Shepherd me, O God~a hymn share

flw house 2.JPG

A homeschooling perk: Em and I took a field trip last week to the Frank Lloyd Wright house in Oak Park (that’s US history, right?). Em took this pic of one of his window designs.

This hymn showed up in my daily prayer app the other day, and I re-read the first stanza several times: “Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants/beyond my fears/from death into life.” My default wants are safety, security, comfort, acclaim… And why am I so fixated on those? Because I fear that if I am not concerned about them, God will not be either. So I also need shepherding “beyond my fears.” I need God to move me “from death into life.”

I love the shift from prayer to truth-telling in this hymn, with the prayer for shepherding alternating with verses from Psalm 23, reminding the pray-er of God’s faithfulness and goodness. It is because of this goodness that we can confidently ask Jesus to shepherd us. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows our true needs, well beyond our wants or what we think will satisfy us. He will lead us through dark valleys of fear and doubt into abiding faith. He will lead us from death (which sometimes looks quite lively and self-satisfying) into true, full life. At the bottom of the post there are two links (to a Youtube audio recording of the song and to the hymn writer’s website) and a verse.

Hymn: Shepherd me, O God

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

God is my shepherd, so nothing I shall want,
I rest in the meadows of faithfulness and love,
I walk by the quiet waters of peace.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

Gently you raise me and heal my weary soul,
you lead me by pathways of righteousness and truth,
my spirit shall sing the music of your Name.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

Though I should wander the valley of death,
I fear no evil, for you are at my side,
your rod and your staff, my comfort and my hope.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

You have set me a banquet of love in the face of hatred,
crowning me with love beyond my pow’r to hold.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

Surely your kindness and mercy follow me all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of my God forevermore.

Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants,
beyond my fears, from death into life.

Words and Music: Marty Haugen

To hear the music, follow this link.

Visit Marty Haugen’s website for more of his music.

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’sgiving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Matthew 6:33 MSG

A sermon and thoughts on Generosity

Two days after my sister sent me the Matthew 6 commentary on generosity and giving that I shared in my last post, I opened up my podcast library on my phone to listen to the latest Tim Keller Sermon and found that it is titled “Blessed Are the Poor.” It so closely relates to the Matthew 6 commentary that I am blown away. Clearly this is something the Lord wants me to meditate on and pray about more–and, of course, DO! Click on the link above to listen to this sermon via Podbay. Keller doesn’t pull any punches, but he ends by drawing our attention back to grace. He reminds us that “generosity” that is based on guilt is simply religion; it’s not founded in the Gospel.

One image from the Matthew 6 commentary that I keep thinking about is the “single eye.” Here’s a quote from that section: Jesus’ illustration about the “single” (NIV good) eye and the evil eye would immediately make sense to his hearers: a “good” eye was literally a healthy eye, but figuratively also an eye that looked on others generously (Sirach 32:8). In the Greek text of the Gospels, Jesus literally calls the eye a “single” eye, which is a wordplay: the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible also uses this word for “single” to translate the Hebrew term for “perfect”-thus “single-minded” devotion to God, with one’s heart set on God alone. An “evil eye,” conversely, was a stingy, jealous or greedy eye; yet it also signifies here a bad eye (Mt 6:23), one that cannot see properly. Jesus uses the “single” eye as a transition to his next point, for the “single” eye is literally undivided, having the whole picture: thus one is not divided between two masters, as the text goes on to explain (v. 24).

mads eye

I’ve posted this picture (shot by my older daughter [the subject is my younger daughter]) before, but I felt it was very appropriate for this post.

I want the generous, single eye Jesus speaks of. I want to see more and more clearly God’s great, incredible, beautiful love for me–until my eye is filled up with Love-Light so that my view of every other person is filtered with Love. This morning I was reminded that this not only applies to those in physical or social need when I realized I was viewing an interaction with a neighbor without a bit of Love in my gaze. There was no generosity in my view of her. I was thinking of her only in relation to myself, of how she had inconvenienced me. God had to remind me that the generosity He calls us to is a way of life that impacts how we see EVERYONE!

This prayer is adapted from the Message version of Matthew 6.

Lord, help us to open our eyes wide in wonder at your amazing love. Help us to believe and trust that you love us more than we can ever understand. Fill up our eyes with the light of your love so that we don’t squint our eyes in greed and distrust but look instead with generosity on others. May we deny and abandon the self-worship we are so drawn to and worship you alone. This single worship will fill our entire lives with Light!

 

The freedom of being a small character

flower close upI just finished Still by Lauren Winner, an author who rises higher on my favorite list every time I read another of her books. (Follow the link above to her Amazon page to see all of them.) Still is about what she calls a mid-faith crisis–the doubting, dull doldrums–and what still keeps her in the faith and allows her, ultimately, to remain still in it.

One of my freelance assignments right now is a week of devotions on the “walk humbly” portion of Micah 6:8, and I’ve been simmering in that phrase before I begin the actual writing. Perhaps that is why the quote below from Still caught my eye. Whatever the reason for my first attraction, I have returned to it several times since, and I want to share it with you. If you are wondering this day about the specific purpose of your life; if you have thought “What am I doing?”; if you’re struggling with your significance/success–or seeming lack of it; if you’re shamed by failure, this one’s for you.

“It turns out the Christian story is a good story in which to learn to fail. As the ethicist *Samuel Wells has written, some stories feature heroes and some stories feature saints and the difference between them matters: ‘Stories…told with…heroes at the centre of them…are told to laud the virtues of the heroes–for if the hero failed, all would be lost. By contrast, a saint can fail in a way that the hero can’t, because the failure of the saint reveals the forgiveness and the new possibilities made in God, and the saint is just a small character in a story that’s always fundamentally about God.'”**

That last line (emphasis mine) keeps grabbing me. A load rolls off when I sit with it. I sigh with relief and gratitude. Yes! I breathe, yes!

white flowersFather, you are the Playwright of the greatest story ever, and you’ve given me a role in it, a small but somehow still important role. This story is about You; it’s for you; it’s by You. I come to you now and ask that You would simply show me what You have for me today in this story. Help me to release the big story to You, to let Your capable pen write it. Help me to live into the part you have for me, one small scene at a time. Give me great joy in doing my best for You. Remind me that You empower me to live out my role. May my bit part–and all our parts collectively–glorify You.

Just on a whim, I did a search on the word “story” on Bible Gateway. I specifically chose The Message to search from because I thought it might use the word “story” in a symbolic sense as well as in a literal one. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but I found some beautiful, arresting passages. I’ve included some of them below.

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons? ***Matthew 23:23-24

[ Trusting God ] So how do we fit what we know of Abraham, our first father in the faith, into this new way of looking at things? If Abraham, by what he did for God, got God to approve him, he could certainly have taken credit for it. But the story we’re given is a God-story, not an Abraham-story. What we read in Scripture is, “Abraham entered into what God was doing for him, and that was the turning point. He trusted God to set him right instead of trying to be right on his own.” ***Romans 4:1-3

I’ve preached you to the whole congregation,
    I’ve kept back nothing, God—you know that.
I didn’t keep the news of your ways
    a secret, didn’t keep it to myself.
I told it all, how dependable you are, how thorough.
    I didn’t hold back pieces of love and truth
For myself alone. I told it all,
    let the congregation know the whole story. ***Psalm 40:9-10

*The Samuel Wells link leads to a piece he wrote for The Christian Century about Bonhoeffer. It doesn’t link specifically to this topic, but it’s a really good read and what he wrote near the end of the article about Bonhoeffer’s assumptions about his own life’s “success” really do flesh out the quote above (which is not from that article).

**The quote is linked to the specific page it can be found on in the book God’s Advocates: Christian Thinkers in Conversation. It’s a Google book, so the entire thing is available for reading on that page.

***The Scripture links lead to a parallel versions (Message, NIV, Amplified) of that passage, allowing you to see other translations alongside Peterson’s work.

Practicing Awe

Sorry for the poor photo quality, but I took this on my phone on an early-morning jaunt a couple weeks ago. The sunrise reflected on a patch of ice in a field. Definitely a moment of awe!

Sorry for the poor photo quality, but I took this on my phone on an early-morning jaunt a couple weeks ago. The sunrise reflected on a patch of ice in a field. Definitely a moment of awe!

I continue my “crawl” through the Bible, and a phrase from Jeremiah jumps out at me. It’s from the fifth chapter, in which God is reminding the Israelites they have broken the covenant He made with their ancestor Abraham. Verse 24 is but one piece of His evidence: “They do not say from the heart, ‘Let us live in awe of the Lord our God, for he gives us rain each spring and fall, assuring us of a harvest when the time is right.’”

“Live in awe!”

What an incredible phrase.

They didn’t do that.

Much of the time, I don’t either.

The consequences of their awe-less life were concrete and strong. Verse 25 reads, “Your wickedness has deprived you of these wonderful blessings. Your sin has robbed you of all these good things.”

The consequences for my oft-times awe-less life tend to be more abstract.

I have the concrete “good things”: food to feed my healthy children, a warm, snug house, enjoyable and fruitful work. A lack of awe does not always result in the gifts themselves being taken away, but we do lose some of the blessing and goodness of the gift when we do not see it as such, when we let it become commonplace, something we believe we deserve, or something less than a gift—a burden.

So, this day, I am going to practice “awe” for the gifts surrounding me in the moment. I will journal my practice. Here goes…

+++++

As I write this, I am secreted in my bathroom, the one that has one door that opens into my bedroom and another that opens to the den. Patrick and his friend, Ben, are having a rock concert in my bedroom; Jake and his friend, Josh (Ben’s older brother), are in the den playing on the Wii. I can hear both sides.

They’re. Loud.

Much of the time I forget awe at these amazing gifts: two healthy sons with good friends, toys for them to play with when the weather is such that I can’t simply kick them outside all day, more than one bathroom (that’s HUGE!), a warm house, and bathroom doors that LOCK! Woohoo! I am in awe at these gifts of God in this very moment, and the goodness of this moment is revealed, and I can view the chaos and noise as a blessing.

+++++

It is now ten minutes later, and I am no longer in awe.

I am fixing mac ‘n cheese and dishing up bowls for five children so they can go out and play in the snow with full bellies (and not come back in 15 minutes later because they want snacks). I’m feeling hounded by questions of “Is it ready yet?” “Where are my gloves?” and “Mom, I think I left my snow boots at school. What should I do?”

How quickly I move from awe to frustration. It doesn’t even feel deliberate. I don’t remember making the choice to get frazzled: I just slid right into it.

Choosing awe, on the other hand, requires, well, choice, requires acknowledgment of need and cries for help—and then requires the entire process again only moments later.

Awe is clearly not my natural state!

+++++

It is now three hours later—three loads of laundry finished, three loaves of bread made, children out to play in the snow then back in (with another neighbor friend in tow), the two brothers picked up by their mother, two of mine sent to a friend’s house, one quick run up to the high school to pick up Judy, who is exhausted from all-day play practice, and snacks fed to the only two young children left in my house—and they are busy with non-destructive play—Yay! Someone actually remembered to charge my laptop after they played on it during the three-hour interim, and I am sitting down to write this—because writing is how I meditate on truths God is teaching me.

As much as I would like awe to be a constant state, it simply isn’t, and that really has nothing to do with the chaos of my family. If I lived in a monastery, and everyone around me had taken a vow of silence and peace, something would still cause me to slip from awe.

Perhaps that is actually a good thing—not necessarily the slipping, but the struggle it pushes me into (which reveals my helplessness and ends in my crying out). The battle for awe, for joy, for peace—for God, ultimately—strengthens my desire for Him. I see the contrast between awe and “regular life” more clearly as I wrestle my way back to awe time and time again. Is this what James was suggesting? That my ongoing struggles will build endurance, that patient endurance will open my eyes to see God’s “good and perfect gifts” and see Himself as the Father of lights?

Maybe? Like my struggle for awe today, all my spiritual sight is shadowed and grows clearer only in small increments.

And that is all right.