lead us, because the ordinary path leaves us dry, dusty and weary. Dehydration spiritually means the difference between life and death.
This is the point of the blog this week, this next verse –but let me explain why first. In Hebrew there are verbs and then there are verbs on steroids. If I whisper a hello that is like a regular verb. If I stand on a mountain, using a sound system with a megaphone and thousand voice choir to scream emphatically a shout of hello – that is an intense verb (polel).
He refreshes my soul is that type of verb.
Yoga can’t do that. Meditation can help but it can’t do that. Medicines may support some system but it can’t refresh that deeply. My Shepherd massively, intentionally, continually, effectually refreshes my soul. Saturated, anointed, blessed, calmed, watered – that is what Jesus does to our souls. Oh, if we come near Him, He knows exactly what we need. He touches those deep places of pain; He heals those rejection areas, places a balm on the injured areas nothing else can reach. HE refreshes my soul; HE keeps me going, in spite of anything that has happened in the past, present or future. He is not only able to refresh but super willing to! Wow!
Sometimes, we need to pull away from the routine, the ordinary, whatever anyone else is expecting us to do and just hear God’s voice, feel the Shepherds patting our heads, bringing us to eat what He has prepared. Manjia, manjia little lambs.
What is greater in your life that you pause for? What areas of grace do you need to apply as you please God and others? What can be suspended for a minute, an hour, a day in order to make room for God’s providential care or leading? Are you doing good things or God’s things?
I want to persist in following Jesus, not my own agenda, no matter how great or BIG that looks like to me or others. My Bible still says that He REWARDS those who diligently seek HIM. If “keeping on” looks more like willpower or spiritual muscle it may be directing us to more ministry – but people style ministry. The Way seems more narrow these days and following Jesus has more tangles and distractions than I ever thought possible. It is way too easy to get distracted by good things rather than God things. I want to persist after the One with real spiritual muscle because He never changes and Eternity is in His hands.