May 12, 2014

How to calm a skittish sheep . . .

He makes me lie down in green pastures . . . (Psalm 23:2)

Because they are both timid and skittish, all things must be right before a sheep will relax and lie down. However, one of the most calming influences for them is the sight of the shepherd. When the sheep know that their caregiver is close by, they are more apt to enjoy the place where he has put them.

For me, this is also true. Just knowing the nearness of Jesus helps me stay calm, whether it is in disasters like the one last week in our home, or unanswered prayer, or great loss, or even strong temptation. Like a sheep, without Him I am timid and skittish, but with Him, things change.

In another psalm, David wrote, You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) Since the time that was penned a few thousand years ago, the people of God have experienced the same understanding. God does open up to us the path of life. In His presence we experience full joy, but I must clarify what it means to be in His presence.

God is never gone, always present. For us, we can sense that, or we can allow things to interfere with the sense of it. When I rebel and sin against Him, it may seem like He is absent, or it may seem like He is looming over me in an oppressive and angry way. The sense of God’s presence can be very subjective. Because that is true, it is better to know it from what His Word says, rather than from my feelings. Emotions can be tricky, even manipulated. The facts are in Scripture and this is reliable.

Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20) By this, He gave His followers something to do, and a precious promise; He will never leave us. This is a fact, apart from my feelings.

As for the scary task of going into the world to make disciples, He promised a “green pasture” in the doing of it. Teaching others about Jesus and how to obey Him is a huge challenge, but before I set out to obey, I need to remember His words first given to the disciples . . .

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:19–21)

I relate to the timid and skittish sheep. While worship is delightful as are many other Christian activities, fear is often part of this life. I become nervous and uncertain when challenged by temptations and difficulties. For this, His presence and peace become a green pasture for my heart, a place to rest and be still, a place to associate with His loving care and renewal. I don’t like the fear, but being His sheep gives me a resting place. 

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