As I listened to Francis Chan's morning session on day 3 of Oxygen Christian Leaders Conference I was shattered by the reality that the simple trust that my children have in me, even though I am a flawed, weak and inconsistent father, is so often what I lack in my relationship with the perfect, almighty and faithful Jesus.
Chan's text was the famous statement of Jesus, "I am the good shepherd" and if his message focused on anything it was that I need to stop always thinking of myself as shepherd and remember that I am also a sheep. I need to rest as a sheep in His care and trust like one who knows that my shepherd will lead me by still waters, into green pastures and through the shadow of death. I need to be more like my girls and even though I don't know how things are going to work out, if my shepherd is in the lead I have to trust that it will be good.
But Jesus does not leave us without tangible truths about Himself on which we can hang our hats of trust:
- His affection, dedication and concern for us is unquestionable. In the text Jesus holds Himself up as good shepherd against the phony cattle thieves of His day (Pharisees). And the comparison couldn't get any more stark. Jesus says that the thieves come to "steal and kill and destroy" but that He "lays down His life for the sheep." Basically the thieves prey on their sheep & feasts on their blood... But the good shepherd prayed for His sheep & sweat drops of blood. Chan impressed on hearts that this is how much Jesus loves us and that no one loves us more than this. We can trust Jesus to lead us towards the good because He was prepared to lay down His life for us.
- He is doggedly protective of His sheep. Jesus says that the hired hands when confronted with a threat will run away and leave the sheep to their own devices because they care nothing for the sheep, only their own necks. But Jesus says that the good shepherd goes into fight for His sheep because of the above mentioned love He has for them. Surely knowing that our shepherd has our backs should give us confidence even when danger lurks at every corner. Chan said at this point that "If I was a sheep and Jesus was my shepherd I would actually love to walk into the valley of death just to see Him fight for me." We can trust Jesus to lead us towards good because He has our backs.
So when Jesus says that the life He is leading us to is the "abundant life" or "life to the full" surely we have grounds for trusting Him. Even when the life we are living doesn't fit our shallow view of abundance we have to trust that following the good shepherd actually leads the the abundant life. And what does this abundant life look like... well if it looks like anything it probably won't look like the image of abundance put forward by secular western society... it will look like Jesus' life:
- Abundance is not to be found in the status our possessions obtain for us but in the joy the sharing of our possessions gives others
- Abundance is not to be found in the privilege and power we crave but in the meekness with which we empower others
- Abundance is not to be found in the relationships that satisfy our desires but in the giving of ourselves to other without expectation of anything in return
But it is just so easy for me to hold back from following my good shepherd because I think I know what good is better than He does. I put control measures in to ensure my safety, security and peace. I shy away from difficult paths because I am not confident they will work out well. I procrastinate when it comes to obedience because I am not convinced that it is for the best. But at the end of the day what I think Francis Chan was getting at, and what Jesus is offering as my shepherd, is the kind of abundant life where I am so convinced of the love and protection of our shepherd that I will just rest and joyously follow knowing that He will lead me into true abundance.