Hearing the Truth Through the Whispers

What has ever happened in your life that was actually good?

There are days when I can think back over my life and see so clearly what Jesus has done at my best and worst moments to give me every good thing that I have.  A light shines on every moment to show me the blessings of His care, and the joy that even the trials have brought to me.  Those are the days when it is hard to keep a smile from becoming a laugh, just to think of how the King of all things delights in brightening my day.

Then there are times that the light seems to turn off like a switch.  The days when the above question seems painfully real as I grope in the darkness for the things that I know have been blessings to me, but that I just cannot seem to find.  Whispers creep into my head and argue with me at every point, telling me that all of the things that I know on the warm days, full of light, are just my imagination.  Was it ever really so nice?

Boy, the devil has a lot of gall.

Thank God that we are given strength in Jesus to be unshakable more than just some of the time!  Here are a few things you can do to keep your footing on the days when the light seems dim and the whispers seem overwhelming.

Don’t Panic!

The first thing we often feel at these moments is that all is lost.  It must be that something didn’t quite click when we first trusted Jesus, and that this is what life is going to be like from now on.  It was so happy, following Jesus.  If we don’t feel that way, it must be something we did, right?  Our actions do affect our relationship with Jesus.  If we are sinning, or have not surrendered something to Him, we will struggle.  However, that is not always the cause of our distress.  Read the Psalms.  The are full of distress, and the reminder that the Lord is faithful in the midst of our adversities, even if He seems completely absent through them.  Reading Psalms twenty-two through twenty-four is an especially good reminder.  The first verse is what Jesus spoke on the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  If the Son of God can feel that way, then all is not lost for us when we struggle under the burden of a fallen world.  Those three psalms are actually believed to be all one before the chapter divisions came along.  I find reading them all at once deeply comforting.  Try not to dwell on feeling in the dark, but do remember that it’s okay to feel that way.  Overcoming that tendency to panic is usually half of the battle.

Know the Shepherd’s Voice

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.  A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
~John 10:1-5

The devil works overtime to deceive us.  In our moments of distress, he will do everything he can to convince us that it is God who is accusing us.  Our Father does discipline us, and so the devil finds ways to imitate the Shepherd’s voice while telling us a lie.  The best way to keep from being hoodwinked is to spend so much time with Jesus that we see the counterfeit instantly.  The devil will still whisper in countless and seemingly new ways, but if we are walking hand in hand with our beloved Christ, learning the depth and newness of all of His ways, it will be rare that we are taken in and led to greater distress.

Cite Your Sources

The best way to conquer distress is to take the offensive.  Don’t wait for the confusion to set in to decide to hide God’s Word in your heart.  Sometimes the distress is too much to take, and I can’t find any words of my own for how I am feeling and what I need in order to see the light again.  At those times, there is such a deep comfort in being able to quote Scripture.  I have a few of the Psalms committed to memory, and sometimes just the fact that I can speak them and have a solid piece of God’s Word available is enough to block out most of the pressure from the enemy.  Keep the references in your heart too.  Sometimes the exact words or the context can get lost, so don’t be afraid to pull out your Bible or your concordance, or do a quick web search when you can only remember a few snatches.  It’s a great reminder that the promises of God, and the concrete truth of His presence are defined by more than our own ability to hold onto Him.  It is such an encouragement to me that Paul, in 2 Timothy 1:12, wrote,

“for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day.”

Sometimes, that is all I need to hear.  This is a very productive habit to start in the New Year.  If you are at a time when it seems like more should be happening, use the time you have to hide God’s Word in your heart so that you will be ready when things get more active.

Bring a Friend

Isolation is a great way to overcome someone.  When we are alone, it is so much easier to believe that all of the feelings in our own heads are what is really true.  I tend to be the kind of person who doesn’t want to allow others to know my problems, since I know that they have their own lives to handle, so it isn’t uncommon for me to hold things inside for longer than I should.  When I do share something with one of my brothers or sisters, it is so deeply encouraging.  When I am distressed about the pressures of the enemy, or about a difficult thing the Lord wants me to do, just the honest “Yep, that sounds like what the devil would do,” or “Wow! He is calling you to something great!” is enough to remind me that I am trusting my life to the One with all of our best interests at heart.  It does often happen that I cannot reach anyone at the time of my distress, but Jesus is still there with me.  There have been numerous times that I have been so exhausted in my spirit that all I can do is ask the Lord to have someone else be praying for me at that time.  I can usually feel the burden eased almost instantly.

Remember too that distress will not always lift instantly.  It can be something that the Lord uses to remind us to be in prayer for someone, or as part of the process of really, truly understanding something about His character that we may have known on paper, but not experienced with Him before.  However, this does not mean that we have to be pulled back and forth by the whispers of doubt that come up, prompting “did God really say…?”

If you are struggling, and would like prayer or a chance to work through something with us, please leave a comment or an e-mail.  Also, if you would like to share a Scripture verse that has been a faithful friend to you in the midst of your distresses, please let us know in the comments below.  We love being able to connect with you.

by Stephanie H.

Meek, and Riding on a Donkey

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is vindicated and victorious,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
~Zechariah 9:9

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was anything but what the world expected from a king.  By that time, the land of Israel had been occupied by Roman rulers for generations.  Many must have been familiar with illustrious Roman generals parading through the streets of conquered cities, perhaps even Jerusalem, on a high-stepping war horse, arrayed in all his glory, and followed by prisoners of war and the spoils of fallen nations.  Now here is a man who may be their hope to be on top again.  They wave patriotic palm branches, the symbol of Israel as a free nation, and cry out, “Hosanna! Free us from the Romans!”  They grew so used to trusting in the things of the world, that they forgot what the Lord had promised about His coming Son.  Even as they cried out, “Hosanna to the son of David!” they did not remember what had made David a man after God’s own heart.

Interestingly, the people of Israel may have recognized that Jesus was following the example of David when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.  When the Lord was instructing the Israelites in one day having a king, He told them that the king was not to have many horses (Deuteronomy 17:16).  Not only did God want His people to keep from being led astray by the influence of Egypt again, but He also knew that a king who sought to make the office of earthly kingship too lofty and glorious by means of the beauty and strength of horses would soon forget his duty as a servant to God’s people.  They would also come to trust in their own strength more than in the presence of the Lord to guide them.  During his reign, David and his sons rode donkeys and mules, and David himself, though he kept a few chariots as spoils of war, knew that the battle belonged to the Lord.

Some boast in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God.
~Psalm 20:7

God meant for all of the kings of Israel to follow the example that would be set by His Son, the humble Chief Shepherd and the Lamb of God.  The fact that the religious leaders abused their position of authority to take advantage of the poor and leave the sinners without restoration grieved and angered Him.

It might not have surprised the people of Israel to see a king of the Jews riding on a donkey, but the particular donkey may have surprised them.  While the other gospels mention only a colt, Matthew 21 speaks as though the colt and the mother were both brought along.  Some scholars suggest that Jesus may then have ridden a nursing mother donkey with her foal trailing along with her.  Others suggest that the colt, having never been ridden, would not have been especially well-groomed or yet well-tempered enough to make a very good mount.  I don’t know which it was, but both would mean two things: the ride would be slow, and tongues would surely wag.  Both are also things we have seen Jesus do, and things we can learn to do ourselves.  Imagine following a King who gently nudges a mother donkey down the street, never going so quickly that her foal gets left behind.  We start to see what kind of approach we must take when we exercise pure religion.

Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
~James 1:27

Or imagine following a King who is not ashamed to be seen mounted on a scruffy colt, one which is nervous of crowds, and still uncertain about having a rider.  Yet He is patient when it shies away from the shouting and from His touch.  Can we keep ourselves unstained from the world to the point that we can exercise such patience before everyone we know?

It can be so easy for me to get caught up in a mission, or a program schedule, or even my alone time with the Lord.  Yet the march of the army of the kingdom of Heaven is set at the pace of the most lowly; the most novice.  Jesus stopped for the woman with the issue of blood, stopped for the children to be blessed, stopped for the paralytic lowered through the roof, went miles out of His way to free the man possessed of a legion of demons, and stopped for the broken girl with the perfect church life and nothing to live for.

That is where He finds us all: off the beaten path.  Even so, He takes us with Him and offers us a place of honor as He enters Jerusalem.  Look at the rest of the triumphal parade.  Prisoners of war free at last from the enemy!  Look what rich spoils.  A blind beggar who received his sight, a woman from whom were cast seven demons, lepers, fishermen, tax-collectors, Gentiles!  Children as His heralds, singing in the streets!  It is the way of our Lord to be gentle and patient as He leads His children to know His ways.  His most glorious earthly moment was in the company of the most humble and lowly.  As He leads you, remember to stop and take the hands of overlooked and the unkempt, the bruised reeds and the smoldering wicks.  See what precious hearts Jesus has yet to add to His joyful family parade.

 

by Stephanie H.

Welcome to Our Newest Contributor!

 

 

 

I want to publicly welcome our newest contributor, Stephanie H.! I approached her to ask about writing for the blog, because I have watched from afar, seeing God doing beautiful things in her heart and life. And, what’s more, she has a wonderful way with words, and a fondness for delving into the depths of God’s Word. I know you will be blessed by her posts.

 

Stephanie is, in her own words, “a bookworm, tea drinker, nature enthusiast, and barefoot whenever able.  She had a lot of plans for her life, but Jesus turned them all upside-down, and now she follows wherever the Shepherd’s voice calls.  She is also overly-analytical, and color codes her Bible study notes.”

Keep an eye out for her posts!

signatureMED

Becoming a Shepherdess

pretty young woman holding a white lamb, close up portrait, outdoor

 

“…Do you love me?….Tend my sheep.”  John 21:16

“I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”  John 10:11-13

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  Ephesians 5:1-2

 

God recently pointed out these scriptures to me and said to me, “This is what I want you to become. A shepherdess.” I  was a little puzzled at first, and began to ponder what that really meant. First, what does it mean to be a shepherd, and second, what are some important things to know about shepherding?

What does it mean to be a shepherd?

A shepherd must take very seriously the lives of the “sheep” that God has put into their care. This will look different for everyone, but God gives each of us our own “sheepfolds” – places where we meet people and become connected to them, such as school, work, church, etc. Depending on how outgoing you are, your “sheepfold” may be larger or smaller…but it’s still there, no matter who you are, or what your personality, we all know people who are hurting and need help. Each of these people you know will/have become your “sheep”; as God calls you to a serious relationship with Himself, it will never be simply for your own enjoyment – God calls us to always be pouring out our lives to help others, and the closer you get to God, the more He will ask you to give. And the closer you get to God, the bigger He will make your “sheepfold”…because you will begin to see, more and more, that you don’t have the right to choose who you feel comfortable talking to about Jesus or not…because every single person needs Him – even just the people you walk by in the grocery store or at the mall – and you may be their only chance to hear the gospel.

A shepherd’s duty is to invest their lives in the sheep. To give all they can give to see the sheep succeed. To teach them, to invite them over, to be available whenever they need help – or just a friend, and most importantly……

A shepherd is also the “priest” of their sheep-fold. This does not mean that you have to perform rituals with incense and wear weird hats. Let me share a few scriptures to clarify:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.”

Hebrews 4:14-5:4 

“The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

Hebrews 7:23-25 

“But you are….a royal priesthood….” 1 Peter 2:9

These verses show us that God has called each of us to become like a high priest, just as Jesus did. This doesn’t mean that we are to think of ourselves as something special. No, it actually means quite the opposite. As shepherds and priests, it means we are to become the servants of all, and to deal compassionately with those God has placed in our care, knowing all that He has saved us from, and His great mercy toward us daily. But it also means that we are to live our lives to make intercession for these “sheep” of ours (intercession=earnest prayer). The job of the priests in Biblical times was to offer sacrifices and prayers before the Lord on behalf of their people. And in the same way, God has called us to pray earnestly for those He has given into our care. We are to uphold them in prayer as if their very lives depended on it. And indeed, so often they really do depend on it.

 

Sheep and lambs on pasture

What are some important things to know about shepherding?

1.) Shepherding is not a part-time job.

We humans are always looking for the easiest way around things. We don’t want to just throw our lives into things without careful thought and planning…and making sure we still have plenty of time to do the things we want. “I don’t know if I really want to commit to that job right now…maybe I can just work part-time.” Well, in Biblical times, being a shepherd meant giving up your life to take care of your sheep. It meant 24/7 care. It meant that you spent your life leading your sheep around to new pastures, and being aware of their every need and trouble. A good shepherd literally invested their whole life into these sheep, so they were very careful to watch over them and take great pains to make sure they were well cared for. When you invest your own time and energy into something, you take a greater responsibility for it, because it has suddenly become a part of you. A shepherd didn’t have the choice of waking up late, or watching TV, or hanging out with friends and doing whatever he wanted to. A shepherd woke as the sheep woke, and had to continually keep watch over them, to make sure they had what they needed and that they were safe from harm. A bad shepherd was one that would relax when he should have been alert, and wild animals would come and kill the sheep. A bad shepherd would also be one who was simply out with the sheep because he had no other choice, and who didn’t invest his time and energy into taking the best possible care of them…so that when the wolves come to attack the sheep, he cares only about saving his own life, and flees – leaving the sheep to be devoured.

When God makes you a shepherdess, you can’t say, “Today I am ‘off duty’, and I’m not available to help anyone.” Nope. Serving God means being on call all the time, and when someone calls you at 2am, it means talking with them, and helping them gladly. It means when someone interrupts your plans or ideas for a nice time with their need for help, it means not hesitating to rush to their aid.

2.) Shepherding means laying down your life.

Like I mentioned in the previous point, shepherding means dying to yourself. Jesus is our example in this as John 10 says, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

We must be willing to set aside our own plans in order to pray for and help those around us. If they need prayer, we must be faithful to lift them up before the Lord. If they call us at 2am, we must be willing to talk. If they need a home, we must be willing to offer them ours…

We must always be willing to have God answer our prayers for people through us…otherwise, it is not real love and care for them. Of course we are always glad to pray for people who need help; praying that God sends them someone who can help them, someone to encourage them….someone to give them the money they need — the support they need. But…when you pray for God to provide for someone, are you willing to give your own last $50 to help them? When you pray for God to encourage them, are you willing to be the one to go out of your way to bake them cookies, invite them out to coffee, and just BE there for them? When you pray for them to be saved…are you willing to be the one to share the gospel with them?

I’m not saying these things to scare you out of praying, but to show you what real love for people looks like…and to show you the kind of heart attitude we need to have when we pray for people, if we truly want God to answer our prayers. Sometimes God will do things to answer our prayers that have nothing to do with us. Sometimes God will ask us to pray someone into salvation without ever talking to them even once. But sometimes…many times…God will test us to see what we are willing to do ourselves to help someone…and when we give all that we have to help those in need, God will both fill in anything else that is lacking and use our sacrifice to actually minister to their needy hearts.

As Oswald Chambers said so well, “It is one thing to follow God’s way of service if you are regarded as a hero, but quite another thing if the road marked out for you by God requires becoming a ‘doormat’ under other people’s feet. God’s purpose may be to teach you to say, ‘I know how to be abased…’ (Philippians 4:12). Are you ready to be sacrificed like that? Are you ready to be less than a mere drop in the bucket— to be so totally insignificant that no one remembers you even if they think of those you served? Are you willing to give and be poured out until you are used up and exhausted— not seeking to be ministered to, but to minister? Some saints cannot do menial work while maintaining a saintly attitude, because they feel such service is beneath their dignity.”

God wants us to serve and to give of ourselves without expecting any praise, any recognition, or any help from another person. And it is only a truly pleasing sacrifice when it is done with gladness and praise to God, and not begrudgingly.

3.) God will teach you obedience through your suffering. 

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.”

(Hebrews 5:7-8 ESV) 

Even Jesus Himself had to go through suffering in order to be perfected, and to learn true obedience. When you live your life for others instead of yourself, it will require great suffering and difficulties. You will have your heart crushed when “sheep” you have invested much love and prayer in turn away from you. You will have to battle off the intense desires of your flesh for ease and pleasure continually. You will have your character shaped and pruned so that it becomes more pleasing to God – this can often be a painful process, and is never truly finished while we are here on earth. You will have to give up your own plans, your own comfort — even things that every other “normal” person feels entitled to may not be things that God allows you to have or do. But it is all worth it if some of your “sheep” are brought into freedom and life with Jesus! And, it is even worth it all if you learn the lessons that God needs to work in your heart, and you are drawn into a closer walk with Him.

So, I hope that you will join me in praying that we will cling more closely to God in all things, and that we will take our jobs more seriously, and pour out our lives more freely for the sake of others.

Only by His power working within us.

Lord, teach us how to be shepherdesses.

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” 

Hebrews 13:20-21