Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Teach Us To Pray : Guidance

“And lead us not into temptation,”

God wants to speak to us about his guidance.

Jesus reveals himself to be the good shepherd of his sheep – those who follow him – who calls them by name, and who sits in the entrance to the pen, making himself the gate between the protection of the pen and the provision of the pasture (John 10). He leads his sheep, by going ahead of them and because they know his voice; and the sheep experience an inward direction (in to the pen) and an outward direction (out to the pasture).

Jesus identifies himself with the image of God as shepherd found in Psalm 23. Here, the sheep are led from the winter pasture, which has been grazed, up the hillside gulley to the high summer pasture, the tabletop mountain covered in lush grass and strewn with wildflowers, where the shepherd rubs oil into any wounds incurred on the way. For the gulley is the place of death: of steep drops, fast-flowing flash floods, and predators lying in wait behind rocks. But in this place, the sheep are not afraid, because the shepherd has two sticks: one with which to steer wayward sheep back onto the path, and one with which to drive back predators. The shepherd’s rod and staff: the symbols of discipline (keeping us on the path) and freedom (safe from harm).

God’s love is expressed through discipline and freedom. Discipline trains us, to follow him, and to experience freedom in the world – even when our outward circumstances are constrained against our will by the actions of others, as persecuted Christians have testified in Nazi death camps, Soviet gulags, Chinese prison cells, Sudanese freight crates...

This, then, is how God guides us: through discipline and freedom.

There are times – as in the gulley – where God’s voice gives very clear direction, and our refusing to listen will only result in our harm: God will move to rescue us when we call, but we might wander a long way and get into all kinds of a mess before we swallow our pride. But in the pastures, there is considerable choice of where to wander.

God’s guidance is not narrow. He has not drawn out a line our life must follow, and if we get it wrong somewhere we go off into at best God’s second-best and at worst a life of irrelevance in his sight. There are times when God’s guidance is specific and clear, and many, many times when it is broad.
I do not believe that there is only one person out there made to be your soul-mate, and unless you can find this needle in the haystack (albeit with God’s assistance) you are condemned to loneliness or meaningless relationships. And yet, I do believe that God works in our lives to prepare us for the relationships we enter into. I don’t believe that my wife is the only person I could have married (though she may well be the only person who would have me); and yet I do not believe that it is a coincidence how well her gifts complement my gifts and her abilities compensate for my shortcomings. I do not believe that there is only one job we are to take up at any given time; though I do believe that God prepares us (through discipline and freedom) for the work we choose or are chosen to do – and I do believe that sometimes God makes it clear that we should apply for a particular job, while often he says, “I have gifted you in these ways: go invest as you see fit...”

There is, then, the temptation to not listen to the shepherd’s voice, and so be led away by another voice; and the temptation to be paralysed by choice-anxiety, not prepared to take the risk of moving without specific instruction. There is the temptation to mistake the gulley for the pasture, to be selective in which words of discipline we listen to, as if there was no danger of falling; and the temptation to mistake the pasture for the gulley, to live as though there was no healing and no provision. Submitting ourselves to loving discipline, and embracing disciplined freedom, is the way to follow the good shepherd, to go in and out through the gate for the sheep.

Where are you seeking guidance today? And what does God want to say to you?

His sheep know his voice.

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