Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep. Luke 15:1-6
As I listened to the verses being read aloud, my heart started pounding more rapidly. I heard the words, but I saw myself in the story. As Jesus put that lost one on his shoulders and began to walk home, something broke loose in me. It was what I had been longing for almost every night within this chronic illness wandering: to be lifted and carried away from the thorns.
Over these past 5 years, since my chronic illness diagnoses, I have met my Savior, my Shepherd, in more intimate ways than I ever could have imagined. He called me beautiful when I found myself so ugly. He called me chosen when I found myself separated and cut-off. He called me by His own royal name when all I could hear was minimizing and neglect. He called me His daughter, and I hid in His embrace.
But when I listened to the story of that one lost sheep, I realized that even after these many precious words He has spoken to me, I have still felt tangled in thorns and separated from where I was supposed to be. I have still rebelled at the thought that this place of weakness could be the very place that He knew I would be in. When I have looked longingly back at the place of my own strength, I have not acknowledged that this place of tangled thorns has been the place designed for precious carrying by Him. For if the thorns had never tangled me, I would never have felt the amazing intimacy of His arms when all of my own physical strength had been utterly depleted.
Several weeks ago, God highlighted another set of Scripture verses, and I have been pondering them ever since, leaving the windows open in my search browser so that I would see them every time I opened the internet. But when I thought about my Lord carrying that lone, bleating sheep over the rutted pathways, I suddenly saw such a beautiful picture in those verses He had given:
Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them. Psalm 126:6 NIV
Jesus weeps over each of us lambs. We are the ones for whom He has planted such deep seeds. We are the harvest, we are the sheaves He is singing over as He carries us so close to His heart, right over His shoulders.
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.[d]
7 They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84:5-7 NIV
And when I am finally brought to those places where all my strength is found only in Him, I am part of His seed sowing AND His harvest. I am one of those who are called “they” in these passages, part of the singers flooded with His springs of water, dancing in His pools of strength.
Recently I was able to begin reading the new book from Elisabeth Eliot’s writings, Suffering is Never for Nothing. And as I sat pondering these thoughts about the thorns, I remembered a poem that I first heard quoted by Elisabeth. I quoted it here, several years ago. But the poem and the suffering have taken on fresh meaning yet again in this season of my life. My Shepherd makes use of every thorn, every pain, every pass around the season of autumn and suffering. His purposes are so full of love.
And begged Him for one priceless gift that I could call my own.
I took the gift from out His hand, but as I would depart
I cried, ‘But Lord! this is a thorn! and it has pierced my heart.
This is a strange, a hurtful gift which Thou hast given me.’
He said, ‘My child, I give good gifts and gave My best to thee.’
I took it home, and though at first the cruel thorn hurt sore,
As long years passed I learned at last to love it more and more.
I learned He never gives a thorn without this added grace:
Have you glimpsed those tangled thorns capturing your strength? I would love to pray with you today as we allow our Shepherd to come after us, to pick us up, and to place us over His own shoulders.
Dear Lord Jesus,
We come to You today, admitting that we have been Your lost lamb, so tangled in thorns that we have no strength of our own left. Forgive us for looking back longingly, trying to find our own way. Would You help us to look to You and find Your arms so sufficient for us? Thank You for the seeds You have sown in our hearts. Thank You for the harvest that You are reaping even now, as You place us close to Your heart. Help us to drink deeply of Your springs of life-giving water. Help us to sing with You through the valleys transformed by YOUR strength.
In Your name, we pray,
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