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BIBLE PASSAGE: Psalm 23
BACKGROUND: David rose from being a humble shepherd to God’s anointed king of Israel. He was not perfect, and his reign was never easy. His enemies included the previous king Saul and David’s own sons, who tried to take his throne. Yet whether he was praising God or lamenting, repenting for his sins or raging against his enemies, David remained close to God.
Many psalms have been attributed to David, and they express the rollercoaster ride of experiences and emotions that are part of life and faith. Even this famously comforting psalm has its dark valley and lurking enemies. It’s a useful way to help children understand that God is always with us, no matter what. ‘Always with us’ provides a link with omnipresent digital technology and the particular problem of cyberbullying.
This advice from the NSPCC (nspcc. org.uk) might be helpful: “Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place online. Unlike bullying in the real world, online bullying can follow the child wherever they go, via social networks, gaming and mobile phone.” It’s recommendations include: letting children know who to ask for help; helping them relax and taking a time out; reporting bullying that takes place on social media and through online gaming; remembering to reassure them that it’s not their fault, and that they are loved and valued.
As the children arrive, chat about what they love doing online, such as playing games or using social media and YouTube. Talk about which devices they depend on and share any favourite cat videos or appropriate memes.
You will need: printed symbols for ‘No Wi- Fi’, ‘Low battery’, ‘No signal’, ‘Buffering’ and ‘…’ (indicating that someone is typing) Share the feelings these symbols arouse and discuss which is the worst. Invite the children to arrange the symbols in order of awfulness. Debate the different circumstances that might change your answers.
You will need: space to create five zones (indoors or outdoors); the equipment indicated below; the verses from each zone printed or written out
Zone one: green pastures (verses 1-2a): a green, nature-filled space, leafy plants, a sound clip of birdsong played on a loop, picnic rugs to lie on.
Zone two: still waters (verses 2b-3): a font, a beautiful bowl with glass pebbles or a pond filled with water, a meandering path or a simple labyrinth leading towards it (use pebbles, masking tape or chalked footprints to create the path).
Zone three: dark valley (verse 4): a dark corridor, a shaded corner with overhanging trees, a den or tunnel between pews.
Zone four: feast (verse 5): a table with a cloth and party food.
Zone five: the house of the Lord (verse 6): a side chapel or a simple altar with a table, a cross and candles, comfy cushions placed around it.
Tell the children you are going to take some special time out with God together, so you need to switch off and put away all devices. Do this with your own phone and put the devices in a safe place.
Explain that these words from the Bible are a psalm, which is a kind of song. The book of Psalms may have been written by a shepherd boy called David, who became a king. He knew about looking after sheep in the countryside: how to lead them to good grass and how to watch over them when wolves were prowling. He thought about God being a good shepherd.
Lead the children to each zone and read the words there together. Then invite them to explore the zones at their own pace, moving around or settling where they feel particularly close to God. Encourage them to chill in God’s presence. Lie on the rugs or cushions, think about the words from the psalm, enjoy the party food, or simply do whatever helps them switch off and spend time with God.
Ask the children these questions, making sure everyone has the chance to contribute:
- Which was your favourite zone to explore?
- Where did you feel closest to God?
- Where did you feel furthest from God?
- What does the dark place remind you of?
- At the feast, the psalm mentions enemies. What does that make you think of?
You will need: large sheets of paper; pens Talk together about how today’s psalm describes our lives with God as a journey through different kinds of places. Invite the children to create a map of their own lives with different kinds of places in it. These can be literal (the places they have lived) or figurative (The Lake of Boredom, The Beautiful Beach of Free Time or The Tangled Forest of Homework). Encourage imagination and self-reflection. As you draw, talk together about where you are on your map. Who or what is always with you on your journey? Where do you feel closest to God? When does God feel far away?
Take this opportunity to open up a discussion about cyber safety and bullying online. If you did session two in this series, remind the children about your discussions about bullying and move on from there.
You will need: paper; scissors; pens Invite everyone to draw around their feet and cut out their footprints. Gather in a circle and place footprints on the floor, facing inwards. Then say this prayer:
Wherever we go on life’s journey, God will always be there for us. Turn to your neighbour.
God loves you. Mark one footprint with a heart. God is always with you. Mark the other footprint with a cross. Pass the pen around the circle. Each child says these words and marks their neighbour’s footprints. Ask everyone to turn their footprints outwards to face the door.
Lord, you are our good shepherd. Lead us out into the world. Wherever we go, whatever happens, may we know your presence with us. Amen.
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