The Shepherd and the Sheep: Restore My Soul

Wild Garlic in Bloom

My family and I will be at Family Camp this weekend, so I am reposting for this week.  Next week, I will be posting  something I wrote for 9/11 last year.  Please have a safe and sober Labor Day weekend.

Oh Lord you call my name

Like a shepherd in a field.

You use your rod and staff

When my spirit needs to yield

But my ears are deaf with busy noise

And your prodding is ignored

So I wander far from your sweet voice

And my soul is not restored.

Give me ears to hear

Give me eyes to see

I want to be obedient

But I am struck with fear.

I need courage to walk,

I need patience to stay

Restore my soul with living streams

Oh God please draw me near.

Restore my soul,

Restore my soul,

Good shepherd come and lead me home

Restore my soul

The Shepherd and the Sheep: David’s Reality Check

The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.” David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”

Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”  – 2 Samuel 12:1-7a (NIV)

David was a shepherd at heart and it was the pasture that prepared him for the tasks God set before him later in life.  He learned to be brave as a shepherd protecting the flock from lions and thieves.  He learned to be watchful to spot strays and the aforementioned predators.  It is likely that the Psalmist developed his gift with song before an audience of sheep.  All of this did not stop David from behaving like the lion and the thief.

David had forgotten too much about caring for the flock and had become what he hated most.  Nathan’s story cut David to the heart quickly and effectively, taking him back to those long days and nights of vigilance and care for the sheep of his father.  I wonder if David thought back on his time guarding those simple animals with bitter tears and regret.  It was undoubtedly one of his lowest moments, but altogether necessary.

We all need a Nathan in our lives who can remind us who we are supposed to be when we are being something else.  God has called us to be sheep and shepherds – to be both led and followed.  David became so defined by his status and position that he forgot who he belonged to and followed his own passions.  He also forgot that he was a shepherd and should have been looking out for Bathsheba and Uriah.  We need to keep both roles in perspective as we move forward in life.

The Good Shepherd leads us with perfect love, so if we follow Him we will always be where He wants us to be and where we need to be.  If our eyes are on the needs of those God has put in our care to shepherd, we will be less defined by the things of this world and more defined by the things of God.  When we are fully trusting in the Good Shepherd to meet all of our needs, we can be used by Him to meet the needs of others.  This is the beauty and power of the flock.  It is the intersection of “take up your cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24) and “Take care of my sheep.” (Jn. 21:16)

Reality is not what we know; it is what we are discovering in our journey with God.  Every now and then we need a reality check like David.  We need to be reminded in a clear and honest way that we are forgetting our place as His sheep.  I pray that I will listen when the shepherd calls.  I pray that I will not begrudge the prods and pulls from His rod and staff.  I pray that I will be a better sheep and in doing so, become a better shepherd.  But thank God for His grace when I don’t.

The Good Shepherd: Tending a Blemished Flock

I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice. – Ezekiel 34:15-16 (NIV)

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. – Isaiah 53:4-6 (NIV)

Not too long ago, I came home from work to an unhappy wife and a very quiet older daughter.  Missing was the younger daughter, who had locked herself in the bathroom.  I was asked to step in and see if I could extricate the youngling and began working on the lock, little whimpers punctuating my fiddling and tinkering.  The extrication became a little more involved once the door was open.

Big trouble for a little girl.

It was evident that my beautiful little girl had ventured into the world of cosmetology and home décor.  Unfortunately she had done both with the same medium – my wife’s lipstick.  While I could appreciate the artistic flair evident in the strokes of red on the wall, door and daughter, I was pretty sure my wife would not be a fan of the arts that day.  The room and child needed to come out of this experience unblemished.

My little girl didn’t need to be told that what she had done was wrong.  Her tearful demeanor and cowering in the corner were clear indicators that she was afraid of punishment.  We will never know if she was not able to unlock the door, or was too afraid to face mommy and daddy and so refused to unlock the door.  She needed to know that we still loved her, that we were okay.

It is very easy for us to lock ourselves away from God and fear what He will think of us if we open up the door.  Our sin or disobedience can seem so great that we would rather try to hide it away and hope that He will ignore us.  But God is a seeker…He is a good shepherd who finds His sheep wherever they may try to lose themselves.  He is the healer and redeemer, cleansing us of our blemishes so we can stand before Him unashamed.  All it took to clean up that lipstick was soap, time and effort.  For our sin it took the perfect Son of God, coming in the fullness of time and taking our place on the cross of shame and punishment.

I cannot think of anything my daughter could do that would cause me to stop loving her or trying to provide all she needs for this life and the life to come.  In a far better way, God loves us and will not relent in calling us to safe pastures.  He will call us out from behind our locked doors.  He binds up our injuries, self-inflicted or otherwise, and He watches over us with compassion and grace.

The evidence of the lipstick incident is gone.  There are no red stains left behind on door, wall or daughter.  They are unblemished in that regard, but sadly my daughter can still get herself into trouble.  She stops listening to those who would guide her in good directions, and finds herself in trouble again.  It is a beautiful thing to see a lost lamb returned to safe pastures; it is tragic to see that lamb lose her way again and head into harm’s way, but that is the life of parenthood.

Our heavenly Father is no less longsuffering than the best of us.  He watches us as we wander our own way, putting our souls in harm’s way.  Patiently He waits for us to unlock our doors that we try to hide behind.  Gently His voice keeps calling to me with the promise of forgiveness and restoration.  With strength beyond anything we can imagine or understand, He carries us from the “the valley of the shadow of death” to lush pastures and quiet waters.

Do you have any locked doors?  Are there any blemishes on your soul that no one else knows about?  Do you worry about the stains of your past being too deep for the Shepherd to cleanse?  I pray that the love of God, the Good Shepherd, would overcome our fears; that we would heed his voice and enter His rest. I pray that we would learn the beauty and power of being His sheep.

The Shepherd and the Sheep: Stray Sheep

I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands. – Psalms 119:176 (NIV)

I have been lost before; lost in such a way that I had no hope of finding my way to safety on my own.  Only the effort of someone else seeking me out and finding me brought me back to safety.  I don’t remember the incident, but I have heard the story from my parents a number of times.  It involved a grocery store, three other siblings keeping my mother’s attention and my own overzealous curiosity.  My mom said when she found me, I was walking with one of the young ladies who worked at the store, looking for my family.

There are dozens of passages in scripture about sheep and many of them refer to them being lost.  It seems that sheep are prone to wander, much like curious children in grocery stores.   This is where the shepherd comes in; lost sheep need finding, and once found need watching. They are not independent or resourceful creatures, needing companionship, care, guidance and protection.    I find that I am no less the child to God that I was to my mother in the grocery store.  My curiosity draws me away from the flock to unsafe places, and it is only the shepherd’s patient searching that finds me and brings me back to the fold.

It is comforting to know the man after God’s own heart struggled with the same issue.  The warrior poet was also a lost little lamb and his prayer in the passage above rings with hope.  He fervently believed that his shepherd would seek him out and that he would recognize the shepherd’s voice when he called.  That is the discipline I desperately need to strive after; an ear to hear my shepherd’s voice.  I long to have the maturity and wisdom to hear His voice above all others and avoid the wandering altogether.  I look forward in hope to the day that I am content to rest in His pasture, but that day is not yet here.  Until then, I am grateful that my Shepherd knows me and searches me out when I stop listening to His voice.