Hallowed be thy name

For the past two weeks, I have been wrestling with this single line of the Lord’s prayer. I have been asking myself what it really means when I say to God, “Hallowed be thy name”. What does the word ‘hallowed’ mean? According to the Oxford dictionary, it means sacred, consecrated, holy. So why is it important that when Jesus taught us to pray, he taught us to declare that God’s name is Holy? Here are a few thoughts:

Saying to God, “holy is your name” is an acknowledgement of who He is. If I were to describe a person I know, my first inclination will be to start with a name. So we start praying by acknowledging that we have a Father in heaven and then we call Him by name.

For the Mighty One has done great things for me. Holy is His name. Luke 1:49 BSB

He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever- holy and awesome is his name. Psalm 111:9 NIV

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy… Isaiah 57:15 ESV

Secondly, acknowledging that God’s name is Holy should put us in a certain posture before Him. Almost all the scriptures that describe God’s name as holy are accompanied by a call to praise, worship, give glory, exult in or exalt the Holy name of God. Acknowledging that God’s name is hallowed puts us in a place of worship.

Psalm 29: 2 says Ascribe to the LORD the glory due to his name; worship the LORD in the splendour of his holiness. So in essence, if you recognize and acknowledge that God’s name is Holy, then you are postured to worship Him according to the worth you place on His name. This brings me to my third thought: What is God’s name worth to us? For many, the name of God and of His Christ have been reduced to swear words. I am deeply offended when I hear people throw the f-word in front of the name of God or of Jesus (as should be everyone who acknowledges that God is their heavenly father!). I would not take it kindly if someone used the f-word in reference to my father so why should it be ok that they can do so with my heavenly father? Hopefully, no true child of God does this but many of us are still guilty of not knowing the worth of the name of Jesus and so we do not ascribe Him the glory that is due to his name!

All week, two references to scripture have been on my mind in reference to the name of God:

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. Prov 18:10

Not sure why I have been stuck on this scripture but I ask again… What is the name of the Lord your God worth to you, and do you give Him the glory due His name?

The second reference has to do with being called by the name of God; the name HOLY.

The LORD will establish you as His holy people, just as He has sworn to you if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways. Then all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they will stand in awe of you. Deut 28: 9-10 BSB

When we acknowledge that God’s name is holy, it is also an acknowledgement of our heritage and responsibilities as holy people. We are identifying ourselves as having a right to communicate.  I like sci-fi movies so I imagine it like a code to get access to the other side- when you say “Hallowed is your name”, the computer scans your voice and all of you; body, soul and spirit and runs its checks to see if belong. After a few seconds, the screen flashes “Holy Identified” and then the door swings open to give you access to enter into the presence of God (smh.. I think I watch too many movies! Help me, Lord…).

In my sci-fi movie, as in real life, there are things you have to do to be called by the name of God. You don’t just gain access because you say the password, “Hallowed be thy name”. Deuteronomy  28:8 says we must keep His commandments and walk in His ways. Psalm 24:3-4 says, “Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to falsehood, who does not swear deceitfully. John 10 talks about the Shepherd-sheep relationship. Many other scriptures attest to the life one must lead to be called by the name of God (HOLY) many of which I have spoken about in past blog posts.

So next time when you pray, “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…”, don’t just recite it as a childhood prayer. Pause to think about God’s holy name and ask yourself the hard questions:

  1. Am I truly acknowledging that God is a Holy God?
  2. What does the name of God mean to me and am I postured to give Him the glory due His name?
  3. Am I called by His name (Holy)?

Food for thought!

Yours Truly.

 

 

With a Grateful Heart

As I look back over the year, I have tons to be thankful for despite the disappointments, losses, and heartaches of 2018.

One of such to be thankful for is this blog which has provided me with an outlet to express what God is doing for me on the inside. So, I just want to take a moment to say thank you to all my readership. Your encouragement in reading, commenting, sending me feedback about my posts, and sharing testimonies with me about what God was doing in your life through my blog was everything to me. It was like God Himself (through you) was saying “Well done!”  and I am truly grateful. So as I end this year, I will like to say a prayer for all of you:

I pray that God walks with you as you cross over into 2019. As you step into 2019 you step into freedom and the troubles of 2018 will bow down to the name of Jesus and cease. I pray that God will be your shepherd and you his sheep in 2019. May the peace of God guard your heart and garrison your mind from all fear. May your hunger and thirst for God be met by a deep revelation of the personhood of God and of His Christ. And may all your hopes and dreams for the new year be established. May God grant you the ability to love freely, the fortitude to forgive freely, and the grace to give freely. Finally, I pray that in 2019 you walk in blamelessly in the light of God and in the sight of all men. Amen.

Welcome to the end of 2018 and the beginning of the best year of your life yet.

Be intentional.

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

referencing The Lord is my Shepherd…

So far we have looked at all the verses that make up the 23rd Psalm. My husband describes all the statements as a confession or declaration of who God is to us and the benefits of this shepherd-sheep relationship.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,he leads me beside quiet waters,he refreshes my soul.
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 your staff,they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and [mercy] will follow me all the days of my life… Psalm 23:1- 6a NIV

The psalmist is enthralled by everything God is to him and it leads to a response and a commitment to God: I will dwell in your house forever! What is the house of the Lord? Where is the house of the Lord?

In the old testament, the house of the Lord was the temple of God where the Israelites worshiped. It was not uncommon for people to live in certain quarters of the temple and dedicate their lives to the service of God; case in point: Samuel. But…

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples made by human hands. Acts 17:24 Berean study bible

But God no longer dwells in buildings, he dwells in hearts and we know from previous posts that the house of the lord represents the presence of the Lord. So if Jesus lives in your heart, then you are the house of God and you carry the presence of God.

So what exactly is the psalmist saying when he says “and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”? The psalmist is making a lifelong commitment to live in the presence of God. Many times, we carry ourselves as if to say the presence of God is found in a place and when we go to that place we go into the presence of God. For some, it is a church building. For others, it is in assuming a certain position to pray or during personal devotion or times of fasting that the presence of God is felt.

Through this series, we have learned that Jesus our shepherd, promises us his abiding presence. He is always with us.  But it takes another level of commitment to make the presence of God a dwelling place. It means you constantly live in God’s presence. You don’t visit. God’s presence is home. For those that like abstract proverbs it is not only buying the milk; It is buying the cow.

When my husband and I were dating, we spent so much time together but at the end of the day, he went back to his own place or I, to mine. It was not until we got married that his presence became a constant in my life. The psalmist is making a pledge to God very much like in marriage. The psalmist is saying, God,  I promise to always be with you always just as you promise to be with me always.

And I will dwell in your house forever…

  • Is a commitment to be more aware of the presence of God and be intentional about living with that consciousness and practicing presence.   It is a commitment to inviting Jesus into your heart every day and with every time you say this psalm so that you can be a carrier of His presence wherever you go. It is a commitment to being comfortable enough in the presence of God to be your authentic self because that’s what you do when you are home. You don’t put on a facade for anyone you are yourself.
  • Is a confession when you are struggling with the notion of being in God’s presence. It may be that you don’t feel worthy to be in God’s presence. Or you feel disappointed with life or with God. This psalm serves as an encouragement and perhaps a self-talk that you are going to strive to live in God’s presence no matter what. When you don’t feel like being in God’s presence you will be in God’s presence.
  • Is an assurance of the hope we have in the afterlife. It is common knowledge that we come into the world naked and take nothing out of it. When you have a shepherd-sheep relationship you take the presence of God with you. Not only will God’s presence be with us on earth but it will be our companion into the afterlife and forever thereafter. Jesus did not take lightly the promise: “lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). You can be confident that eternity will be an easy transition because you will be “home”- in the presence of God; a home you will recognize because you’ve experienced it on earth.

So dear friends, I conclude the Psalm 23 series with a prayer for you:

Holy Spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence, Lord

…Surely Goodness and Mercy Shall Follow Me All the Days of My Life

Referencing The Lord is my Shepherd…

The last part of Psalm 23 is the most popular part of the Psalm. It serves as a benediction in many churches. But have you ever stopped to think about what constitutes the goodness and mercy of God and how they are manifest? I will attempt to describe this from the following scriptures.

Then Moses said, “Please show me Your glory.”“I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you,” the LORD replied, “and I will proclaim My name—the LORD—before you. I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Exodus 33:18-19 Berean Study Bible

Moses asks to see God’s glory and God’s response is I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you and if you read further God says to Moses but you cannot see my face because no one can see my face and live! Two things can be inferred from this: All of God’s goodness is the physical manifestation of  God and is also the embodiment of His glory.

So when the psalmist says goodness shall follow him he is referring to the glory of God accompanying him wherever he goes. Now get this: Jesus is the very essence of God’s Glory and represents the Glory of God.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. Hebrews 1:3a NIV

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 Berean Study Bible

So if you have a daily relationship with Jesus, Our shepherd, you have a daily encounter with God’s glory which is manifested as ALL OF GOD’S GOODNESS.

In the scripture from Exodus 33, we see that God’s goodness evokes His mercy and compassion. Where God’s goodness goes, mercy follows. The Bible records that wherever Jesus went, he was moved with compassion [mercy] for the people he encountered and He demonstrated this mercy by healing the sick and broken-hearted, delivering the oppressed, and setting the captives free. If Jesus is your Shepherd it means that you have 24 hr access to mercy and all of God’s goodness. Now let’s talk about what that looks like:

How great is [Your] goodness you have stored up for those who fear you. You lavish it on those who come to you for protection, blessing them before the watching world. You hide them in the shelter of your presence, safe from those who conspire against them. You shelter them in your presence, far from accusing tongues.Praise the LORD, for he has shown me the wonders of his unfailing love. He kept me safe when my city was under attack. I had said in my alarm, “I am cut off from your sight.” But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help. Psalm 31:19- 22 NLT

This is my definition of a stress-free life. This is a good life. A life that is accompanied by goodness and mercy. And finally, the best part is that these benefits are for as long as you are on this earth: all the days of your life. Not some; but all.

If Jesus is not your shepherd yet, all hope is not lost. He is always moved with compassion for sheep without Shepherd. He wants everyone to benefit from the shepherd-sheep relationship.

Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36 NASB

Don’t let this opportunity pass you by. All the days of your life is a long time and you want to live it well; with goodness and mercy following you!

…My cup runs over

Referencing The Lord is my Shepherd…

This part of the verse has always evoked thoughts of abundance. I always imagined this abundance to be what is bestowed on me by God and rightly so but from the last lesson on ‘…you anoint my head with oil‘ I discovered a unique link between the anointing which represents the Holy Spirit and His power and one’s cup running over. Let me draw the parallel.

When  God anoints us it is with the Holy Spirit and with Power and wherever the Holy Spirit is, the manifestation is as of a river.

“…Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them”. By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. John 7: 38-39 NIV

Rivers are not stagnant. They flow. Every river has a source and the river of the Holy Spirit has its source from the presence of God.

Then the angel showed me a river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Revelations 22:1 Berean Study Bible

In the book of Ezekiel 47, the prophet Ezekiel has a vision of this same river that flows from the presence of God. This river had its source right from the temple of God which represents the presence of God. The more Ezekiel ventured into the river, the deeper it got; from ankle-deep to the point where it was too deep to stand in, too deep to cross.

This is the type of abundance God promises when we are anointed with the Holy Spirit. There will be an overflow in our lives. The caveat is that the more of the Holy Spirit you have, the deeper you will get into this river of God (God’s presence, the knowledge of God, the experience of God) and the greater your overflow. As you may have realized, I am not speaking of overflow and abundance in terms of what you get from God but what pours out of you. Think about the scripture again….my cup runs over. What is inside of you that fills your cup and then pours out to the people around you?

Let’s get back to the analogy of the river in Ezekiel 47.

Then he led me back to the bank of the river. When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live… Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.” Ezekiel 47: 6-12 NIV

When this river that flowed into the Dead Sea, it changed the very nature and composition of the water from salty to fresh. Wherever the river flowed there was life; fish, trees, fruits. There was life. So I ask again; what is your cup overflowing with? Do you bring freshness to the saltiness of life around you? Does your presence bring life to those who are dead emotionally, spiritually and even physically? Or do you suck the life out of people when they hang around you?

Now let’s talk fruit. In Ezekiel’s vision, wherever the river flowed it brought with it, fruit. The presence of the Holy Spirit in one’s life will be evidenced by the fruit He brings.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control. Gal 5:22-23 ESV

The one thing I just noticed about this scripture is that even though it lists 9 qualities they are all described as one fruit, not fruits! The same spirit that brings love, brings joy and the other 7 fruit with it. So I ask yet again? What is overflowing from your cup? Is it Love? Joy? Peace? Patience? Kindness? Goodness? Faithfulness? Gentleness? Self-control?

In Ezekiel’s vision where ever the river went, fruit never failed. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Are you lacking in these fruit that the river of the Holy Spirit brings? Pray to be anointed with more of God’s Spirit; Draw close in relationship with God; Be intentional in spending time in His presence.

It’s the river of God’s spirit that flows from the presence of God which will keep you bearing fruits day after day…month after month… in season and out of season. Then you’ll love everyone in spite of, you’ll have joy in spite of, you’ll have peace in spite of… and demonstrate all the other gifts even in your off seasons.  So for the last time I ask…

WHAT IS FLOWING OUT OF YOUR CUP?

…You anoint my head with oil

…Referencing The Lord is my Shepherd… and  The Lighthouse Keeper

David, as a shepherd is using this elaborate description of how he relates with his flock to describe his relationship with God. So why does a shepherd anoint the heads of his sheep?

Sheep as does other livestock get afflicted with flies, ticks, lice and other insects.  These little insects would especially attack the most vulnerable part of the sheep: the head, burrowing into their ears and noses. This would result in range of symptoms from mild irritation to death. To prevent this, the shepherd would anoint the head of the sheep with a concoction of olive oil (sometimes with herbs mixed in there for perfume), especially rubbing the oil  around its nose, eyes, and ears. The oil was a protection and a repellent against evil.

Many times in our lives we are “bugged” by many challenges but often it is the “little things” that cause many a Christian to lose heart, to get discouraged, or to get upset and offended. We are left disheartened and it steals our joy. I started this blog series with my first post on gracious conversations recounting a conversation I had with a friend that has probably had lasting irreparable damage. I think of conversations I have had with others where I have felt offended.  I ruminate on the things in the conversation that did not sit right with me and  dwell on them till they grow out of proportion in my head tearing down every hope of ever giving the other person the benefit of the doubt or having a discussion or even allowing for reparation. It’s like a little bug that crawls up the sheep’s ear into its brain and gnaws at the tissues till the sheep gets sick or dies. These little bugs ruin friendships, kills marriages, tears families apart, and split churches. So what is the cure?

We need the shepherd to anoint our heads with oil. When Jesus Christ our shepherd started his ministry on earth, He modeled this for all of us. He himself was anointed by God and he went about doing good to everyone; even the most undeserving of sinners.

…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him. Acts 10:38 NIV

We need the Holy Spirit in our lives more than ever before.  To overcome in the battle that rages in our minds… we need the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the power that comes from Him. Oil is a symbolism of God’s spirit. Whenever anyone was anointed in the bible, we know that the Spirit of God came upon them (case in point: David)

So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah. 1 Samuel 16:13 NIV

So when we ask God to anoint our heads with oil, we are asking God to repel any evil from us. We are asking God protect us from seen and unseen forces; but more especially to protect our minds and guard our eye gate, our ear gate, our nose gate, and our mouth gate against all forms of attack from “little bugs” or even the big ones. We are asking for the enablement of the Holy Spirit for this purpose and His power to rest upon us so that we can overcome these little foxes that ruin the vine. We are asking God to help us be open to all people, to not hold grudges, or keep malice. We are asking for the ability to love freely without holding back, or being trapped in unforgiveness. And among other things, we are asking God to break every bondage that we have been subjected to by our minds by bringing all thoughts under the authority of Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:5) because the anointing breaks yokes (Isaiah 10:27 KJV)!

When our minds are free from the grudges, the unforgiveness, the malice then the second part of this verse becomes a reality: my cup runs over. Love will pour out of us like a river;  Joy will pour our of us like a river; Peace will pour out of us like a river. For where ever the Spirit is…. there is a river….

“…Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them”. By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. John 7: 38-39 NIV

Stay tuned for ‘…my cup runs over’ and be intentional in living out your faith.

 

…You prepare a feast before me in the presence of my enemies

Referencing The Lord is my Shepherd…

Aaaah….! My African kindred love this part of Psalm 23! I guess this is because this scripture paints the picture of God’s righteous vengeance on our enemies and rightly so. God says of your enemies, of those who trouble your peace… I will take revenge; I will pay them back. In due time their feet will slip. Their day of disaster will arrive, and their destiny will overtake them” Deuteronomy 32:35 NLT. So Absolutely! God preparing a feast for you to the while your enemies look on in dismay and shame is a HUGE deal! However, I heard a sermon that shifted gears for me. Shout out to Pastor Daniel Ngo.

Psalm 63: Picture this… David is still not done with his enemies. He is on the run again. this time he is running from his own son Absalom.  So he runs into a desert, the desert of Judah where he gets really really thirsty. His body is in a heightened state of awareness… His mind is probably playing tricks on him as he keeps seeing mirages that look like oases in the desert. In that state, all a person can think about is food and water as we revert to our primal, animalistic instincts when we are extremely thirsty or hungry. David also needs to stay alert, he cannot afford to slip because he is on the run and his enemies are on the loose.  So what does David do?

He thinks about God and describes his physical experience through spiritual eyes. experience.  He says,

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1 NIV

When you are thirsty every other desire takes second place to the desire for water and so it is with God. When we thirst after God, all other desires and longing need to take second place to the longing to be filled with more of God. This is where I am going with this, David goes on to say:

You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy. Psalm 63: 5 NLT

David speaks of a feast, but not in the context of vengeance but with the realization that God satisfies us even more than the desire for vengeance, for vindication, for recompense. It is easy to ask God to set a feast before you but it takes a greater longing to look beyond the feast to the God of the feast. David said You satisfy me more than the richest feast and believe you me if God spreads a feast for you then you can be assured that it will be the choicest and the richest of feasts. But David had found the secret to satisfaction. It was not in the feast per say… it was in God.

This reminds me of a practice I saw in a Nigerian traditional marriage. During the ceremony, the bride is asked to go to this table where there are many presents and pick one for herself. The expectation is that she picks the bible because in the bible will be her wedding ring. It’s the same concept God lays a spread before for us… You can take what you want from the table. You can choose to magnify the fact that your enemies are present and focus on that and order vindication off the menu and not experience the rest of the meal.  Or you can choose God off the menu and find all you need in Him.

David made his choice. With his enemies all around him, he recognized that the most important feast was to feast on God… O taste and see that the Lord is good Psalm 34: 8 KJV.

Taste is one of the most engaged senses. You can see from afar, hear from afar, smell from afar but to taste.. you have to be intimate with whatever you are tasting. The shepherd has prepared a table before you… your enemies seen and unseen are all around you… What are you going to do? Are you going to focus on the enemies and get only a few things off the buffet table or are you going to let yourself get lost in the experience of the feast,  are you going to taste and see…

Note the scripture did not say see and taste… sometimes we are like doubting Thomas. We want to see first. Sounds like me trying new food (and if you know me you know I am a picky eater)… it must first appeal to my eyes and then my nose before I put it in my mouth but I dare you to take the plunge. Dare to taste of God even when you cannot see Him, even when you cannot feel He’s near, even when His works are not visible. I guarantee the outcome is always the same: THE LORD IS GOOD. That is why he is our GOOD shepherd!

…Your rod and your staff, they comfort me

referencing The Lord is my Shepherd…

The first thing I think about when i think about the rod is discipline perhaps from the scripture “spare the rod and spoil the child”. And while there is an element of discipline in the functions of the rod, there are so many more uses of the rod I will like to explore as God leads.

Shepherds use a rod to protect the flock from predators or reprimand unruly sheep,  and to prod those going astray, or are oblivious to danger. Isn’t it true of us that many times we put ourselves in precarious positions and are in need of being saved from ourselves? Sometimes when our Shepherd intervenes it is not without a reprimand to help us to stay the course. I think about the time when I caught my son trying to stick an object into a socket. As I swooped in to remove him from imminent danger, you better believe i was scolding him in the process! Even though the tone of my voice frightened him and it may not seem like love in the moment, my actions came from a place of overarching knowledge of how electricity works and some bad experiences with live wires  I have had in my own past. Now ponder this scripture:

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, or lose heart when He rebukes you. For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and He chastises everyone He receives as a son.” Hebrews 12:5-6 Berean Study Bible

David, in his former life as  shepherd, recognized that when ever he used his rod, be it to fight of predators or to correct the course of a sheep, it was always used for the benefit of the sheep. So it was not far-fetched for David to associate a sheep’s rod with comfort.

The other piece of equipment a shepherd had in his arsenal was the staff. This is the one with the crook on one end, the symbol of a shepherd. If a shepherd association had an insignia it would the staff. The purpose of the staff is to guide the sheep, to lift the tired ones or rescue stray sheep from places that are difficult to reach. The staff is like an extension of the shepherd’s hands. Now there are two staffs that God uses to shepherd us his flock. Their names are Favor and Union.

So I cared for the flock intended for slaughter–the flock that was oppressed. Then I took two shepherd’s staffs and named one Favor and the other Union Zechariah 11:7 NLT

We discover the function of these two staffs by reading further down about the chaos that takes place when they are broken. We see that when the staff of Favor is broken it signifies an annulment of God’s covenant and when Union is broken it signifies an end to the bond of unity that exists (Zechariah 11: 10-14).

Favor: For the most part whenever the word covenant appears in the bible, the word favor appears alongside it. Jesus Christ negotiated a new and better covenant for all of us and we partake in this covenant by His grace (which is also known as the unmerited favor of God). “But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Jeremiah 31:33 NLT. The grace (favor) of God keeps us within the terms of God’s covenant and give us the confidence to claim all the benefits stipulated under this new covenant. Favor goes beyond being successful in an exams, passing a job interview, getting promoted at work, winning that coveted/ prestigious scholarship or award. Favor is not happenstance occurrences in your life. For a sheep, Favor is an everyday occurrence. Or to phrase it another way, for a sheep, the grace of God is an  everyday occurrence. In the presence of the Shepherd you have favor. No wonder the psalmist says:

For surely You, O LORD, bless the righteous; You surround them with the shield of your favor. Psalm 5:12 Berean Study Bible

The second staff is Union or Unity and we know from Colossians 3:14 that the perfect bond of unity is love. Love drove our Shepherd to lay down His life for us and our responsibility as sheep is now to Love the LORD with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind and love our neighbors as ourselves.

But how can we love the Lord with our everything when many times we are being pulled in so many different directions? when sometimes our everything is being held together by many bandages because of the hurt and cares of the world? when many times we have been so broken and hurt by people that we are no longer whole? when we have no love left in us to give? And how can we love our neighbors when they are source of our stress and grief? when their values and beliefs are different from ours? or when they don’t look like I do or act like I would? I am reminded of a prayer of the psalmist:

Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. Psalm 86:11 ESV

The psalmist prays to God to unite his heart, to give him an undivided heart. The staff of Union restores the bond of unity within us and among us so that our worship is unhindered and our love for God and for others is unhinged.

David says of the Shepherd: your rod and your staff they comfort me. They are my consolation, my solace, my support, and my reassurance.  My prayer is that we feel the comfort of God in every circumstance of our lives as we purpose to be intentional in our walk with God.

 

…For you are with me

referencing The Lord is my Shepherd…

Psalm 23: 4 says “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…” (NIV) 

In this  series I have used the phrase, “the abiding presence of God” so many times that it has almost become a byword and a cliche. So what does the abiding presence of God really look like? What does it mean when we say that God is with us? How do we conceptualize the word ‘Emmanuel’? I recently heard a sermon that connected the dots for me and I’d like to share. Shout out to Pastor Kirk Cowman.

In the previous lesson we encounter David in Gath running away  from King Saul right into the hands of his enemies, the relatives of Goliath. He was literally in the valley of the shadow of death (Gath is in a valley!) and this is what he says:

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? Psalm 56:3-4 NIV

David’s trust is anchored in the fact that God is with him always. He is cognizant of the abiding presence of God and he goes on to say:

You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book. Psalm 56: 8 NLT

This is a perfect illustration of God’s presence with us always. Do you know how attentive a person has to be to keep track of every time you are sad or sorrowful? Even my husband does not know of every time I am sad or sorrowful and we spend a lot of time together. Oh and do you know how close in proximity a person will have to be to you to catch your tears in a bottle? This is who God is to us. He is so close and always present. Whether it is on a mountain high or in the valleys low He promises to be there. He will never leave us neither forsake us. The psalmist describes this phenomenon like so:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you. Psalm 139:7-12 NIV

We’ve heard countless times that God is with us. This week, my challenge to you and to myself is to practice the presence of God. What I mean by practicing the presence of God is to be fully aware, to fully embrace the notion that God is with us every second; of every minute; of every hour; of every day; day after day after day. He is always there. Through our highs and through our  lows… through the sun and through the rain…. He is there. When we are happy and especially when we are sad, He is there… ready with his bottle to collect and record every tear drop. Practicing presence means internalizing and having a consciousness of the fact that God is with us. Practicing presence means living our lives with that assurance that God is with us and  so “What can mere mortals do to us?” Practicing presence also means that we are intentional in living godly lives because we know that if God is really that close enough to catch our falling tears, then He is close enough to see all those secret sins.

My prayer is that today you experience the glory of God’s presence all around you and within you and be intentional in living out your faith!

 

 

 

 

…Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil

referencing The Lord is my Shepherd…

I have always thought of this scripture to mean being a perilous state that could lead to physical death like having an illness, driving in a bad winter storm etc. And while the promise of God to be with us rings true, I recently heard a sermon that encouraged me to extend my understanding of this scripture. Shout out to Pastor Kirk Cowman

David experienced the valley of the shadow of death in ways that are more real and relatable than the proverbial valley of the shadow of death so let’s look together at David’s experience from 1 Samuel 21:10-15.

David was having such a hard time of life. David the future anointed king of Israel, the champion of the young men and the darling of the young women, the one who people sang about in folklore was having a hard time. King Saul was trying to kill him. David was so desperate he ran away to the home of his mortal enemy Goliath. In Gath, the people recognized him and fearing for his life, he pretended to be insane. No truer depiction of the shadow of death! This is how he described his experience in his own words:

O God, have mercy on me, for people are hounding me. My foes attack me all day long. I am constantly hounded by those who slander me, and many are boldly attacking me. They are always twisting what I say; they spend their days plotting to harm me. They come together to spy on me—watching my every step, eager to kill me. Psalm 56: 1-2, 5-6 NLT

Your experience may not be that you are running away from a king but this could easily be your state of mind in a toxic workplace where it feels like everyone is out to get you. Or if you have a neighbor or roommate bent on making life a living hell. Or unfortunately, sometimes the conditions in a church or marriage can spark such emotional feelings of walking in the valley of the shadow of death. But listen to what David says in spite of how he feels:

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? Psalm 56: 3-4 NIV

Wow! David is in the camp of his enemies…. literally at death’s door and his confession is “I will fear no evil”. He has so much confidence and trust in God’s ability to deliver and save. His trust is the antithesis of any fear he must feel. It gives him the confidence to say:

On this day, one of the darkest days of my life because the valley of death has cast a shadow on my life, I will walk before God in the light of life (Psalm 56: 13 NIV Interpretation mine)

I pray that we truly come to the place where our trust is without borders that even in the face of adversity we remain unwavering. David’s trust was grounded in the next statement the psalmist makes in Psalm 23: 4 “For you are with me” 

Stay tuned for the next lesson where we delve into this phrase “for you are with me” a little deeper and be intentional in trusting God even in your darkest valleys: the valleys of the shadow of death!