My Forever Shepherd

The story is even bigger. Our hope knows that God guides His people, caring about every detail of our lives, showing us the right paths, guiding by the Holy Spirit, correcting our course when necessary.

But the story is even bigger.

This is Moses, leading the people in a song of praise to the Almighty after the dramatic rescue at the Red Sea:

“With your unfailing love you lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your might, you guide them
to your sacred home.”
(Exodus 15:13)

‘Way back then, we already hear the realization that God has an ultimate purpose in His leading. These words have meaning beyond rescue from the Egyptians and guidance to an earthly Promised Land. In every era of history, God rescues His people because He loves them, and He guides them back to Himself.

We hear David rejoicing in the same guidance. Psalm 23 tells of the care of the Shepherd, in every necessity of life, finally leading to dwelling in the house of the Lord forever.

But the people God created to be like Him and enjoy a relationship with Him are “traitors and rebels from birth” (from Isaiah 48:8). They—and we—find that ignoring God’s guidance lands them—and us—in captivity to other powers:

This is what the LORD says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along the paths you should follow.
Oh, that you had listened to my commands!
Then you would have had peace flowing like a gentle river and righteousness rolling over you like waves in the sea.”
(Isaiah 48:17-18)

God had offered Israel instructions for a good, peaceful life. Instead, they chose their own way and as a result their country and temple were destroyed and they were living in Babylon under the rule of a pagan king.

A rescue is promised. The Great Shepherd arrives to gather His flock, to provide all they need for life. To lay down His life so that His sheep might live.

And within everyone who hears the Shepherd’s voice and follows Him, God the Father plants His own Spirit, to guide and lead to life:

Letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.
(Romans 8:6)

Following His guidance leads to life, not only for the duration of our walk here on earth, but on into a life that does not end.

The Lamb will be their Shepherd, leading them to life-giving water.
(Revelation 7:17)

I cannot pinpoint the time or place of this verse. As a matter of fact, it refers to a time when there is no time or place. It is sometime in eternity.
Even then, our Shepherd will be leading us!

The Lamb—the one sacrificed for us—is our Forever Shepherd.

I remember a time when thinking about eternity brought anxiety. Not because I was afraid of hell. But because it is all unknown. How do we even begin to comprehend eternity? What is heaven? Scenes of standing around and singing praises forever and ever and ever … Well, that didn’t really work for me.

Now, my hope is simply in the care of my Shepherd,
in Psalm 23 going on forever, into all beyond, whatever and wherever that is,
guiding always to life-giving water,
guiding me to His sacred home.

 

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Psalm Prayer:

Show me the right path, O LORD;
Point out the road for me to follow.
(Psalm 25:4)

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MORE: Exodus 15:13; Psalm 5:8; Psalm 23; Psalm 25; Psalm 27:11; Psalm 37:23-24; Psalm 32:8; Psalm 73:23-24; Psalm 119:105, 133; Psalm 139:9-10; Psalm 143:8,10; Proverbs 3:5-6, 11-12; Isaiah 30:18-22; Isaiah 42:16-17; Isaiah 48:17-18; Isaiah 58:11; John 10:1-16; John 14:16-17, 25-26; John 16:13; Galatians 5:16-25; 2 Thessalonians 3:5; Hebrews 12:5-12; Revelation 3:19; Revelation 7:17.

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© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, and Lana Turner for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

Discipline Guidance

“Oh, Lord, no!
Please, not today.
Please, help!”

My whole body tensed, ready for the gripping pain.

Ever get those leg cramps, when a muscle in your calf is caught in a spasm so powerful that you can only grit your teeth and tough it out for a minute or so?

Then the grip releases, you can relax, but a lingering ache remains in that muscle for as long as a week.

That’s what I felt coming on, and … well, I just didn’t want to endure the cramp or the after-effects. I had too much planned for the next few days. (Muscle cramps are never conveniently scheduled.)

So I called for help.

And the tightening stopped. The muscle relaxed.

That has never happened before. It had to be my Father’s direct intervention.

“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!”

And then came the word from the Spirit.

This is exactly what you should be doing with those thoughts you’ve been having…call for my help the minute it starts. The minute it starts!

My thoughts had been going down the broad way recently—down paths laid out wide and smooth by my natural, selfish tendencies. And although I knew that poison grew along that path, I let my thoughts go that way. I let them go … and I’d been unhappy and discontent and the poison had seeped from me into one of my close friendships.

I got the message. When my thinking starts wandering off on the wrong path, I need to call for help from the Spirit immediately. Otherwise, that poison of wrong thinking renders me powerless and leaves me with pain that lasts for days if not weeks or months …

I need to call for help immediately. The same day of the cramp-that-never-happened, I did  call for the Spirit’s help when my mind started going off in the wrong direction.

Help came.

And the usual ache left in my muscle after a leg cramp?

That never came.

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This post was going to be on God’s discipline, His correction of His children. But that’s really too big a subject for one post, right? I’m probably already over my word limit for today.

And I know my little incident with the leg cramp is just a small thing compared to the discipline that God often puts us through. But the thought for today is this:

The LORD is good and does what is right;
he shows the proper path to those who go astray.
He leads the humble in doing right,
teaching them his way.
(Psalm 25:8-9)

He doesn’t write us off as incorrigible and hopeless. He still guides us, bringing us back to the right way when we go wandering—or bolting—off on our own reckless and destructive ways.

The songwriter wrote in Psalm 73 that he had been bitter and envious and resentful. But still, he belonged to God and God guided him back to thinking from God’s point of view.

Thank you for correcting and training and guiding us, Father, when we are so out of line.

Of course it is painful. Of course we’d rather not have to learn the hard way. But we often persist in making this guidance necessary.

Check out Hebrews 12:10-11. There’s the promise and the hope we hold:

God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness…afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.

That’s what I desire, Father. A peaceful harvest of right living.
Do whatever’s necessary to guide me there.

Amen.

 

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Psalm Prayer:

Show me the right path, O LORD;
Point out the road for me to follow.
(Psalm 25:4)

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© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, and Lana Turner for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

Walking in the dark

I would have loved to have shared some stories with you yesterday on very specific ways the Holy Spirit has guided and taught. Stories of my own, and stories of friends. Stories of times when it is so clear that a new insight or answer to a question comes directly from the mind of God through the Spirit within. Or when the battle rages between selfish motivations and what Jesus wants me to live — and Jesus wins! Or when He teaches me and molds me by changing my thinking, and I know the transformation could have come only from Him …

But what about the times when we beg for guidance, but the answer is not so clear?

“I just wish God would leave me a note on the countertop.” That’s a line my sisters and I have often uttered in conversations. Aren’t there times when you would like to have handwriting on the wall or a voice from heaven?

We wish, sometimes, for everything to be clear, distinct, unambiguous … safe.

What about those nights when we’re still wide awake at three, or those days when our thoughts race around in circles of questions of how? where? when? should I? and God, why don’t you show me exactly what to do?

Hebrews 11 says that faith hopes in what it does not see. Faith steps out in the darkness, not knowing what waits, but feeling the hand that guides and the love that surrounds.

How can I know God has asked me to follow a certain path? Can I be certain that I haven’t just talked myself into believing this? How do I know God is leading me?

Perhaps the answer is this simple: God says He will guide us.

I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
(from Psalm 139)

In Psalm 139, David sings about the amazing hope that no matter where I walk, God’s hand will guide me.

Even when I walk in the dark.

And then Jesus repeats the promise: He will always be with us. The Spirit, the Comforter, the Helper, the Guide, will never leave us. He is living with us as a guarantee that we belong to God and we’re destined for even more exciting things.

God’s hand is always on my life. And His promise is that He will always guide me.

May I repeat myself? Faith steps ahead in the darkness, not knowing what waits, but feeling the hand that guides and the love that surrounds.

 

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Psalm Prayer:

Show me the right path, O LORD;
Point out the road for me to follow.
(Psalm 25:4)

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© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, and Lana Turner for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

The Guidance within

I cannot explain how. I know that it seems preposterous to those who do not hold this hope.

But to the children of God who live by faith, this is a hope that frees us from our freeze (okay, so it’s really early) and moves us forward: The Spirit of God lives in us and guides our steps.

Words from Jesus:

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.

“But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative — that is, the Holy Spirit — he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.”
(John 14:16-17, 26)

As Jesus moved from town to town speaking about the Kingdom and performing miracles, I’m sure some of the disciples missed some of the things He said. I mean, you can’t be with the man every minute of every day, can you? He often goes off by Himself, or sometimes sends disciples on errands or off on bigger missions. So I’m sure, hungry as they might have been for what He was saying and doing, they missed out on some things.

But today, Jesus guides and teaches each one of His disciples personally and individually. He is with us always, every minute, every step, in every situation.  Because He is “in us.”

Now how do we explain that? Just exactly where is He in us?

I don’t know.

But I believe it.

It’s one of those hopes we are certain of, a hope that our faith acts upon because we know it’s true: God, living in us — somehow, miraculously, super-naturally, in the all-encompassing spiritual realm — guides us and teaches us.

And in His guiding and teaching, He produces a certain kind of life, a life that goes beyond human nature, tendencies, and capabilities. It’s impossible to cover all that in one short post, but you can read all about it in Galatians 5.

Look again at the words from Jesus. The world doesn’t receive, recognize, or even look for the Spirit.

But we do, children of God. We do. Because He lives with and within us to guide us along the pathway Christ Jesus laid out.

 

 

 

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Psalm Prayer:

Show me the right path, O LORD;
Point out the road for me to follow.
(Psalm 25:4)

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© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, and Lana Turner for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)

Hearing and following His voice

“The road moves.” What? Had I heard my friend correctly?

We were standing on the rocks outside a small cottage, looking across the waters of the bay to the horizon where these waters meet the Atlantic Ocean. To picture this place, think of a finger of land stretching out into the sea. At the very fingertip, the cottage sits on only an acre of land. The “finger” leading to this place is the narrow causeway we had driven across to reach the cottage.

“The causeway. It moves from year to year.”

I was about to make a remark that where I come from, roads stay put. But the thought occurred to me that they don’t, really. Pavement is laid down, but it sinks and cracks and heaves up, and, yes, moves about just like this causeway that shifts under the stresses of wind, waves, and weather.

It reminded me of Jesus’ words.

“Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise,
like a person who builds a house on solid rock.
Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house,
it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock.
But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish,
like a person who builds a house on sand.
When the rains and floods come
and the winds beat against that house,
it will collapse with a mighty crash.”
(Matthew 7:24-27)

Jesus, called the Wonderful Counselor by prophecy, also had many names for himself. He said He is the Shepherd who gathers His sheep. The Shepherd who goes in search of strays. The Shepherd whose purpose is to give his flock everything they need. That has echoes of Psalm 23, where David reflects on how God provided everything he needed.

Jesus the Shepherd says He walks ahead of His flock and they follow Him because they know His voice. (John 10:4)
David said, “He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.” (Psalm 23:3)

Jesus’ teaching is the bedrock on which we build our way in life.
If we are His, then we hear and know His voice.
And our hope follows that voice, because
the Shepherd leads along a road that will not shift or sink or collapse.

 

 

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Psalm Prayer:

Show me the right path, O LORD;
Point out the road for me to follow.
(Psalm 25:4)

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© Elaine Starner 2015 Photo credits: Thanks to Claire Pridgeon, Paul Stutzman, and Lana Turner for sharing photography I’ve used on this site. (Click on each name to see more.)