Author: Sonja Stark
The image of Jesus as the good shepherd is one that resonates with many people, invoking thoughts of divine care, protection and guidance.
In the last few weeks I spent some time exploring the theme of the good shepherd and I was deeply touched by what I discovered.
What makes Jesus the good shepherd
A shepherd tended his flock day and night. He would gather the sheep into a sheepfold at night for their protection. The sheepfold was a pen, a cave, or an area backed by stone walls. Since there were no doors, the shepherd would often sleep or sit in the opening, ready to guard his sheep from harm.
“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:28 When Iplace myself under the care of Jesus our life may not be perfect but we are safe with him.
“He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Ps 23:3
Jesus shows us a better way to live. When we follow him, he is glorified.
His followers (sheep) rely on Jesus (shepherd) to keep them safe and to lead them throughout life.
His closeness with the individual sheep is clear in vs. 3 when it says he calls them by name. Wow – He calls me by name!! I know His voice. Jesus seeks me out when I am lost. Jesus places me tenderly on His shoulders. Jesus invites me back to the flock when I go astray. Jesus guides me gently to where is best for me. These realities calm my fears, especially in a time of great uncertainty.
He nurtures us and knows us fully
“He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” Isaiah 40:11
What a beautiful image, full of loving care and gentleness.
in John 10, is SAYS that the good shepherd is personally, if not intimately involved with all his sheep.
In other words, Jesus knows the deepest, most wicked, and shameful parts of us and loves us deeply enough to still lay down His life for us. Jesus already knows the depths of our soul, our greatest fears, and grandest dreams.
He lays down his life
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Jesus showed his love for us by leaving heaven, entering humanity, living a perfect life, and paying the price for our sins by dying on the cross. He rose again, ascended to heaven to be with his Father, and intercedes on our behalf so that we can enter into relationship with God. Jesus rescued us and lay down his life for us, his sheep.
He gathers the sheep
Jesus not only gathers each of us as individuals, He gathers us together as a flock. He comes to give us life together. He not only relates to each of us personally, He is also in the midst of us, uniting us as one, bringing us together, and leading us forward together.
Sheep need to be part of a fold within the flock. For sheep, a “herd-mentality” is a good thing because there is nothing more threatening to its welfare than isolation. Sheep are highly vulnerable and defenseless, so isolation makes them easy targets for predators.
I believe this is a very important truth. As we are waiting to see how Corona influences long-term our society, families and culture, one thing has become obvious. Many Christians are more reluctant to attend a church on a regular basis. The enemy found a way to weaken our faith and pull us away from God, the source of life.
We are called to live in the context of the local church, in community with other believers because independence and self-sufficiency make us highly irrational and extremely vulnerable to attacks from the enemy. God designed us to depend on one another for strength and guidance and wisdom, as we corporately depend on our Good Shepherd.
Questions to reflect on
- Who is my shepherd? Does my shepherd care for me like this?
- Which qualities of the good shepherd have I experienced most in my life (give examples)?
- Which qualities would I like to discover in my relationship with the good shepherd? How can I perceive my circumstances in light of these qualities?
- How would my life be different if I would really believe that He is the good shepherd?
Many of us have heard of the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Scripture meditation, and fasting, But what about the discipline of rest and sleep?
What does the Bible say about rest?
When Moses becomes weary, leading his people through their trials in the desert, God tells him “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14
Jesus tells his disciplines “Come to me all who toil and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
Peter Scazzero writes in “The emotionally healthy leader”
Jesus slowed down to make sure he was in syn with God – that he was in the father and the father was in him, powerfully filling every crevice of his body, mind and spirit. In routinely stepping away from his active work, he entrusted the outcome of his circumstances, problems and ministry to the father.
David talks about a sense of safety that comes from a place of rest. “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone, a Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8
Jesus has been speaking to me lately about the importance of rest: physical, emotional, spiritual, mental. These areas are all connected. I realize that when I become still and allow my life to rest, I feel a renewal of energy and gradual clarity of perception.
God is inviting me to create time and space to rest in Him so that He can give me peace.
I realize that I have the tendency to be a workaholic person who often feels most alive when I am in the midst of my stress. When I focus on my fears and don’t trust God it is difficult to enter into rest.
Anxiety is caused by trying to mentally or emotionally get into things that are not here yet. I also have the tendency to always rush about things, I need to hurry up and put constantly myself under pressure.
When I feel worn down and exhausted, I ask God what kind of rest I need.
God is the source and center of rest. I need on a regular basis time to slow down, hear God’s voice, take time for self-reflection. I want to learn to be compassionate with myself, to be able to say no so that I can enter God’s rest and be renewed.
I know that when we do not spend enough time with God we slowly loose our peace and safety. What do I let control my rest – are these things more important than my time with God?
A PRAYER FOR REST
Our loving Father, we know that You desire good things for Your children. Through the difficulties and troubles we face, we know that You are fighting for our good. We can rest securely in Your arms, knowing that Your victory is sure and that You go with us along our way. Thank you for the promise that there is nowhere we can go apart from Your presence and for Your extravagant love.
You designed us for rest, so we pray for Your Spirit to meet us and sustain us. Rest can be hard to find as we face our daily routine, so we ask that You would multiply every minute of rest that we have. Help us to draw from Your unending resources. We ask You to teach us how to choose rest:
Teach our minds to rest in Your truth.
Teach our hearts to rest in Your love.
Teach our bodies to rest in Your peace.
As we rest in You, we ask that You would fill us with Your joy, life abundant, and peace. We ask that Your perfect wisdom would guide us to the right decisions. We ask that You would help us to show others that we meet the way into Your presence.
Thank you, Lord, for Your promises and Your strong hand to lead and guide us. Please teach us Your ways and lead us into rest. We love You and the way You care for us. Amen!
Where 1 is “poor” and 5 is excellent, please rate various aspects of the day. More detailed comments are very welcome as they will help us plan the next day retreat.
1) Your overall impression of the day
1 2 3 4 5
2) The administration/ information in advance of the day
1 2 3 4 5
3) The venue
1 2 3 4 5
4) The refreshments
1 2 3 4 5
5) The content of the day – the balance between the different activities
1 2 3 4 5
6) The length of the day
1 2 3 4 5
7) The printed resource material
1 2 3 4 5
8) The use of music and other resource materials e.g. stones
1 2 3 4 5
10) We are thinking of planning more day retreats in the future. Is this something that might interest you?
11) Anything else you would like to say?
The garden is a place where we encounter God – as the Garden Eden was a place for God and Adam and Eve. We all have a place in us which is only reserved for God
St Augustine “You were more inward to me than my most inward part,” or, as sometimes paraphrased, “you were closer to me than I am to myself.
Teresa of Avila “If I would have found out sooner what a great king dwells in my heart, I would not have left him there alone so often”
Imagine that your home had an inner, hidden courtyard in which you had a garden. No one knew about this secret garden. The home symbolizes your whole self. The inner and hidden garden symbolizes the inner and secret depths of your soul.
Wander through the garden of your heart and enjoy the sight and smell of the flowers and their many colors. Maybe there is a bench you can sit on or lean against a tree and look around. Give yourself permission to notice all the details and nuances. Notice the sounds and the colors.
- What do you see? What feelings come up?
The gardener is Jesus and He is the one who secretly enters, tilling, planting, weeding, growing and harvesting the many good fruits that come forth from your life. He desires to enter in secrecy, doing much labor in your life that no one knows about.
- Do you allow Jesus to enter into the inner and secret garden of your own soul? Take some to respond to His invitation
What else do you see in your garden? Do you see roots, weeds, rocks and thorns that are blocking your inner garden – these are things that have grown without your help that are taking away life. Some flowers may look good but are poisonous.
- Do you need to get rid of hurt and grudges? Is there a need to forgive?
- Is there an invitation from God to redefine errors and failures? To receive His forgiveness and cleansing
Do you see how this garden is to be watered? Have you watered your garden? Are parts of your garden dry and remind you more of a desert? Do you see any pond or stream, sprinklers? Has there been refreshing rain or draught lately? Do you see fertile ground?
- Do you see seeds that have been planted but not watered.
- How does God invite you to water the garden
Your garden has fences. Can you see them? They are important – no unauthorized person has access! Also, no wild animals should eat the plants.! God gave us those fences/boundaries. They are essential for a healthy garden.
- Do you see any disturbance to the beauty of your garden?
- Are the “garden gates” to the world wide open?
- Are the fences strong and stable or are some damaged and need to be repaired?
We must work hard to protect the garden of our heart
Prov 4:23 Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life
- Are there things in your life you may need to limit / relationship you may need to set boundaries with.
It was a place where you planted, tilled, labored, weeded and harvested.
The produce from your garden was maybe secretly distributed to many to nourish and delight them. A closed and abundantly watered garden brings good fruit.
- Where do you see God’s labor in your garden? Where has your garden nourished others?
- What’s growing in your garden at the moment?
- Do you allow Him to labor within you, bringing forth an abundant harvest?
- What may be flourishing in 6 months time?
- Does anything need attention. Certain kinds of plants need support
This work He desires to do in you is a work seen only by you. It’s a holy secret of grace working in your life. The Lord offers it out of His perfect love for you.
He wants to transform it into a garden bursting forth in abundance.
Lord, I see this courtyard and I am aware of it being overgrown with weeds of all types. There is much work to do. But, this day, I say “Yes” to You. I accept the labor of perfect love that You offer me and I return to You my gratitude for the miraculous work You desire to do. Help me to adore You as you prepare the soil, plant Your virtues and bring forth a harvest. I thank You, my dear Lord. Jesus, I trust in You.
O my soul, bless God. From head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name!
O my soul, bless God, don’t forget a single blessing!Psalm 103:2 The Message
Counting our blessings requires a shift in perspective. Our Father’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways. When we count our blessings…we find that they often can outweigh our problems! I am blessed because I have a Savior that loves me and goes through my problems with me!
This world is presently submerged in worry and fear. Paying attention to what we are grateful for helps us to see things with a more positive attitude!
Corona unveiled many things. We became aware of the things we had been taking for granted. We can choose to go through another season or maybe even another year focussing mostly on what we are missing. We can nurture the anger we may feel towards our government and the decisions it has taken. OR, we can focus on all the blessings we do have…. that we live in a country with religious freedom and good health care, that we have enough to eat, a shelter …
Every moment is a sacred moment. Every day is a blessing. Everything depends on our attitude. If we want joy in your life, we must focus on the good. Engaging the mind with the awareness that God is the source of all that is good is a means of increasing the joy in your life. When we give thanks for it all, an even deeper level of joy opens up for us, for then we become more aware of how much we are loved!
Imagine a friend inviting you to a sumptuous home-cooked meal, and you enjoy it, but you ignore the love that the meal represents. How much more enjoyable the meal would’ve been if I had noticed the love. And this is true for all the blessings that we take for granted. Take some time today to be aware of the blessings in your life. It really is a joyful experience because then you discover much of the beauty of your life that you otherwise would miss.
What kind of blessings have you received this past year? At the beginning of a New Year I often take time to write down the things I am grateful for. It strengthens my faith and I am always amazed to see how God used even the difficult times to bless me in unexpected ways. It will not take away the pain we experienced at the time but we feel loved and comforted. Good memories strengthen us!
I also want to become much more aware of how I myself am a blessing in the lives of others by the loving quality of who I am in Christ and what I do.
Joyce Rupp in her book “The cup of our life” writes
“Calling forth a blessing is a naming of the goodness that is already there. A blessing is perceived to be something that communicates divine life.
To bless is to bring the touch of God the touch of love and goodness to another by our presence as well as by our actions.”
“To bless is to put a bit of yourself into something. It is to make holy, to change something or someone because of your presence” Macrina Wiederkehr
Someone said “Wherever you place your foot, a blessing remains!”
We are starting a New Year with this new awareness “Wherever we go, wherever we are, we can be a blessing.”
Jesus became a blessing to us! His presence engenders life, strength, healing, courage!
Here are some suggestions
- Think of the people who blessed you! How did they do this?
- Think about how you have blessed others
- Think about the blessings in 2021 you have received – which one means the most to you?
- What helps you to be aware of and alert to your daily blessings?
Desmond Tutu who passed away this week said:
Your first reaction reading this may be “Oh no, are we talking about grief and loss… again!?”
Life has seasons, stages and phases. For there to be anything new, old things always have to end, and we have to let go of them. Goodbyes and Hellos are a normal part of our life. We may have even been more confronted with loss during these difficult 18 months of Corona.
Rick Warren said recently that we will be seeing a tsunami of grief because of the many losses people have been going through.
In our first Godspace event which took place after a long Corona related break last Saturday (28.8.2021) we invited people to write their own psalm of lament, to look at the losses, questions and unfiltered emotions and to write a prayer of “truth-telling”.
Many psalms are psalms of lament. We can see how the psalmist pours out his heart to God. Very often the psalm ends on a positive note, with a declaration of who God is for him. The psalmist reflects on God’s character and starts to worship God.
We also meditated on Psalm 116 during our retreat. This psalm has 3 time periods: the psalmist looks back to the past (vv1-5), he roots himself in the present (vv6-1) and then he looks to the future (vv12-19).
I realized once again the importance of dealing with the hurts and disappointments of the past. If I do not give this a priority, my present and therefore also my future can be affected in a negative way. It is difficult to relax and rest as it says in v 7 if undealt issues are present in my life. I may carry the hurts and disappointments into the future. Healing doesn’t mean the loss or hurt did not happen. It means that it no longer controls us.
I recently started to think more about Jesus’ life on this earth. I have been inspired by The Chosen, a TV drama based on the life of Jesus of Nazareth (you can watch it on YouTube or on the free “The Chosen TV” app).
He was truly human and had feelings of loss like we do. I never reflected on the many goodbyes Jesus went through during his life. He felt the emptiness that comes with deep loss. He also had to learn to let go. This is such a huge comfort for us.
Jesus had to say goodbye to almost 30 years of security. He had to say goodbye to his friends, his family, his work, his favorite places in his home town.
Lament is a special form of prayer. It is defined as, “A passionate expression of grief or sorrow.” It is usually associated with some form of loss. The prayer of lament is a prayer of truth-telling.
So many of us have had to say goodbye to so many things immeasurably in the past 18 months, and we don’t think of these things as worthy of grief, but they are. We’re grieving a way of life.
What piece of either local or global Corona-news has affected you the most in past weeks/months?
What have you lost in this time?
What did you have to stop doing in this time?
What did Corona interrupt in your life?
What control did you lose?
What plans/dreams did you have to let go of?
What has changed in this time? (Personally, in your family, in your community, in your country, globally.)
The features of Lament
Psalms of Lament are normally addressed to God, offering a complaint
Psalms of Lament are not overly concerned with how one ‘should’ be feeling but rather pouring out the feelings that are actually inside of us. They are going to come out in some way in your life, so this is a healthy way to appropriate them and bring them to God (offered with unfiltered emotions and language)
Lament format Psalm 142 – A Psalm by (….your name)
1. Start by addressing God
2. Then own graphic emotions, thoughts, expressions, feelings, pain – can be very
messy. Include people you blame or are angry at, for this Corona-time.
3. Clear/definite turning point (BUT)
4. Expressions of forgiveness (forgive others or confess your own sins)
5. Expressions of faith and hope in God. Declarations of who God is (his character)
6. Choice to Worship. (What is God saying to you personally?)
7. Then pray/sing your Psalm of Lament to God.
Your lament may also include
- Questions you want answered
- Concerns regarding your own thoughts. The lies that you believe, for example. The confusion that you struggle with. The anger and frustration that you are experiencing.
- The sin/abuse/brokenness that you endured/are enduring and the acknowledgement of how it affected you (and is currently affecting you).
- How this has affected how you see Him. (If you feel distant, tell him. If you don’t know, tell him that.
- Letting go – of regrets, expectations etc.
A prayer when he was confined in a cave (TPT)
God, I’m crying out to you!
I lift up my voice boldly to beg for your mercy.
2 I spill out my heart to you and tell you all my troubles.
3 For when I was desperate, overwhelmed, and about to give up,
you were the only one there to help.
You gave me a way of escape from the hidden traps of my enemies.
4 I look to my left and right to see if there is anyone who will help,
but there’s no one who takes notice of me.
I have no hope of escape, and no one cares whether I live or die.
5 So I cried out to you, Lord, my only hiding place.
You’re all I have, my only hope in this life, my last chance for help.
6 Please listen to my heart’s cry,
for I am low and in desperate need of you!
Rescue me from all those who persecute me, for I am no match for them.
7 Bring me out of this dungeon so I can declare your praise!
And all the righteous will celebrate all the wonderful things you’ve done for me!
“Grace is God’s acceptance of us. Faith is our acceptance of God accepting us.”
I friend just sent me a message “know that you are loved’! It is so nice to hear these words especially if they are sincere words. During Corona it can be easy to feel unloved, isolated, lonely, overwhelmed, insecure, inadequate, scared and even hopeless. Maybe you have recently felt rejected, ignored or judged by a close friend, family member or colleague.
God created us with many needs: basic needs like air and water and emotional needs of being loved, affirmed, comforted… Our deepest need, whether felt or not, is to be accepted. And not just by anyone. But to be accepted by God.
Most of us spend our entire lives trying to earn acceptance. We want to yearn for it from our parents, peers, partners in life, people we respect, and even people we envy.
God, by His grace, affirms and accepts us completely! He welcomes us with all our insecurities. Acceptance is God’s gift to us. Our acceptance was guaranteed at the point of Jesus dying for us. Jesus is the reason God accepts us unconditionally. We cannot earn God’s acceptance. We cannot merit it by our behavior or performance.
“Even if my mother and father abandon me, the Lord will take care of me” (Psalm 27:10 GW). He will never forget about or abandon us! He will never run out of mercy! He will never change! We are in a time of huge changes. It is so good to know that He is the stable rock on which we stand.
Knowing we are accepted by God is the best way to draw closer to Him, to know we are accepted and much loved! Anything we could ever have been accused of is nailed to the cross! He is not judging us!
We must choose what we believe: what others say about and to us, or what Jesus says about and to us. He loves us unconditionally and accepts us as we are.
Every day, all through the day, we are invited to receive His acceptance.
I recently experienced rejection from friends I trusted and was reminded of Jesus being betrayed by Judas. He still washed his feet knowing what Judas was going to do. We will experience people not accepting us. We cannot be and are not defined by other people’s negativity or rejection of us.
How would my life be different if I would be able to totally embrace and internalize this truth? I need to practice this truth! I am invited to see myself in Him as myself as God’s beloved!
When we are accepted by God, and we understand this in our souls, our life changes. We find contentment, joy, and peace. We find life.