I had the honour and privilege of speaking at one of my home churches this past weekend. (I have four churches spread around the country that I can call "home" - how blessed am I?) One of the awesome and awful things about preparing a message, in my experience anyway, is that whatever it is God wants me to share, He usually makes me work it out in my own life first. In this case, that was a tremendous blessing. I was starting to forget again just who I am. I was starting to focus more on my situation than on my Saviour. The enemy's whispered lies were starting again to infiltrate the battlefield of my mind.
And so, out of the blue really, comes an opportunity to spend hours pondering what Jesus meant when He called Himself the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for his sheep. This whole experience is just dripping with grace - such a kindness from the Shepherd who tends my soul so tenderly. The following is an excerpt (slightly modified) from what I shared on Sunday. May you hear your Shepherd's heart for you in these words.
...I think it’s safe to assume that Jesus intended his audience (and us) to carry this metaphor through to its logical conclusion – if he’s the shepherd, then it follows that we are the sheep, right? There are so many truths we could mine out of this comparison, but the one I want to focus on is how highly the shepherd valued the sheep, as demonstrated in his tender care and self-sacrificing protection. The shepherd valued his sheep because they were his.
You are valued by your shepherd because you belong to him. He has called you by name and you are his. Your value doesn’t depend on what you have, or what you do; your possessions and abilities have no bearing on your worth in the shepherd’s eyes. Your significance cannot be altered. His love for you has never changed, will never change, CAN never change – because you are his. Your worthiness has nothing to do with you and everything to do with him. The shepherd gave his life to save ours – even before we acknowledged him as our shepherd! He loved us first.
There have always been those who have questioned the value of human life, who have put conditions and boundaries on what it means to be human and who does or does not meet the criteria. Today, we’re seeing it manifest in places like abortion clinics and euthanasia laws, from schoolyard and cyber bullying to terrorist attacks and suicide bombings. This is one of the enemy’s most effective tactics – to tear away at our identity until we don’t know who we are, to make us question our own worth and allow ourselves and others to be treated as though we are worthless. To bog us down in guilt and shame and condemnation and doubt and fear and anger and despair.
BUT THAT IS NOT WHO WE ARE! We are his. We are loved. We are treasured, valued, highly esteemed, cherished. NOTHING can ever alter that truth – NOTHING! Can you hear what I’m saying, friends? I mean, really hear – and believe that it applies to you – even you!? For years, I couldn’t. For years and years I was suffocating under a heavy blanket of shame – as far as I was concerned, I had no value – I was completely and utterly worthless in my own eyes. It affected every part of my life and really made a mess of things for a very long time. But my shepherd, in his great mercy and love, kept chipping away at those lies until the light finally broke through and I could see – really see. I saw that the truth had remained unchanged, that God had always been for me and not against me, that He called me beloved, precious child, daughter, accepted, chosen, favoured, redeemed, forgiven, worthy – his.
You know, there’s one thing sheep do really well – they know how to follow their shepherd. They know his voice, and they trust him implicitly to care for their every need, even to the point of laying down his life so that they can live. You can trust your shepherd. You can trust that his words are true. You can follow where he leads because he always and only has your best in mind.
And never think for a moment that the journey is done. Our shepherd is continually leading us on to new pastures, to new scenery and new territory. He invites us to enter more deeply and fully into his amazing love so that it will eventually pour out of us onto everyone around. He challenges us to imitate him, to lay down our lives for each other out of the overflow of the love he so freely and abundantly pours out into us. Any act of kindness, any gift of love, any self-sacrifice on behalf of another – it’s all and only possible because we have the ultimate example right in front of us. It’s only possible because we ourselves are so deeply and fully loved, that we can lay down our lives for another. Because the good shepherd gave his life for us - his sheep - we can live and love without fear and without limits. Hallelujah!