Between His Shoulders

img_2580

Atop my bookshelf stands a small wood carving of Jesus as a shepherd, with a staff in his hand and a lamb across his shoulders. It is primitive and roughly carved, yet I contemplate it often because I sometimes see myself as that lamb in need of care.

It is a reminder of the countless times Jesus has carried me when I’ve been too weak and wayward to take my next step, when He lifted me up and draped me across His shoulders, rescuing me from outer circumstances or inner failures I could not escape myself. More than that, it is a vivid picture of His love being a place of protection and rest.

“Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.” (Deut. 33:12 NIV)
Before the patriarch Moses died, he pronounced this blessing over the tribe of Benjamin, along with blessings for the other tribes of Israel. The temple, God’s dwelling place on earth, would be located in Benjamin’s territory, surrounded by the protection of shouldering hills. Benjamin is spoken of as a beloved tribe, enjoying intimate communion with the Lord.

This verse also reminds me of the shepherd, Jesus, portrayed often in the New Testament. In Luke 15 Jesus uses a parable about a lost sheep to convey the lengths He will go to seek a lost sinner. In the parable, when the shepherd finds his lost sheep, “he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home.” A lamb carried on the shoulders of a strong shepherd or God’s temple secure in the folds of shouldering hills; quite different perspectives, yet vividly depicting the protective, caring heart of the Good Shepherd of my soul.

Not only do I see myself, a child of God, secure and shielded on His shoulders, I also draw comfort from being “the beloved of the Lord” and “the one the Lord loves.” Like a warm blanket, these words wrap around my heart with the everlasting, perfect love only God can provide. What more selfless act of love is there than that of Jesus’ sacrifice on my behalf?  “I came to give life with joy and abundance. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep in His care.” (John 10:10-11 The Voice)

There is a rest like no other found in the care of the Good Shepherd. The image of resting between His shoulders gives me such a sense of peace and safety. I can rest calmly there, even in the midst of trials and chaos, because I know what it is to experience that peace which passes all understanding, coming from His indwelling Holy Spirit. In his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Phillip Keller writes, “Our Shepherd knows best when He leads us through the dark valleys with Himself. He knows where we can find strength, and sustenance and gentle grazing despite every threat of disaster about us.”

My rough little carving represents the safest, most loving place I can be, resting between the shoulders of the Shepherd of my soul.

Advertisements

Carved by the Creator

Amongst the many varieties of trees on my native BC coast, my favorite is the arbutus, Canada’s only native broad-leafed evergreen tree. A coastal carver once gave me two spoons he fashioned from arbutus wood. I treasure them for their beautiful amber-red grain and silken texture. He told me the best carving material comes from the most rugged of the trees because they create the densest wood in their fight to survive the harsh climate and tough terrain, growing mostly on craggy bluffs and heights. Carvers seek after the wood of a dying arbutus tree where the main trunk will open and expose the heartwood center, dense and rich in variegated red and brown grains.
Those carved spoons remind me of myself and the work God is doing in me. It takes much refining to shape this wilful heart of mine into a beautiful useful tool for the King. Arbutus trees grow in wild, twisted shapes and are not easily domesticated outside their native habitat. So was my heart before God tempered it by His Spirit; bent towards sin and selfish desires, not easily tamed to obedience. I was dying in my wild state, my life split by suffering, my heart exposed to the enemy who wanted to destroy me. God sought me in that state, knowing the best tools, the most beautiful carvings, can only be shaped from a dying heart. How like God to see value in death, like a woodcarver seeing potential beauty in a dying tree.
Tucked away in the thirteenth chapter of Nehemiah there is a short phrase with big impact. When the exiled Israelites returned to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, they discovered the Book of the Law of Moses excluded foreigners from the land who mistreated the Israelites and called on their pagan god to curse them. Nehemiah makes the comment, “Our God, however, turned the curse into a blessing.” (Nehemiah 13:2 NIV)
That phrase has lodged itself in my mind and spirit. Through Christ, God has turned the curse of death into a blessing; not only physical death leading to eternal life with Him, but death of self resulting in my life reshaped into a blessing to honour Him. But it does not happen overnight or without pain.
In a broken, dying tree a carver sees potential for beauty and usefulness but first he has to harvest the rough wood and cut it to a workable size. Then he studies the grain, determines the density, looking for unique qualities in the wood before carving begins. The carver who made my spoons says each arbutus tree or branch is a mystery. When you first cut into it, you always wonder what color and texture you will discover inside.
My potential beauty and usefulness is not a mystery to God. He already knows how much cutting and carving, sanding and smoothing is required to turn me into an instrument fit to be used by Him. I believe some of that carving has been done already, as I look back on the trials He has brought me through and the things I have learned about Him in the midst. But there are still some rough patches to be sanded smooth.
When the carver made my spoons, he followed the unique grains and distinctive knots in each piece of wood. He knew to go against the grain would result in damage and the wood would not be useful for anything. I am thankful God knows my “grain”, because He created me. He knows how I am bent and has a specific purpose for my life. I want to be fashioned after my arbutus spoons, beautiful and useful to God.