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Women of the Advent | February 29, 2024

Typically, when I know I have a reflection to write, a theme or truth that has been recurring for a couple of weeks starts to crystallize and simply needs to be put down on paper and shared. This time, I got nothing. Absolutely nothing.

That is not at all to say that I am not seeing God at work. I see him working at the Advent in bringing new staff and new energy and excitement for ministry. I see the ways he continues to shape my work at the Advent to reveal new passions, providing work that is satisfying and well aligned with my talents. I see his provision in new friends with shared hobbies and interests who are so encouraging and loving.

So God certainly has been active in my life and steadily present, but not in a way that has felt profound and revelatory enough to share as a reflection. But I think that might be a word in itself! God is not speaking to me in surround sound out of a burning bush, but that does not mean he is not there. He promises to be with me always through his Holy Spirit, and just because his presence is quieter for a season, his promise is not negated (think “Footprints in the Sand”. . . ).

This quiet, steady provision makes me think of God as shepherd, taking his staff and leading me here, nudging me there, making sure I’m protected and provided for. In my sheep-ness, I am usually oblivious to his work and presence, failing to thank and praise him for what he has done. But he knows I’m a sheep and is not the least bit surprised, and his grace abounds.

I particularly love Sally Lloyd-Jones’s paraphrase of Psalm 23, as told in The Jesus Storybook Bible, where she says:

“God is my Shepherd and I am his little lamb. He feeds me; He guides me; He looks after me. I have everything I need.  Inside, my heart is very quiet. As quiet as lying still in soft green grass in a meadow by a little stream. Even when I walk through the dark, scary, lonely places, I won’t be afraid because my Shepherd knows where I am. He is here with me; He keeps me safe; He rescues me; He makes me strong and brave. He is getting wonderful things ready for me, especially for me; everything I ever dreamed of! He fills my heart so full of happiness; I can’t hold it all inside. Wherever I go, I know God’s Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love will go, too!”

When I read her paraphrase, new truths stand out to me in what is otherwise an overly familiar passage. Her addition of “and I am his little lamb” just about brings tears to my eyes. Such tenderness that no one expects from the God of the universe. Such personal, intimate care of his sheep: we’re not just an amorphous blob of billions of people, but individual sheep, each seen by her Father.

A couple of years ago, I heard an interview that Lloyd-Jones did where she talks about this particular paraphrase, and I think back to it often. She says, “[Psalm 23] does not say, ‘The Lord is my rancher, and I am a horse.’” A horse would be expected to work hard, perform well, and earn its keep, but a sheep is completely helpless and can’t even stand itself back up when it falls. A sheep cannot survive without a shepherd. Lloyd-Jones goes on to say, “[Psalm 23] gives us permission to say, ‘Yes, I am small, I am needy, I am weak, I am broken, and that’s okay because I have a God who is strong . . . and he has chosen me to look after and care for.’” What relief from our striving and pitiful efforts to “earn” God’s love!

—Margaret Pope

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