Editor’s note: The posts you’ll read this month will all center around the word “perissos” as found in Ephesians 3:20 and John 10:10. In the future, we’ll offer a greater variety and breadth of scripture, but we wanted to explore some of the depths of these two passages first.
John 10:7-13 The Message (MSG)
6-10 Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about. So he tried again. “I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.
11-13 “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary. A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.
Psalm 16:9 (NIV)
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.
This year did not go the way I had hoped or even expected. Two romantic failures back-to-back, a steep learning curve at a new job, a falling out with family, and all the emotional reckoning that comes with everything I just listed. I had hoped for a reversal of what had felt like a lot of misfortune in past years and instead seemed to find… even more misfortune.
But that’s what happens when you measure your life with a crooked ruler and a lack of imagination. Using flawed metrics to evaluate a work in progress is a silly endeavor.
I’ve always had this challenge. When I reflect back on all my childhood and teenage dreaming, it was always centered on myself and my achievements. I wanted to go to good schools, do laudable work, and create something new. I took it as a given that I would also be surrounded by loving people.
I never dreamed that much about traveling and seeing the world. That should tell you a lot about my understanding of myself and relationship to God—uninterested in gazing at the works of his hands with awe and wonder, because I was gazing too intently at mine.
So when I read this passage from John, the proud, overachiever in me bristles. I’m not a sheep, I want to say. I can carve my own path and take care of myself just fine.
As a result and as you might imagine, I’ve had to have the Good Shepherd come after me a few times to rescue me from the thorns and bramble of life.
But what makes this Shepherd GOOD?
In the past I’ve evaluated GOOD using measures that are of this world and are, by nature, temporal and imperfect. When I do this, I set myself up for some major disappointments. I want to measure GOOD through successful relationships (am I married to my soulmate yet with three perfect children? No? FAIL), through work success (how many pageviews and shares have my pieces gotten? I’ve lost Twitter followers? FAIL), and through my own feelings (am I happy every moment of my life? No? FAIL).
I’ve looked to these measures—or idols, if you will—as shepherds, and each of them have demanded something of me. I’ve laid down my life for my work and education and it cost me my health and several relationships. I’ve sacrificed my heart for the sake of romance and love. I’ve slaughtered moments of joy and peace at the altar of my fears.
But as Jesus says here, the Good Shepherd puts the sheep first. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The Good Shepherd promises that whoever goes through him, will be cared for. The Good Shepherd offers “more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” That’s what GOOD looks like—Jesus.
What does that even mean? The sin in my heart wants to translate that to “more and better of what I dream of,” but as we’ve seen, my capacity to dream is pretty limited.
Thankfully, through Christ, through this Gate, I have a Loving and Eternal Father who has his own dreams and plans for me. Isaiah 64:4 and 1 Corinthians 2:9 remind us that “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” This Father has given me a Good Shepherd to guide me into safe pasture, into pleasant places, to love me and care for me, to satisfy me with his unfailing love. These places might involve all the relationships and success and material goods I hope for, but when they don’t, it doesn’t change the Goodness of the Shepherd or the faithfulness of his promise to love me—to give me more of Jesus than I ever dreamed and transform me into something beyond my imagination.
Because if I use that measure, I can see how many more wonderful friends my Shepherd has provided this year and how many more deep friendships he’s sustained than the two romances that failed. I can see how the Spirit’s healing power has transformed and deepened the relationship with my family and the friendship with one of the men I dated this year. I can see how grace has carried me through the learning curve at my job to a pleasant place. And all through that, I have been rooted deeper into the love of God. More and better life than I ever dreamed of.
Since it’s Thanksgiving today, I thought it would make sense to offer a couple of quick options for application: a prayer and a song.
Loving Father, what an amazing thing to ponder, that the God who created heaven and earth thinks about us and cares for us. What an amazing gift of your Son, the Good Shepherd who gave his life for the sheep–for us. We confess that the measures we use to determine your goodness are bent and sometimes broken and our eyes cannot see, our ears cannot hear, and our minds cannot conceive what you have prepared for those who love you. We repent for ingratitude, we repent for wandering off, in Jesus’ name. We ask that you’d give us the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and that you’d renew our minds so we can perceive–even in our small and limited ways–the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Help us to see that you have indeed kept us safe from wolves and thieves, that you’ve led us to pleasant places, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. Thank you for every good and perfect gift you’ve given us–help us to see the goodness and perfection even in the things that don’t feel like gifts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I’ve found that sometimes the best way to cultivate gratitude is to just listen to or sing along to a good hymn. This link includes not only a beautiful acoustic version of the old hymn, My Shepherd Will Supply My Need, but the lyrics as well.