Stop what you’re doing. Seriously, stop and lean back in your chair. Put your tablet down, let your arms relax into your lap and just take a deep breath. Ok, now take another deep breath but this time be more mindful and breathe deeply into your diaphragm. Do this slowly and control the inhale and exhale. Just give yourself permission to do this for a few moments…
Now I want you the following passage slowly while you continue to take deep breaths:
“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 love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Image, with all your senses, that you are hot and tired. You need a drink of cool refreshing water. At this point you’re not sure you can go on unless you can take a break and refuel. You’ve felt this way for a long time but you just kept pushing yourself to move forward. You can’t quit now. I would be a failure if I quit now. How disappointed would the shepherd be if I just stopped and lay down and did nothing for a while?
Finally, the shepherd decides that enough is enough and he makes your tired, bedraggled butt lay down in the shade, out of the scorning sun. You find the shade of a big oak tree and collapse under its shadow and close your eyes. Thoughts of guilt rush into your head but you quickly pass out from exhaustion. The last thought that runs through your head is how nice the cool grass feels on your face.
When you wake up you are immediately aware of how thirsty you are. It is then that you hear the babbling of a brook close by. You lift your head and see a small stream of fresh water nearby and head over for a drink. As you bring your cupped hands to your mouth and the cool water hits your lips you are invigorated. Something jumps inside you like that moment when a swimmer that has been holding his breath breaks through the surface of the water, life rushes into you. You greedily lap up all the water you can, spilling much of it down your chin and onto your chest. Nothing has ever tasted better. It’s amazing how much better the world looks and feels when you are rested and your thirst is satisfied.
As you are drinking, off in the distance you hear howling. This is a familiar sound as you immediately recognize the sound; it’s a wolf, a hungry and rabid wolf. Purely on instinct you take off for the nearby grove of trees. You hope you will find shelter there but as you approach it you become aware of the other dead carcasses lying around, mutilated by the animals. You start to panic and glance behind you to see if the wolf has closed on you. Much to your surprise there is no wolf.
As you catch your breath you carefully wander back toward the brook and tree that you came from. As you crest the hill you are startled by what you see; the shepherd, your protector has bludgeoned the wolf to death with his staff. There was never anything to be afraid of. He had been standing his post the entire time, carefully watching over you as you rested. You wonder to yourself why you ever doubted because he has done this over and over again the entire time you’ve walked with him.
He waves to you as a sign that all is safe and the two of you walk back to your tree. As you approach the tree you see a blanket spread out beneath it with a meal prepared for you. The tears begins to rolls slowly down your face as you realize, maybe for the first time, that you are truly loved, loved in a way that you didn’t even know was possible. He beckons you to sit and eat. He recounts the story of killing the wolf and how he stood between the wild animal and you as you fled for safety. He shows you that the wolf attacked and bit him severely and you notice for the first time that the shepherd is bleeding. You pull back his robe to reveal deep puncture wounds on his arms and legs. He is covered with scratched on his back and abdomen. This is serious.
He is becoming weak and his face looks pale. He is losing a lot of blood. You don’t know what to do. This lowly shepherd took a bullet for you and now he is dying right before your eyes. You feel helpless and are beginning to feel survivor’s guilt. The shepherd immediately recognizes this and rebukes you. “Stop! Don’t do that to yourself. I did this because I love you, and I would do it again so you never have to live in fear.”. You are crying uncontrollably at this point and he says to you, with his last breath, “You do not have to be afraid anymore. I have slayed the enemy. It is done”. And then he was gone…
Ok, now take another slow, deep breath. Pay close attention to your thoughts and your emotions. Grab a pen and paper and write down your experience. What did God have to say to you through this? What jumped out as being particularly meaningful? Now what? Write is all down. Get it all out on paper.
That’s it. The exercise is over. The only point of this was just to get you to sit still and grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
May God grant you peace and rest…
If you’re willing, I’d love to hear how God spoke to you. If you are compelled to share leave it in the comments.
Chris, Coordinator of The Shelter at Simply Youth Ministry Conference 2014! (psst…advanced registration deadline ends in 2 days on Jan.15!)