He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
Lately, there has been a whole lot of heartache and sadness, sickness and sorrow, struggle and pain going on in the lives of folks that are near and dear to me. It is the kind of thing that makes you feel so helpless, as you stand by with a huge desire to offer help or relief or comfort or solution, when you know that none of those is really in your power to offer. So you pray. And it is the kind of prayer that is probably the most wonderfully raw, and delightfully true and pure prayer that you will ever pray. It is the prayer of complete dependence and utter desperation. The kind of prayer you think about when your think of the groans (Romans 8:26...read it, it is amazing) that the Spirit of God offers to the Father on our behalf. It is the kind of prayer where all the thees and the thous are out of the way and it is just a heart on a heart; yours and God's. It is a wonder, and a bit of a sadness, that it takes something this extreme and severe to get us to that place of vulnerability and prayer, but low and behold, we are there nonetheless. We are face-to-face with the realization that only God can offer what is so desperately needed. And the question we are left with is, "Will he?" Do we really believe he can, and will, show up? Do we really trust Him to be and to do all that He says He will be and will do?
This morning as I reflected on all of this, God showed up (in His Word, as He usually does) with this incredibly tender picture. It is the picture of One who cares deeply and is involved intimately with His "little lambs." One who tends them like a shepherd with his flock. Actually the word used here for both shepherd and tend is the same word in the Hebrew and can mean a number of different things: to pasture, feed, keep, care for, tend, etc. It is a word with broad meaning that includes all of the things necessary for the care and nurture of the flock. In our despair and deepest pain, that is the word God offers us, His sheep. It is a word filled with both assurance and relief; a source of deep encouragement and unwavering trust. It is a word that says: I am the One who cares for you above all others; and who is able to care for you above all others. You are mine and I love you deeply. I will not leave you alone, to fend for yourself. I am with you always, caring for you tenderly, in all of the conditions and circumstances of this life...whether you can see me--and feel me--or not.
He is also One who gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. How many times in my 35 years of walking with Him have I experienced the intimacy of this vivid picture. How many times, as I reflect back on my own journey, when something came crashing in, or down, on my perfect little world and left me sitting in the middle of the wreckage, stunned and hurt, lost and confused, has God, in his great care and mercy, gathered me into his wonderfully loving and incredibly tender arms and carried me close to his heart. Notice that there are no question marks after those last two sentences; that is because they are not questions, but statements. During those times of most extreme pain and intense heartache in my life and world--be it the loss of our first child, the loss of a dear friend, or the loss of a job I loved--God, in his great kindness, has always faithfully gathered me into his arms and carried me close to his heart. This has been the place of some of the deepest healing and most genuine transformation that I could ever imagine.
So the question becomes,"Will I be gathered, or will I be scattered?" You see, there is a turning necessary...even for sheep. In my pain and grief and struggle, will I turn toward Him and be gathered into His loving arms, or will I be scattered and turn away into anger, bitterness, or despair? I guess that is the question for us all. Knowing the heart of our Good Shepherd, will we turn to Him, in love and dependence and trust, even when it seems to the human eye that everything around us is falling apart; or will we turn away to our own devices; into a land that will eventually devour our very heart and soul? Gathered or scattered? I guess that choice is up to us.