John 10.1-10; 1 Peter 2.19-25
Walking a tightrope He found the walk of faith really scary; like he could blow it all in a single foolish, disobedient act. She found it almost too hard as she looked ahead to life lived on an uncertain tightrope of morality where one step in either direction to the side meant certain spiritual disaster. What made it worse for either was that it seemed someone kept lobbing rocks of temptation at them as they sought to live how they thought they should. Is it really like that, or were they missing something about themselves and about God? Is enduring something you just have to grit your teeth to achieve or is this God at work somehow.
You are my Shelter and You are my High Tower are words from the hymn, Lord Be My Vision. That express how we are sustained when going through all the trials and pleasures of living the Christian life. Now can you really see God as the One who sets us up to be tested and pushed to the point of failure? Psalm 125 and John 10 present different yet similar pictures of who God is in relation to us and our desire to do things His way. In Psalm 125, in our unique relationship with God we are as safe as mountain fortress, circled with unassailable peaks of His strength and glory. While in reality we may feel definitely moved or pushed around by our own mistakes and sins, we have never actually been moved so far that we’re outside of God’s faithful mercy, hence the Psalmist says: Those who trust in God are like Zion Mountain: Nothing can move it, a rock-solid mountain you can always depend on.
Not only is the Lord a place of unassailable shelter, but this place of refuge is surrounded by a towering protection that wards off the most disconcerting assaults before they even approach. What does that mean? It means we’re too easily frightened by our own frailty, our weakness. God is more faithful than we can imagine and that is why people invent vain theologies in which we can lose our salvation in the slightest or most gross of sins. The Lord’s immense love for us is unimaginably more powerful than anything we or anyone else can lay in our path.
The Lord is my Shepherd I shall want for nothing The other image comes from Jesus’ kind reassurance in John’s gospel, in which He calls us His sheep and Himself our Shepherd. Following Jesus is not a task, nor a trap strewn obstacle course, but an enduring relationship that no-one can fracture, from which no-one can kidnap or disqualify us. Paul makes it clear in his letter to the Romans when he says: I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. [8.38-39] Our Shepherd is the Lord Jesus, the King of Heaven, the One who conquered our sin and even death undoing the power of all that is malignant. Jesus’ promise is to lead us to shelter and to food for all we need in this adventurous life of faith to which He calls us, continually.
Of course the wonder of it all is that living the Christian life, is a relationship in which we are called, fed, sheltered, lead by the Good Shepherd in the person of the Holy Spirit [see John 14-16]. In this relationship Jesus is not trying to trip us up, or catch us out, or prove us inadequate, rather He is surrounding us with astonishing love and joining us to His purpose, and inviting us to work alongside of Him, doing His work among those to whom He leads us, as individuals and as a community. He never gives up on us, He never abandons us, or fails us in any way at all. Our loneliest moments are those when our struggles have so consumed us that we no longer notice that He is still with us, nurturing, healing, guarding us. He endures while we struggle and even fail.
Endure as He endured for our sake It’s important to understand how the Lord endures for us and with us so that we will be inspired to endure our own trials in His grace and power, and continue to follow and serve Him even when it becomes difficult. Marathon runners talk about hitting the wall, or overcoming the pain barrier and all on the basis of their own imagination and strength; how much more can we achieve in the power and resources of great Creator who defeats even death. No obstacle is so intense, so deep, so high, so threatening that with our enduring Lord we can not continue to serve, love, embrace those among whom God has sent us.
1. Tightrope or strong castle? At what level does your confidence in God’s living presence begin to fade? Which is the more fragile, God’s faithfulness, or your belief in His enduring faithfulness?
2. What do you, what do we need to do in order to be able to hear the Shepherd’s voice more clearly, or at all?
3.Our loneliest moments are those when our struggles have so consumed us that we no longer notice that He is still with us, nurturing, healing, guarding us. Talk about this and your experience of being distracted by trials and struggles…or have you always been conscious of His presence in some measure?