I live in a house that was built in the 1960’s. Structurally, it seems to be in good condition. A previous owner installed a steel beam in the ceiling of the downstairs family room to facilitate the removal of an obnoxious support pole. Besides enjoying the aesthetic the beam now makes possible, I often feel a sense of security knowing that beam is in place, fully engaged in doing the job for which it was designed.
Over the years, we have put many thousands of dollars into rehabbing the veneer of this house. We replaced all but two doors. All of the flooring, except for the ugly green shag carpet downstairs in the aforementioned room, is new. The windows work well, so they are still the originals. The siding, well, it’s still there, but we painted it a few years ago. The kitchen and bathrooms are newer, but now the bathrooms need to be rehabbed again. If you own any kind of building, you know the to-do list goes on and on.
We tend to treat our bodies much like we treat our buildings. Renew, rehab, renovate what can be seen and touched. Try to keep the veneer as pleasing as possible. Sometimes we will go a little deeper and build muscle, improve the nutritional quality of what we eat, control the intake and outflow of calories. For most of us, though, these activities are about keeping the outside looking good. I found myself squinting at the computer screen a few months ago, but it wasn’t until I noticed the wrinkle forming in between my eyes that I went to the eye doctor for a new glasses prescription.
In the Sunday morning ladies Bible class I teach, we are studying about The Good Shepherd. Lately we’ve been walking through Psalm 23. “He restores my soul.” Any sheep is completely dependent on its shepherd for survival and thriving. Sheep are dumb animals, incapable of shepherding themselves. They are unable to restore themselves if they become cast, that is, on their backs. The image I see is of a shepherd-less flock of sheep gathered around one of their own, trying to figure out how they are going to get their buddy back on his feet. They are not able to help their friend and just stand there. It soon becomes pathetic and tragic. A cast sheep that is not restored dies, sooner or later.
In despair, in moments of deep hopelessness, my spirit is cast down. Just like the cast sheep, I am unable to get up on my own, powerless to lift myself out of danger and set myself back on my feet. I need a spiritual shepherd to help me. The Good Shepherd who created me and all that I see and cannot see, who authored the script of the human heart, who loves me more than I will ever comprehend, who paid for my redemption, is the only shepherd qualified to help me out of my miserable predicament.
Not that I don’t try to rescue my soul. Entertainment, recreation, work, self-help books, self-indulgence, and mind-altering substances are famous and oft used antidotes for the despairing heart. I think of them as sheep gathered around me trying to take my mind off of my troubles while I slowly die. Valiant attempts but completely ineffective for my soul’s rescue. It is wasted effort to dress up the veneer of a discouraged heart.
“What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders rejoicing.” Luke 15:4, 5
When I am separated from Him because I cannot get up, my Good Shepherd, the very Son of God, comes looking for me until He finds me. If I allow Him, if I am aware of Him, He will pick me up and return with me on His shoulders, rejoicing! Not upset or angry or irritated with me. Genuinely rejoicing that I am found and back where I belong. I am restored!
I have been in a place of despair a few times in my life. Knocked off my spiritual feet and unable to get up. Not thinking clearly. Confused as to whose voice I should heed. Numb from extreme anxiety, paralyzed by fear. Frantic because I know I am spiritually exposed and vulnerable. Grasping for anything that will soothe my heart and help me feel whole. I close my eyes and wish it would all go away.
I hear the Good Shepherd call for me; I open my eyes and see Him. Unlike a sheep, though, I don’t always recognize Him. I’ve been away from Him longer than I thought, and I forget how much He loves me. His voice sounds familiar, but I am not sure I can trust it. To let Him help me, so simple but so hard because I have to confess I messed up when I took my eyes off of Him, because He says I must declare that I need, and want, His help.
To be spiritually restored is a precious event. Out of great love, He restores me so that I will follow Him. He knows that following Him is what He designed me to do. To follow the Good Shepherd is a privilege beyond comparison, the only activity where I am completely at ease. To be the object of His rejoicing, the focus of His love and concern, is humbling and empowering. To remember I am not capable of shepherding my own spirit is essential to my spiritual well-being.
When I follow the Good Shepherd, I know that my spirit is doing the job it was designed to do, like the beam in the ceiling of my family room. I know I am secure from evil, free from the worry that life will throw something in my path that will take me away from Him. All I have to do is follow where He leads.
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” John 10:27, 28
All Bible quotes are from Zondervan’s Classic Reference Bible, New American Standard Bible–Updated Edition copyright 1999 by Zondervan
NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.