Staying close to the Shepherd

I loved the conclusion to today’s study: “Our divine Shepherd wants to forestall every calamity that would come our way, and strives to keep our lives free from serious (spiritual) dangers and hazards. And, of course, our lives will be danger free if we stay close to Him, where He can provide for us and protect us.”

It’s important to keep in mind that we are talking about spiritual issues here; we live in a fallen world, and we will suffer in various ways – there will be accidents, financial hardships and relationship difficulties. Our Lord does not totally shield us from the negative aspects of life, but He does walk with us, through these difficulties.

Kept – by the power of God

Selwyn continues his discussion on the figure of a shepherd, who painstakingly examine new pastures to ensure there are no dangers, before he brings his sheep into the new area.

To think that our Lord, is doing precisely the same thing for us, as we go about our work for Him, each day.

I consider the following verses, taken from those set for reading and meditation, to be fantastic because they tell us that God is protecting us – while we are on this spiritual journey, towards home.

1 Peter 1:3-5 (NIV): “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.

This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”

These words must give solid assurance to those who follow Jesus that nothing can take away our inheritance – for God Himself is looking after our future.

‘He has gone ahead’

Selwyn, now looks at the next verse in Psalm 23.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. … “

In this study, Selwyn discusses if the metaphor of the shepherd has changed to one, involving a host at a banquet. He favours the position, that the shepherd aspect is still relevant.

He writes: “Prior to taking his sheep onto higher ground to graze, a caring and concerned shepherd would go up alone to see if there were any wild animals or poisonous weeds and, if there were, he would plan his grazing programme to either avoid them or take whatever steps were necessary to eradicate them.”

For me, it really doesn’t matter which metaphor you prefer, the main point is that God is very active in providing something very good. As, I mentioned yesterday, it seems unbelievable that God cares so much for us – just thinking about it – produces a great sense of joy.

The same imagery, is found in today’s key verse, Isaiah 25:6 (NIV): “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples … “

‘Called alongside’

I liked this part of today’s study: “Just as a shepherd walks alongside his sheep to comfort and to guide, so the Holy Spirit has come along among us to bring the reality of Jesus’ word and presence to our hearts. It is through Him that we are in touch with Jesus, and it is through Him also that we are given the assurance that we are one in Him and that we ‘belong’.”

It’s a mystery to me, how all this works – but, what I do know is that having God walk alongside us – is something too great to fully comprehend. When I look at the night sky and see the all the stars, I’m overwhelmed by the though that our God who created everything – is the same amazing God who walks with His created!

‘Hand in hand’

In today’s study – Selwyn talks about the shepherd’s staff – the main tool used to guide their sheep.

It is an interesting read, but I feel that we have already covered the spiritual content, in earlier posts.

The best part for me, was the prayer, as follows: “Gentle Shepherd, I long for a closer and more intimate contact with You than I have ever experienced before. Let me feel the gentle pressure of your staff against my side as I walk with You through this day. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”

After you have read this prayer, take it deep into your heart; and, during the day (or, tomorrow, if you are reading this at night) stop for a moment, and bring this prayer into focus, asking yourself – do I feel His presence close to me?

Am I, living my day, by being a witness for Jesus at every appropriate opportunity – or, do I often forget what my main purpose in life – is? Do I, just become too busy with the little, noisy and distracting things of routine and thoughtless habits; and forget about Jesus for much of the day?

It’s a great prayer – because it helps us focus on what’s important – during our days; do you agree?

Punishment versus discipline

I think the key point in today’s study, is this: “Rarely should we use the word ‘punishment’ in relation to the disciplines which God effects in our lives as Christians.

Although there is a sense in which there is usually a consequence to sin, in the life of a Christian, as well as a non-Christian, the thought uppermost in God’s mind (as revealed by Scripture) when correcting anyone is not retribution for past misdeeds, but the development of future (spiritual) maturity.”

In a very real sense, we punish ourselves when we let ourselves be led by our sinful nature – because sin brings with it, a range of consequences. If we take dangerous ‘recreational’ drugs, or drink excessive amounts of alcohol – it’s our health and well-being, which suffers. Or, if we are selfish with our time and wealth then it’s our relationships with family and friends, which suffer.

In regard to punishment, we read the following in Paul’s letter to the Romans 2:6-11 (NIV); ‘ … God “will repay each person according to what they have done.”To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.

But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.’

In summary, for those who follow Jesus – there will be discipline to ‘promote our spiritual growth’. This intervention by God, during our journey of transformation, is designed to keep us on the narrow path and to protect us from spiritual dangers.  His loving invention occurs, within the general context, that our lives are affected by sin in a fallen world – bad things do happen to God’s people.

Punishment, for personal sins  – will occur, on the ‘last’ day – for all those ‘who reject the truth and follow evil’.

Your view?

“Discipline’s divine design”

Selwyn makes the good point that God does not discipline us because He is angry with us; rather He can see that some gentle guidance in the right direction will be beneficial for us.

I read the text for today, and then searched for other areas of the New Testament that covered this topic.

This extract from the book of Hebrews [Heb. 12: 1-13 (NIV)], is useful: ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son (or daughter)? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined – and everyone undergoes discipline – then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.

Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.’

Perhaps, a better word than ‘discipline’, would be ‘guidance’, the type of guidance which brings out the best in an individual. A competitor in the Olympics has to be able to endure a certain level of discipline and guidance from their coach; and, they submit themselves to this high level of commitment – because they value the purpose of their hard work – to achieve a medal, at the games.

How much more – are we to value the love, mercy and compassion of our God, who leads us with loving, yet purposeful guidance into the promised ‘land’?