Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Good Shepherd GUIDES his sheep

In John 10:27-28, after two previous references to the Good Shepherd guiding his sheep, Jesus says:

“My sheep hear my voice, 
and I know them, and they follow me; 
and I give them eternal life.” 

Now, before we think about this, come with me to one of my favourite texts from he Book of Proverbs: 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart 
and lean not on your own understanding; 
in all your ways acknowledge him, 
and he will direct your paths” 
(Proverbs 3:5-6)

We need guidance in our lives. We need to know the way we should go. And not just in the little things. We need guidance in working out what God wants us to do with our lives - especially you young people who have your whole lives in front of you.


“Guidance” is usually seen as a difficult area for Christians. But - and I’m not being trite here, because sometimes I have been as confused as anyone else about which direction to go in - did you notice that the Lord Jesus simply says “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me.” Jesus seems much more confident that his sheep hear his voice than his sheep usually are!

How do we hear him speaking to us? Here are some principles:

FIRST, by immersing ourselves prayerfully in the Scriptures, for God speaks to all of us in his Word. 

Soaking in the Scriptures we become conscious of being part of that flow of history in which God’s people are being led by his hand. I know there are such things as mystical experiences and even “audible voices” and stuff like that. BUT . . . most of the time we don’t need mystical experiences, audible voices or even warm fuzzies to tell us which bits of our lives should change in order for us to be living God’s way. We simply consult his Word, and there, in black and white, we can see how we are to live, where we fall short, and what we should do to change things. 

Sometimes the Holy Spirit shows us things in the Word that we had never seen there before. Often we need the help of the church community - and our spiritual director - in applying the principles of God’s Word to complicated real life situations. But there really is no substitute for getting into the Bible for ourselves, and spending time in prayer about what we have read.

SECOND, by staying with the company of those who are responding to Jesus. 

Those of you who have travelled a lot will know what it’s like getting off a bus or a train in some strange city and trying to work out from the map where you are and where you are going. This happened to me a long time ago in the middle of Vienna. As usual i was travelling on the smell of an oil rag! Fortunately there was a group of American tourists nearby with their own tour guide, and I was able to smuggle myself onto the edge of the group without being noticed. We all had our maps, but together as a community we kept an eye on the guide, and we saw all the things people go to Vienna to see. For as long as I stayed with the community that was being guided, the guidance took care of itself.

That’s why Christians don’t just read the Bible alone and then try to work everything out in isolation from others. We actually NEED our brothers and sisters in Christ (the great Saints of the “past” as well as our brothers and sisters of the “present”); we need the wider discernment of the community that is being guided as together we keep our Guide in sight. Recognising that is what makes us “catholic” Christians.

THIRD, by making sure that we really want to do his will, whatever it is. 

This is a quick point, but very basic. It’s no good asking God for guidance if we have already made up our minds about what we are prepared to do and what we are not prepared to do. But if we have come to the point where we can sincerely and honestly say “Lord, what will you have me to do?”, and we are truly open to whatever his will might be, then the next few steps will become plain, one way or another.

FOURTH, by daring to believe that we are in his will until he shows us that we should be doing something else.

This is fundamentally important, and it is connected to our first point. It really is “living by faith”. We should say to the Lord, “Lord I am going to believe that I am right in the centre of your will for my life until you show me clearly that I am not.” Sometimes things get difficult; sometimes we need just to “hang in there” by God’s grace, encouraging ourselves, perhaps by reading the Psalms, to continue trusting in his goodness and love in the darkest of days. You know how it is!

But how many of us spend our prayer time complaining to God about how we don’t like where we are! We tell ourselves that “the grass is greener on the other side of the hill”. Well, I was a bush priest for a long time, and I can assure you that even though the grass does look greener over there, when you actually get to the other side of the hill you find that the lumps of manure in the grass are just as big over there as the ones where you came from! 

We can be so impatient. Most of the time faith means affirming that we are right where God wants us to be for the present, that his grace is sufficient for us, that he has us where we are so as to help others with their burdens, and that he will lead us on in his own good time.

I leave this point with some powerful words by Fr Henri Nouwen in his book “Bread for the Journey”:

“Often we want to be able to see into the future. We say, “How will next year be for me? Where will I be five or ten years from now?” There are no answers to these questions. Mostly we have just enough light to see the next step: what we have to do in the coming hour or the following day. The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with the trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk through life with joy and be surprised at how far we go. Let’s rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the great beam that would take all shadows away.”


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