The clock ticked on... My two younger girls noticed their oldest sister was missing and started to panic. Boldness rose as forcefully as The Shepherd’s rod and peace swelled in my heart. We will not be afraid. Jesus knows exactly where O is and He will return her to us safely.
After several minutes (which seemed like hours) I saw a gentleman walking toward us, my daughter beside him. My eyes filled with tears and gratitude — as always, the Good Shepherd went after my little lamb and safely returned her. His rod and staff were a comfort to me.
In their book, The Way of the Shepherd, Dr. Kevin Leman and Bill Pentak explain the uses of both the rod and the staff: The staff is a long tool with a hook on the end. It was used to redirect and rescue the sheep. With their heads down nibbling grass— like my sweet girl searching for hidden treasures in the sand— they aren’t always aware of their surroundings which means they lose track of the shepherd.
The shepherd extends his reach to rescue the wandering ones by looping the staff around their neck and gently bringing them back. The rod, on the other hand, is similar to a club and is used as a weapon. It was small enough to “sail” through the air aimed at a predator who threatened the flock. Always watching, always vigilant, the shepherd protects the sheep from dangers seen and unseen.
For a while, after the shepherd finds the lost sheep, he will use his staff to gently press the side of the sheep to remind them of his presence, comfort and to redirect them if they start to stray.
For the rest of the day, I kept my eye on my sweet girl. She needed the assurance that mama was nearby and that I had my eye on her, even when she didn’t have her eye on me.
Years ago, when I felt ill-equipped and lost in solo- motherhood, Holy Spirit led me to this verse: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Isa. 40:11, emphasis mine).
I realized I am always safe with the Shepherd.
Mama, you may feel lost. Your head may be down in the day-to-day tasks and you may feel distracted. Fear may prowl like a lion just beyond the boundary line.
You may have a lamb that seems out of your reach. Rest assured, They are never out of the Shepherd’s reach and neither are you!
The Shepherd has you and your lambs in His sight and He is leading you. Today, ask Him to show you how His rod protects you. Allow him to draw you close with His staff and to bring you comfort.
“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4b
And then, I heard Holy Spirit tell me to step outside the tent. (Don’t you just love it when God puts you in timeout?).
I stepped out into a wide open space where I could feel the wind and I began to sway. Holy Spirit impressed upon my heart again, “The more freedom you are willing to experience, the more freedom your children will enjoy.” So I began to dance and twirl with big, beautiful, awkward movements.
In those moments I made an exchange. I traded in fear and the need to control for the freedom to be joy-filled and carefree.
As I opened my eyes, I saw my little girls playing and my son dancing. I saw the host of the feast running with laughter as children scattered all around her in a game of tag — all of this during worship. When we choose to live out our freedom, it is worship to the One who freed us!
I used to think freedom was something I needed to work hard to maintain. Now I think freedom is an invitation to adventure deeper into the heart of God toward us.
Friends, like Israel we are free but each day we must make choices to walk in that freedom. Walking in freedom takes trust and practice.
You see, Israel was free the moment they walked out of Egypt, but they had to make choices that built upon their trust in God rather than live under the heavy slave master of fear.
As we read in Exodus 16 (and throughout the book), God extended opportunities for Israel to go deeper and to explore his heart toward them. Each time they were hungry, they had a choice to trust God as a Provider or complain. When they needed water, they were free to choose the Well of Living Water or panic.
Sometimes it seems easier to have the predictability of the hard task masters (fear, coping mechanisms, etc.) than to trust in Holy Spirit, who is described as wind (Jn 3:8)! C. S. Lewis put it best in his novel, Prince Caspian. Aslan, who represents Christ, informs Lucy that in His kingdom, “Things never happen the same way twice” (Lewis).
I used to get annoyed with reading Israel's 40 year saga in Exodus, like, “What are y'all doing? Can’t you see He didn’t bring you all the way out of Egypt to let you die in the wilderness?”
Then I realized, I am like Israel. But I am learning to trust, and so are you! One reminder from heaven can settle our hearts and awaken us to freedom - we just have to choose! I don’t know about you but I would rather have the freedom Jesus offers than any counterfeit! Let’s choose to live out our freedom daily as an act of worship to the one who freed us.
Works Cited: Lewis, C. S. (Clive Staples). Prince Caspian : The Return to Narnia. New York, N.Y. :Collier Books, 1970.
"He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners." Isaiah 1:b (NIV)
Don’t get me wrong! I believe spiritual disciplines help us connect with God and grow in maturity. Oddly enough as I read our passages for this week, I find living in a sacred space and walking by The Spirit is so much deeper and yet, much simpler than I could ever maintain on my own.
In Galatians, Paul cautions Gentile believers about getting bogged down by Jewish law. They had been saved by their faith in Jesus as Messiah. Now, they were allowing themselves to be confused and trapped by others’ ideas of what it would take to maintain their salvation and grow. Paul reminds his readers to stand firm in the freedom that comes from God’s grace (Gal. 5:1).
In a nutshell, Paul teaches us: In order to yield the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we must yield to the Holy Spirit!
The Holy Spirit - not rule-following or checklist-checking - maintains the ground of hearts in order to produce good fruit. That fruit may or may not include miracles, signs and wonders on a daily basis. (This feels like a bummer for me).
The fruit the Spirit produces is seen in the daily grind and grit of toilet scrubbing. Where childrearing gets rough and where preteen attitudes abound, patience and kindness can be found in a life yielded to the Holy Spirit. Our roots can go down deep into the sacred ground and we can soak up water from the Living well. The Spirit of Jesus within us makes this possible. When we walk close enough to step in rhythm with His heartbeat, near enough to hear His whisper, we can’t help but produce His fruit.
Oh, how my heart longs to truly live this way - free from the rules and checklists, simply saying, “Yes!” to the Holy Spirit. If you feel the same way, consider doing a heart check today. What is one area you are yielding fruit? What is one area you can yield more fully to the work of the Holy Spirit?
Memory Verse: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
Even in those moments, God’s word flooded my soul. He reminded me that I abide in Him. And My heart, albeit broken, was still beating.
God’s steadfast love remained and sustained me.
He became the bedrock of my existence.
When I read about Ezra (Ezra 1-6) and the captives taken into Babylon in this week’s passages, I imagine they felt something like this. Not only had their homes been lost, but the temple - God’s house - had also been destroyed. There was no going back to the way things were. The grief must have been overwhelming. I’m sure the thought of rebuilding their lives after such devastation seemed like an impossible and frightening task but God’s people were able to push past the fear and begin the healing process. Ezra 3:3 explains, “Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening sacrifices.”
As days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, God brought His people hope of restoration and reminded them that their true home was found in Him.
In His unfailing love, God gave them the courage to rebuild the broken places and inhabit the promised land again. Eventually, the temple was rebuilt, and the priests and Levites once again served the Lord: “When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel” (Ezra 3:10).
As you read the story of Ezra and the captives, you may find your story written on the pages, too. You are not abandoned, dear Sister. Here, is where we press into the faithfulness of God. We can face opposition with the comfort of knowing we place our hope in Him and in his love.
Ezra 3:11 reminds us of his unfailing love. “With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: ‘He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever’.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.”
Slowly, but with a steady hand and a strong arm, God gives courage and strength to rebuild His house - even if it is our broken hearts. He fills in the empty spaces. And the broken spaces that are still healing just serve as conduits of compassion to leak love to others.
In broken places, God’s love becomes our home.
He did it for Israel. He did it for me. He can do it for you.
In your prayer time today, ask the Holy Spirit to stir your memories to see God’s faithful love over the past 60 days. Start with a list of just 3-4 and post it in a place where you can see it. It could be directly from scripture or indirectly from people he has brought to you! As you remember his faithfulness, let your heart find its home in His love.
Memory Verse: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.” Ephesians 3:17b-18
In Genesis 25, it seems Rebekah has a similar idea. We see Isaac cry out to God for his wife to be able to conceive. The Lord answers by blessing Rebekah with twins. But the twins struggle so fiercely in her womb that it causes her much pain and agony. (I remember my son using my insides for soccer practice, I felt like he was trying to escape through my rib cage! I can’t imagine having two babies fighting! Poor Rebekah!).
Rebekah wants to know why. So she takes her question to the only One who can answer it. What I love is that God doesn’t criticize her for asking. He doesn’t say, “I’m sovereign. Deal with it!” Like a good father, he shares his heart with her. In Genesis 25:22-23, God takes her question and gives her a promise. As we read Rebekah’s story and how it unfolds throughout a generation, we can see God’s presence and providence.
Like He did for Rebekah, God exchanges our questions for promises loaded with exactly what we need to endure. He promises to be our provision even when we endure times of lack. He promises to be present with us even in times of trouble and more.
In my own life, I’m trying to be a little more like my three-year-old. I’m learning to take my questions to The Father with an open heart. It’s a dialogue with him that deepens our relationship. He gives me insight into His heart. He recalibrates my heart to his sovereignty, kindness, and providence in every circumstance … even if it means I don’t get the answer I was expecting.
Take some time this week to take your why to The Father. Let it spark a conversation where He refreshes your hope and shows you His character. Even if He doesn’t give the answer you want, He will answer. Use your journal to record your conversation with Him. You can come back to those answers when you need encouragement or clarity.
Memory Verse: “‘Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.'” Jeremiah 33:3 (NIV)
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