The text came early on Sunday morning that our dear friend, my husband’s best friend from early childhood, had stepped over into eternity. He, who was a farmer for all of his life, understood what it meant to lead and to be led. So, as the cancer had ravaged his body, he told my husband a week ago that he was so ready to follow Jesus into Heaven.
As we stood around his bedside at the hospice center, our prayers stirred up longings in my own heart, and renewed a conviction that I had been offering to the Lord this summer:
Am I ready to follow You Jesus? Will I let You lead me wherever You ask?
I’ve been reading a collection of books this summer, not realizing how connected they each were until I heard the Lord place that question before me. The book that drew them all together was given to me by another dear friend, Lisa Brittain. Although we’ve never met in person, we’ve shared beautiful prayer times with the Beloved Prodigal Team, and our dear friend, Anna Smit. Lisa felt that I would enjoy Phillip Keller’s classic, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23.
I’ve wanted to read that book for years, and it has not disappointed. Sheep are truly fascinating, and I can understand so much more clearly why Jesus calls us the “sheep of His pasture,” and Himself, “The Good Shepherd.” In fact, there are so many similarities between sheep and people that the parallels almost seem endless! However, it was the chapter on being led that touched me in so many ways, as the author, a shepherd himself, described how sheep want to find their own pasture, and resist the shepherd leading them. Although most sheep will eventually follow their shepherd, as they learn to trust him, there are still some sheep who resist and try to stay in their own ways. He goes on to say:
“The stubborn, self-willed, proud, self-sufficient sheep that persists in pursuing its old paths and grazing on its old polluted ground will end up a bag of bones on ruined land.” (A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, by W. Phillip Keller, page 89.)
Even though that word “self-sufficient” jumped out at me, surely, I thought, I am not that resistant am I? And then came these words:
“We don’t want to deny ourselves, give up our right to make our own decisions–we don’t want to follow; we don’t want to be led.
“Of course, most of us, if confronted with this charge, would deny it. We would assert vehemently that we are ‘led of the Lord.’ We would insist that we would follow wherever He leads. We sing songs to this effect and give mental assent to the idea.” (pg. 90.)
Ouch. The words struck home a few weeks ago when my friend Anna wrote me that she sensed she was supposed to share about the new thing that God had been birthing in our lives. As we had been facing the dying time of Beloved Prodigal (see her post here, and my post here,) we both had sensed the Lord leading us on to a resurrection of the book we had been working on, and a new venture into podcasting to give voice to the words God had given us.
Out the window went my strong words about being led of the Lord, when I found myself thinking, “NO! We cannot share that yet! I am not ready! What if I cannot do what God has asked? How could He be asking me to share about that?” And that ugly polluted bag-o-bones reared its ugly head in me.
As I sat before the Lord, those other books that I had been reading all summer suddenly flowed together with such a beautiful theme: being led by the Lord to share what He had done, through those dark valleys, was such a gift to be given away.
The first book was a personal testimony by Kitty Foth-Regner, Heaven Without Her, of how she had laid down her old way of atheism, and embraced the gift of grace offered by Jesus. Kitty faced the death of her Mother with deep questions that could only be answered by the truth of the Gospel, and the unfailing Word of God. She was willing to be led by the Great Good Shepherd, and shared her own story through the pages of her beautiful book.
The next book was about a lifelong friendship that began in an unlikely place, between a Christian counselor, and the woman who sought help when her life of brokenness became unbearable. Bring Me a Vision, by Pam Ecrement and Becky Moreland, is a story of redemption that did not happen overnight, but over a long process as hearts were shared, and the great Shepherd drew in one of His lost sheep. Pam, as the counselor, was willing to be led of the Lord as she took the risk of loving and caring for a heart that seemed shattered beyond repair. Becky found such deep and beautiful purpose for her life, and the lives of her children, as she gave over her fears and her hurts into the hands of our Great Lord who would make all things new.
And the last book that I just finished this week, Still Waiting, by Ann Swindell is the story of someone who has prayed for healing for decades, but is still waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled. In the process of waiting for healing, she has found that the deeper soul-healing of grace is the much more precious gift. She took the risk of being vulnerable with her “unfinished” story, and shared about the precious Life that Jesus offers as we lay down our own notions of how life must proceed.
My answer to Anna ultimately became that “yes,” that I knew I wanted to give to my Good Shepherd. I want to be led by Him, and continue walking forward into the New Life that He has planned. Even as the future looks uncertain to me, and I cannot see the green pastures ahead, I know that Jesus will provide the direction that I need. He will lead His lamb into those pastures of LIFE that He knows are best.
So, weeks later after that surrender to be led by my Shepherd, we stood around the bedside of our friend. As I looked back on a life lived with such fullness, and I as I felt the tug of the utter vastness of Eternity, my heart was overwhelmed with the shortness of this life! This photo was taken over 30 years ago, but feels like yesterday to me, as I remember the joyful moments we shared with our friend:
1982, our friend playing dress-up with our young son, Joel.
When our Shepherd calls us, will we let Him lead us on the good path? Will we open our hearts to trust that He truly does see the Beautiful Eternity that He has in mind for us?
A psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Dear Lord Jesus,
Thank You for being such a beautiful shepherd for us. We admit that we are lost without you–our best efforts to find good pasture only lead us to barrenness. So, Lord we come before You now and ask for Your direction and guidance. We want to follow You. Thank You that You have chosen the best path for us, and we can take JOY in Your purposes for us. Thank You that You have set eternity in our hearts, and we are on the journey that will lead us to our final home in Heaven with You. We lift our voices to praise Your great name. You are the Shepherd of our hearts.
In Your precious name we pray,
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