the good shepherd guides us along the right paths

He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:3b

Do we think the good shepherd, the Lord guides us, or do we think we’re more or less on our own, in need of the shepherd only when we’re in trouble? Of course we would answer the former, yes, we believe the shepherd guides us always, or that we need his guidance always. And yet do we really act like it? It seems to me that by and large we operate more in the latter, we cry out for help when we’ve messed up or are lost. We pay lip service to the idea that we need the Lord’s guidance always, but we really rely on ourselves, maybe asking for some wisdom from God along the way, which is good and a start, but not enough.

Instead we need to seek to be guided by the Lord throughout the entire day, even every moment. I don’t think the Lord deletes our inclinations, but rather changes them over time. It’s hard to break away from inclinations which may not be all that helpful. For example we might spend too much time on social media, or checking out the news, sports, entertainment, politics, whatever. It’s easy to get lost in any number of things.

The paths of righteousness is the traditional rendering, but along the right paths for our good and for God’s reputation is probably more the thought here (see NET Bible footnote). Certainly learning to do righteousness is part of it. But along the right paths includes much else, such as keeping us away from what would be harmful to us, and close to the shepherd, hopefully along with other sheep.

So each day we need to ask the Lord to keep us on the right path. We are moving, life changes along the way, new challenges, new opportunities. So it’s not like we know, having been there, done that. Age with wisdom can help one know what and what not to do more and more as one gets older. But a huge part of that is to remain dependent on and close to the good shepherd. To depend on God in Jesus to guide us in ways to help us know God’s goodness in all of life.

 

Advertisements

a life of prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

I have always found the idea of continued ongoing prayer fascinating. There are “prayer warriors,” people given to prayer. Scripture indicates there’s a spiritual potency in that, especially when God’s people do it together. But also with individuals who had a special calling or closeness to God. I once heard of a monastery which basically is devoted to prayer. Those involved pray for the world: for nations, for the church, etc.

It seems to me that given my life circumstances and what I see around me, God is calling me to a life of prayer. I’m not sure exactly what that looks like given my busy enough schedule. Lots of dead ends in life and other activities which can fill up one’s time cram my day along with what I have to do. So I’ve decided to step back and try to learn and step into a life of prayer.

When it comes to prayer, I think God has helped me come a long way. But I also know that I have a long way to go. All too often I can be relatively prayerless, or seem to be running on empty when it comes to prayer. I’ve heard it said that when praying seems most difficult, we should pray all the more. I find it all too easy not to pray at all, or at the most, very little. There are rare times when I feel like praying, when it seems so evident that the Spirit is giving me the push, desire, and love to pray. So I try to really take advantage of that in prayer for others and about ongoing concerns.  But by and large day after day I have to plod along in what can seem to be mundane prayer, though by faith I know better. I believe in praying when it seems empty. Yet I long to grow in my prayer life.

So along with being in the word throughout the day, I want to be in prayer. Devoted to prayer, as the above text tells us. Watching for God’s answers and moving, and expressing thanks for such. In and through Jesus.

don’t be anxious

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

If there isn’t one thing to be anxious or worried in this life, there’s another, and plenty others. There’s really no end to the number of things we can be upset over or worried about. Some are more prone to worry than others. There are people who seem to take life in stride, everything in stride, though often enough, if you would really get to know them, underlying that appearance is a cloud of anxiety within.

Remarkably believers in Christ are told not to be anxious about anything. Though it’s imperative tense, I take it to be more of loving directive as from a father. But it does come across as an absolute with a promise.

I have found over and over again as I do this in my own broken, disheveled way, but sincerely do it, God does in time meet me with his peace, a peace here which is experiential, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Of course not just not being anxious, but praying with petitions and thanksgiving.

God has it all in tow. We don’t and cannot. We can rest assured in God’s provision for us regardless of what circumstance we’re facing. God’s peace will see us through that and everything else. In and through Jesus.

 

not giving up

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

Luke 18:1

The point Jesus was making in the parable was that rather than give up, his disciples should always pray. Straightforward enough? The parable is followed with an application and challenge.

He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18:2-8

Oftentimes we give up because we haven’t prayed, but have tried to solve the problem or bring about the outcome ourselves. One of the key things I’ve learned all too late is to get out of the way and just pray, pray, and pray some more. And watch God’s answer come, maybe oh so slowly in forming an answer which might take months and years.

Jesus would seem to be suggesting that we will either be people of ongoing prayer or else we’ll lose heart and despair. It’s either give up, or pray.

Our tendency is toward prayerlessness just as Jesus might be implying when he asks if at his return there will be faith on the earth. When I’ve given up and lost hope, it’s then I need to start a path in the opposite direction by simply praying. It will take time, but we’ll begin to see a change in ourselves before we see the change were looking for in answer to our prayers. Prayer will make the needed difference toward blessing in other people’s lives, even as we are changed in the process from those who have given up to those who believe in God’s goodness, and don’t stop looking to him in prayer for his answers.

It’s our choice. Either pray or simply give up.

the call to prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

In Scripture we’re told repeatedly about the necessity, yes necessity of ongoing persistent prayer. Yet it’s so easy for us to lapse into relative prayerlessness. At least I can speak for myself. If there’s one activity I want the rest of my life to be characterized by, it would be ongoing prayer. Of course it ought not to end there. Acts of love will accompany that, if real prayer is offered.

This is addressed to individuals, but in a community context. As the church we’re to pray together. I think there’s plenty of value in what I would suppose is the time honored tradition of churches saying liturgical prayers together at gatherings. As we sing together, we should also pray together, lifting up our voices to God.

I see the community aspect just mentioned as underrated and underplayed, and yet present in our circles. But I also think we need to persist as individuals in prayers day after day, and through everything, large and small concerns, for ourselves, our growth in grace and witness, and for others, their good and salvation.

This is something we’re called to do. It won’t be done for us, in other words there’s no substitute for us doing it ourselves. Others praying for us or for situations certainly brings life and help. But we’re responsible to be praying ourselves. And to stay at it, yes devoted to prayer, just as the Apostle Paul wrote in the quotation above. To grow in that and stay at it, in and through Jesus.

 

struggling to receive God’s peace

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

If you take this passage seriously, then you have to acknowledge that it’s not easy to receive God’s peace. Certainly in answer to the prayers of others, we might find ourselves experiencing it. But from this passage it comes through believing prayer, reflection on what is good and true, and imitation of Christ, and specifically those who follow him. Far from automatic, or from being easy, for that matter.

God’s peace experienced is a sense of well being with the assurance that no matter what, somehow all will be well. At least a sure confidence in God through it all.

I love the experience, but I don’t see knowing in Scripture primarily in terms of experience. The feelings come and go, but faith remains the same. Faith by nature means trust and trust involves a dependence which means “hands off.” And yet there is our part, as we see in the above passage.

I often find in a given matter, it’s not without at least some struggle and prayer and time before I get a sense of peace one way or another. God is faithful and God wants us to find his peace always, through it all. By faith in and through Jesus.

devotion to closeness to God

Their leader will be one of their own;
their ruler will arise from among them.
I will bring him near and he will come close to me—
for who is he who will devote himself
to be close to me?’
declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 30:21

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Hebrews 10:19-22

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:7-10

The NET Bible note says Jeremiah 30:21 is a rhetorical question with a “no” answer expected. That is not clear in the NIV nor the KJV, perhaps more “literal” in English from the Hebrew, but clearer in other English translations. No one would dare seek to draw near to the God of Israel on their own. Hebrews 10 makes it clear that the way has now been open to all of God’s people through the blood, the once for all sacrifice of Jesus in his death on the cross. We in Jesus are a “holy” and “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5,9), and “made…to be…priests to serve…God” (Revelation 1:6).

So the way that was once made open through only designated ones necessarily year after year is now made open to all through Christ’s fulfillment in his atoning sacrifice. Not that “Old Testament” people couldn’t draw near to God who were not priests. They could do so only through the sacrificial system when possible, of course through faith. Enoch would be a prime example before the law was given (Genesis 5:21-24), and David (Psalm 15) and Daniel afterward (Daniel 9-12).

The passage in James quoted above makes it clear that this must be both in attitude and action. We’re told of the need for ongoing repentance, keeping short accounts with God. As well as simply taking the time to come near to God. This must become a priority, maybe we should say the priority of our lives.

I have more or less tried to do something like this over the years. I would in theory seek to be doing this all day. I did have a few special times, one I can remember early on in particular, “a date with God” as I called it, of drawing near to God. But special times each day were not a part of my life such as what evangelicals call “personal devotions.” I thought I would more than less be seeking to do that all day. I think at least to some extent this was a mistake. It is better to err on the side of making sure one has that “quiet time” with God. I used to listen regularly to God’s word being read. And now open my little Bible off and on throughout the day. But there needs to be those special times in prayer and in the word, not just thinking we can do that as we run throughout our day. But God will honor our attempt to do that even in the midst of the rush of life. Yet we need those times in silence before God.

Then hopefully as a pastor friend, Marvin Williams reminded me, we’ll have the scent of Christ on us, and be enabled by the Spirit to lead others to him. In and through Jesus.