gently leading others

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

Isaiah 40

Isaiah 40 is truly one of the great passages of scripture, like Romans 8. I hesitate to say that, because I believe we should consider every part important, even the most obscure passages that we might not understand well, if at all. But this passage comforts God’s people both with God’s immense greatness and immeasurable goodness and in terms of God’s great salvation.

What seems especially helpful is the idea of God’s gentle leading. Oftentimes when people, when any of us think of God, we think of an extension of our experience with authority figures, which too often has not been encouraging, but quite the opposite. Or perhaps for some of us, those people were largely absent from our lives. The picture of God given to us in scripture is that God is beyond everything and yet nearer than the breath we breathe. That God is just as much intimate as God is transcendent. That means that the God who is not overwhelmed in the least enters into the picture for humankind, for the world, yes, for us. And God cares for us.

I love the imagery quoted above (see NRSV in link, “[God] will gently lead the mother sheep.”) That God leads the sheep, us, gently. We need that. And in turn, that is how we’re to help the young among us. Not pushing them, or being gruff with them. But gently leading. In fact, we can take that as the cue on how we’re to influence each other. Not that we’re in life to manipulate, but instead we want to learn to follow God’s leading, and hopefully help others to do the same, since we know that is best, and in fact is wonderful.

When one looks at the entire Story in scripture, one also sees that God leads out of weakness, that actually God’s weakness is strength. It is the way of the cross, the way of suffering love for us and for the world. And a part of our salvation for us now in this world, is to learn in and through Jesus to take that same road for others in our commitment to Christ and the gospel.

Let’s pay attention to those who gently lead, and especially to our Lord God, and then learn to follow in those steps. In and through Jesus.

where God is leading

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.”

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

How God leads us as his children through faith in Jesus is in some ways straightforward as we see from the pages of scripture, but in the mere fact of the matter quite beyond us. Even the idea of God, the reality of God’s existence is beyond us as humans, we can say finite and sinful as we are.

I am increasingly convinced that God’s leading is often against the grain of our own inclination and understanding. It is not like reason and experience are not factored in at all. In at least some provisional, necessary way they usually factor into God’s leading. But left to ourselves we would go a different route. At least that most often seems to be the case. And God’s way often surprises us even if on hindsight we can begin to gather how his hand was in our lives all along to lead us that way.

What we need in all of this, in this venture and in this life– is faith. We need the audacity and courage that comes from faith in God. Jesus said that even with the faith as small as a mustard seed we can say to a mountain, “Be removed and thrown into the sea,” and it will happen. Jesus’ application was in terms of prayer, that if we believe what we ask will be granted, then indeed it will.

I don’t think, particularly if the leading involves a major change, that we shouldn’t look to God to verify it repeatedly especially in the face of questions perhaps concerning major difficulties surrounding it. The Lord may not answer all of our questions, but he can give us a peace that is beyond, transcending those problems.

God wants to lead us in and through Jesus by the Spirit. We need the faith to give in and let go. And follow.

 

fitting in

One ongoing struggle in my life has been the problem of not fitting in. I am thinking in terms largely of thought from which practice or life formation can come. So I have ended up gravitating to churches which while taking a particular stance, the least being adherence to Christian orthodoxy, gave room to think within that commitment.

I am more than a bit wary of the idea that one can find a church tradition or even another person with whom they’ll see eye to eye with on everything. Such expectation is not only unrealistic but unhealthy as well. What is promoted is some sort of cookie cutter mentality. One can’t think or become settled into a faith of their own and therefore may have little or no faith whatsoever.

A crucial balance to this is to avoid the notion that what others think and believe doesn’t matter or is of little worth. When we become aware of differences that do seem significant what is then needed is some kind of discourse, ongoing conversation, talking it through. In the course of that there may be some change or modification of one’s thinking, perhaps a consensus reached with the other. But again how the church especially at large has read the Bible should never be dismissed. It at least should be respected even if it is not followed to the letter.

In the end finding our place in fitting into the whole is important.  Maybe we would be content enough to remain where we’re at, but for some reason we can’t settle in. Perhaps the Lord is seeking to nudge us in a different direction.

In this life I not only doubt that there can be perfect agreement on everything, but again I see such a hope as doomed to frustration. But by God’s grace in Jesus by the Spirit we can find our place to be planted where we can grow and bear much fruit with others. As the Lord’s church in and for the world to the glory of God.

 

time to move on

The Lord our God said to us at Horeb, “You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Break camp and advance into the hill country of the Amorites; go to all the neighboring peoples in the Arabah, in the mountains, in the western foothills, in the Negev and along the coast, to the land of the Canaanites and to Lebanon, as far as the great river, the Euphrates. See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them.”

Israel as a community was on a journey out of Egypt in what had become a land of slavery into the promised land God was giving them. They may well have settled in at Mount Horeb, at least they were there for some time relative to the journey. But finally the Lord through Moses tells them that it’s time to move on and enter into all that the Lord had for them.

Although I tend to want to shy away from applying scripture like this, I do wonder if there isn’t something here for us, at least for myself. We tend to get acclimated in all kinds of ways that may not be necessarily good. And we can have old ruts, old tendencies which actually are not good. The Lord may purposefully be pushing us into a challenging place so that we can go and grow beyond where we have lived perhaps far too long. I can’t help but think of James’ words about testings here:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

We have to move on and move out beyond where we live and into all of God’s will for us in Jesus. I for one want to do that. And I need to do that now.

trusting in God against the grain of our own understanding

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

If there’s one stronghold that can bind me perhaps more than anything, I would say in a certain sense the desire to figure out or think through issues, and particularly problems so that I can make good, informed, wise decisions can dog me and actually turn against me. A synonymous name for this in my case is worry.

This is the case once again of a good thing becoming bad, of a blessing becoming a curse. God has given us our minds, and God wants to give us wisdom and understanding, insight for living. There is a difference however between trusting in the insight God has given us, and trusting in God himself. That may be too subtle for us to figure out, but it can play out something like this: We prayerfully read up on something which we have to do and in spite of what decision we would make based on our own understanding, something like the Lord’s peace seems to lie in the other direction. Or having asked God for direction, we make a decision only to later sorely regret it because it goes against the grain of our own understanding.

This is indeed tricky territory, not easy to negotiate no matter what. The question ends up being are we going to rely on God when making decisions, or on our own reasoning? It is not like our mind is suspended. God works with and through our minds, and to some extent they are likely processing in most every situation. Yes, we often have to make the best decisions on many things great and small, hopefully all the while looking to God for wisdom and for his leading.

In the end we have to trust the outcome of everything into God’s hands. That is part of the whole. The Lord may help us see something down the road which may more or less alter our course. Our responsibility is to work at it, rest in the decision made, and remain open to more light, in all of this trusting in and submitting to God. We can be sure that at least our lives can become more in sync with God and God’s will in Christ through this.

All of this part of the way of wisdom for us in Jesus.

looking beyond the problem

I am one who can easily become fixated on a problem. In today’s information age, in which we can get quite a lot of data at our fingertips, that is a habit which can end up draining one of time and energy. Draining spiritually, as well.

Such times are good times for me to practice the discipline of looking beyond the problem, to the Lord, the Creator and Redeemer and Sovereign over all. That doesn’t mean I can’t consider the issue at all, but I must learn at the same time to approach it, not in my own efforts in trying to resolve it. But looking to the Lord for his answer, whatever that may be. With the desire to radically rest in that, in all my weakness.

A big part of my problem is that somehow I think I can solve a problem. Some problems we can solve rather easily. And sometimes we receive information which helps. Nevertheless, it is good, and actually a blessing to be put in a place in which we can look only up, beyond the problem, to God himself.

Job is a good case in point of this. Much of that great wisdom book is taken up with Job and his three “friends” focusing on the great problem at hand: the misfortune and suffering of Job. In the end God appears and with that comes a resolution, but not of the sort either Job or his friends were looking for, or could have imagined.

I too need to practice this by not thinking that the solution to a hard problem lies with me. And there are so many problems which arise not only in our lives, but in the lives of our loved ones, in the lives of those around us, yes, in this world, to be sure.

And so I turn my eyes away, or look beyond the problem to the one who is our help, our hope and our salvation. Together with others in Jesus and for the world.

he leadeth me/us, o blessed thought (in his way)

I’ve been wrestling in recent days and months over a certain issue or two which for some time have plagued me more than less. So I posted yesterday on the Lord being with us, even through the darkest valley, or deep darkness.

The old hymn, He Leadeth Me, started ringing in my ears sometime after I posted that. The truth in that hymn of how the Lord not only is with us through the difficult times, but how he’ll see us through, even better than that, lead us.

Of course it is not merely about us, about our salvation and enjoyment of that. Isn’t it also about being led as sheep to be slaughtered? And in that, following the good Shepherd who is also the Lamb? Being more than conquerors through him who loved us in Jesus and in his way.

Yes, yes, and yes. I don’t like to mix imagery of scripture, unless scripture itself does so. Nevertheless we need to keep these things in mind. Within the Romans 8 passage referred to here we see something of them both at work.

In this world we will have trouble and pain. But in Jesus we are part of the solution, God’s solution which brings salvation in terms of God’s kingdom near, and even at work in and through us. We must learn more and more to think of life in terms of that.

To be led by Jesus, and to rest in that leading. That is what I want to be about along with others in Jesus. In and for the world.