* This is the third entry in a series of articles discussing the reasons why Christians have every reason to be optimistic about life and how this optimism is among our most powerful witnessing tools when encountering the world outside the church walls. We will take a detailed look at how Scripture reveals our new identity in Christ; and how that identity, partnered with the nature of God, the work of Jesus, and the reality of the Holy Spirit, ideally results in a “holistic optimism,” which animates every aspect of the Christ-followers life.
Jesus often described himself as our shepherd. In fact, he frequently referred to us a sheep and the church as his flock. In addition, in Luke’s nativity narrative shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks at night, played a prominent role on the most magnificent night in history. In the modern, technologically advanced world in which we live, chances are we give little thought to shepherds or to sheep for that matter. Perhaps this is to our detriment and, with that thought in mind, let’s explore the relationship between sheep and their shepherd.
Christ said that he was our shepherd. Now what is it that a shepherd does? He takes care of sheep. Have you ever spent much time around sheep? In my early childhood I spent a lot of time on my grandmother’s farm in north Alabama. There were at least a couple of dozen sheep that lived on the farm. Sheep are not the smartest animals in the barnyard by any stretch. In fact, they can be quite stupid and quite stubborn, even to their own detriment. Without guidance and care, a sheep might easily wander off and get itself killed in a thousand different ways. Without a doubt, sheep need a shepherd. Now we, of course, are much smarter and more sophisticated than sheep. But are we not also capable of doing senseless things at times? Are we not capable of stubbornness even if that stubbornness causes us harm? Are we not at times silly and unpredictable, capable of getting ourselves into all kinds of trouble at a moment’s notice? I dare say we are. Do we not also need a shepherd?
My grandmother had a handyman who lived on the farm who took care of things. One of his daily tasks was that of sheep herding. The sheep knew him intimately and were familiar with his voice, his mannerisms, and his appearance. The sheep recognized him and obeyed him without question. Their welfare and safety depended on him. When he directed them to go there and do this, they went there and did it. No questions asked. In short, they knew he was a good shepherd and they trusted him completely.
Now we Christians also have a good shepherd. Christ tells us that he is nothing less than this good shepherd. But we, in our arrogance, think that we are so much wiser than a dumb sheep and are in no need of a good shepherd. So what do we do? We strike out on our own, usually with predictable results. Even in spite of our best intentions we often go astray, get into trouble and can’t extricate ourselves. What is the message here? We, too, need a shepherd. Fortunately, we have one.
Even a cursory reading of Proverbs 8:22-36 will give one a powerful glimpse into just who Christ is. He was there with God at the beginning, helping to fashion and mold the entire creation. What is even more amazing however is the fact that this exalted being came to us, clothed himself in flesh, and took on our likeness as a part of God’s plan for restoration of a wayward world. He then ascended back into the higher world to resume his place at the right hand of God. But he did not leave us alone. He did not abandon us as orphans. He left us part of himself, a precious pearl, a diamond of light residing inside of us. He gave us the Comforter, the Holy Spirit. He, in essence, left part of himself here with us. What an astounding reality! Think of it for a moment. Part of the great and omniscient being that created the universe lives within you. Not only that, he comforts you, he guides you. He is, in fact, your shepherd.
To follow the call of the Great Shepherd requires trust in what Christ says about himself and what he reveals about God’s character. We can debate about this and pick theological hairs about the particulars of Christ’s message regarding the nature of God. This debate, whether with others or within ourselves, is ultimately meaningless. Eventually we come to the realization that we can never fully know all there is to know. Each one of us is eventually called upon to take a leap of faith. A leap of faith based on our belief that Christ is telling the truth. A belief based on Christ’s integrity and trustworthiness. In Titus we are told that God cannot lie. Without a deep belief in this fact, following Christ in our daily walk is an impossibility. We must come to the point where deep in our hearts we take Christ at his word. We must become his sheep.
It is easy to look at the big events in our lives and in our world and see the hand of God operating. It is often a simple matter to see God active in dramatic moments. But how often are we blind to his love, direction, discipline, and guidance in those little details of life that we often overlook? Oswald Chambers tells us:
We can see God in exceptional things, but it requires the culture of spiritual discipline to see God in every detail. Never allow that the haphazard is anything less than God’s appointed order, and be ready to discover the Divine design anywhere.
For many years in my spiritual walk I wandered in the wilderness, seeking answers down many avenues and not a few dark alleyways. I often felt bewildered, alone, without direction and devoid of guidance. All too often I found myself isolated at a spiritual dead end, trumpeting loudly in my heart like an elephant at a dried out waterhole. I often felt abandoned by God and spiritually exhausted. I was burned out, burned down, and, more times than I care to admit, so despondent that I wanted to take the whole spiritual quest and toss it once and for all. But now, in retrospect, I can see God’s hand in each dark alley I went down. I can see his caring guidance in each dry hole. For in each of these wanderings I learned much. Not only knowledge that has proved useful in many areas of life, but also what Solomon meant when he said so many of our pursuits, even the most noble ones, are chasing after the wind. Most significantly, in my times of despair and what I thought was spiritual failure, I failed to hear the voice.
The same voice that accompanied the Israelites in their forty years of wandering in the wilderness. The voice that whispered the comforting words that would have filled my empty ears with a glimmer of hope. The voice that said, “I am with thee”. The Creator and Sustainer, the God of All Comfort led the wanderers through the barren landscape, always remaining faithful in His promise to lead them into the land of plenty. He remained with them, in spite of their lack of fidelity, in spite of their disobedience, in spite of their seeking comfort in places and things other than Himself. “I am with thee”, he said and surely he was. How much more is he with us now? Has God changed? No. Has he altered his promise? No. Has he withdrawn his covenant to lead us into the Promised Land? No.
In fact, since the Incarnation He is with us more than ever. The angel of the Lord announced to Joseph, “They shall call his name Emmanuel,” God with us. How much more is God now with us, even in our wandering, faithlessness, and spiritual infidelity? No less than he was with the Israelites. In fact, he is now with us in a new and more glorious way. He lived among us and left one-third of himself to reside in each and every one of us. In and of itself, this is one of the magnificent reasons for Christians to be optimistic. Pause if you will and reflect on the profound nature of this revelation. God not only came for a brief visit, he sent us the guide, the “Paraclete,” – the blessed Holy Spirit to reside within us, empower us to become what we were created to be, and live in harmony with ourselves, with others, and with God Himself.
It is this God who we are called to consecrate our lives to. The call to us is the same as the call in those days of old. We are called to trust in the God who is with us. We are called to trust and follow the Good Shepherd.
(c) L.D. Turner 2008/All Rights Reserved