Following the Good Shepherd – December 9, 2015

I’ve had times in my life when I’ve just flat-out felt like throwing in the towel.  When I’ve said, “God, I can’t do this anymore.  I’m not even going to try.”  I think a lot of us get to that point at one time or another, whether it’s as a result of burnout, or maybe because we’re discouraged that things aren’t going the way we hoped, or because we feel that we’ve been doing all the “right” things, like going to church and praying, and still we are experiencing hardship and tragedy.

In a recent study in our small group at church, our lesson asked the question, “Do you think sometimes we do good in the hopes of avoiding pain and suffering?  Sort of like trying in a way to bargain with God?”  That thought hit close to home because I know I have done this many times.  Earlier this year, when our family experienced the heartache of having a teen who was struggling with severe depression, and nothing that we were doing seemed to help, I began to get discouraged.  I was like, “God, I’m trying to do the right thing.  I’ve been praying.  I’ve been trying to get better about trusting You.  Why is this happening?”

I was reading today in the book of Jeremiah where the prophet Jeremiah was sent to a potter’s shop to warn of Jerusalem’s impending destruction.  Needless to say, his message was not popular, and because of his obedience, he was persecuted and endured a lot of ridicule and hardship.  Beginning in verse 7 of Chapter 20, he says, “O Lord, You induced me and I was persuaded; You are stronger than I, and have prevailed.  I am in derision daily;  Everyone mocks me.  For when I spoke, I cried out;  I shouted, ‘Violence and plunder!’ Because the word of the Lord was made to me a reproach and a derision daily (Jeremiah 20:7-8 NKJV).”

If anyone had a reason to be depressed, it was poor Jeremiah.  He was doing everything that the Lord had asked Him to do, but the message He preached put him on the haters’ top ten list of people they wanted to see destroyed.  What struck me though is in the next verse, he says, “Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name.’  But His word was in my heart like a burning fire; shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not (v9).”

Have you ever had times like that?  Where you just felt like saying, “God, I’m done with this whole Christian thing.  I’ve tried to follow You and it’s just too hard.”  I have too.  But I’ve found that even when I wanted to give up, even in the worst of times, His word was always there in my heart, “like a burning fire,” as Jeremiah describes.

See, the thing is, we can walk away from God, but He never walks away from us.  He is always there, calling and beckoning us to come to Him and find peace, rest and healing.  Sometimes we may experience suffering because of our obedience, and it’s not that we did or are doing something wrong.  Or suffering may come because of someone else’s bad choice, or simply because we live in a world that is imperfect, and there is sickness and pain as a result.  Doing good and obeying the Word is no guarantee that we won’t experience pain, but it is through his Word that we find strength to endure.  He does promise that He will walk beside us every step of the way.

Psalm 23 says in part, “The Lord is my shepherd;  I shall not want.  He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters.  He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;  For You are with me;  Your rod and Your staff they comfort me (vv 1-4).”

I found an interesting article describing the purpose of both the rod and the staff.  It can be found at:

 http://www.antipas.org/commentaries/articles/shepherd_psa23/shepherd_07.html

It says that shepherds use a rod to gently correct the sheep if they veer off the path, and for careful examination of the sheep, to make sure each sheep is okay and accounted for.  It is also used as an instrument of protection by the shepherd on behalf of the flock to drive off wolves and other predators.

A staff is used to draw sheep together in an intimate relationship.  Sometimes they use a staff to bring a newborn lamb back to its mother if they become separated, so that the ewe won’t reject the lamb because of the smell of the human’s hands.  It is also used to reach out and catch sheep so that they can be examined for injuries and to tend to their well-being, similar to the rod’s use at times.  The third use for the staff described in the article is that of guiding the sheep particularly onto a new path, or along rough, dangerous terrain, and to help free the sheep from entanglements in thorns and brambles.

When we get stuck in the “thorns and brambles” of this life, we can take comfort in knowing that we have a Shepherd who is always there to help us get free.  God keeps us on the right path, and takes a careful interest in our lives, even when the enemy tries to get us to give up.  His Word is like that “burning fire” there in our hearts, waiting to spill out on our lips into words of prayer.  Like the Good Shepherd that He is, He goes out to rescue His lost sheep, and bring us back safely into the fold.

“Father, I thank You that You are the Good Shepherd that never leaves us alone.  I am so grateful for the times that You have brought me or my loved ones out of the darkness of depression or hard times, and that You have been beside us every step of the way.  I pray for anyone who is struggling with depression right now.  Comfort and encourage them, Lord, as only You can, and fill them with the hope of Your presence through Your Son, Jesus.  I pray that Jesus’ gift of hope and salvation would be real in all of our lives, and that we will use the comfort and the hope that You provide us to comfort and provide hope to others.  May we all know the Way of Hope today, and be encouraged not to grow weary in following You and doing good.  Thank You for Your love and mercy, and may we praise the name of Jesus as the Name above all Names.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

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5 thoughts on “Following the Good Shepherd – December 9, 2015

  1. Great post! That’s a great question from your small group. I think I might work but into ours soon. A lot of disappointment seems to come from doing the right thing & expecting that to make us immune to the bad stuff. And great find on the uses of the staff. I had heard one or two before, but not all of them.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for checking it out! Never really looked around for other blogs much, so I’m just looking for some Christian blogs to follow. Know any other good ones?

        Like

      2. The Life Project, Field Notes on the Jesus Way and AlwaysPeachy are 3 of the ones that I follow. They range from in-depth Bible studies to commentary from other guest Christian writers and practical application from everyday life.

        Liked by 1 person

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