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Guided or Herded?

I don't know about you, but I need to be taught to make the right choices. I might 'know better' than to do some things like putting my hands on a hot stove or getting my thumb too close to the hammer when driving a nail, but did I just 'get that' intuitively? No, I had to learn the hard way - through experience. It wasn't that mom didn't warn me the stove was hot - she did many times. It wasn't that dad didn't show me the right way to hold a nail and hammer - he did many times. I just didn't listen - I didn't learn the first time, either! I had many a 'hot moment' experience and have hit that same thumb more times than I can count! With each time I made the wrong choice, there was the opportunity for me to learn to make the right ones. In all of life wrong choices aren't 'wasted' - they are times when we can 'come back around' to the place where we learn to make the right ones the next time.

Oh! Teach us to live well! Teach us to live wisely and well! Come back, God—how long do we have to wait?—and treat your servants with kindness for a change. Surprise us with love at daybreak; then we’ll skip and dance all the day long. Make up for the bad times with some good times; we’ve seen enough evil to last a lifetime. Let your servants see what you’re best at—the ways you rule and bless your children. And let the loveliness of our Lord, our God, rest on us, confirming the work that we do. (Psalm 90:12-17)

We all need to be taught how to 'live well'. I am not just talking about eating right, getting plenty of exercise, drinking lots of water, and enjoying a good night's sleep each night. I am talking about the choices that we make day after day without even really thinking about them. These are the choices to listen when spoken to, really focusing when our minds would want to wander elsewhere, and being present in the moment. They are also the choices of giving of ourselves when prompted, being open to changing what isn't working right, and putting others above ourselves even when it isn't easy to do so. Living 'well' isn't easy and it isn't learned once and then we 'have it all down'. It is a series of choices, day after day, in the right direction. Choices that sometimes aren't 'intuitive'.

It comes as no surprise to me that our psalmist is asking God to make up for the bad times with some good times. If you are anything like me, you have made bad choices and that didn't end well for you. At some point you ask God to 'redeem' whatever he can from those bad choice moments. Do you know what one of the things he 'redeems' from those moments might be? The learning we embrace from the choice we made. Sometimes God's 'making up for the bad times' is really us taking away whatever it is we can from those moments so we don't repeat them willingly again. Notice I said 'willingly' - we have to be willing to learn from the bad choices. There are always going to be times when we don't give thought to choices - we just make them. It is part of who we are, but we don't have to actively pursue them.

God is best at guiding us through life - he isn't best at 'driving us' through life like a herd of cattle. What do sheep do? They follow. What do cattle do? They need to be driven. The shepherd can use his voice to guide the sheep - the cattle need someone to ride roughshod over them. I don't know about you, but I have been on both sides of that camp - listening intently at times, then needing a good bit of 'herding' to bring me back in at others. God uses the 'burnt fingers' and 'bruised thumb' moments to teach us how to listen carefully to instruction when it is given. When we hear his voice, we will stop, consider, and then obey. Nothing is more liberating than to learn to be 'guided' instead of always needing to be 'herded' through life! Just sayin!

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