What does it mean to live? Is it to experience different cultures or cities? Or maybe it’s living out the ultimate foodie dream by tantalizing your taste buds every waking moment? How about being the most famous person in your profession or hobby? To be deeply loved by another? Or as I have often wished, to be without clocks, quotas, expectations, based on impulses and passions to just be, no restraints, no comparisons? How about pain free, rent free, even better, bill free!? Tell me, what does it mean to live?
I can laugh at the matrix, but it’s not a far-fetched theory. Our reality is, however, a hundred times worse- we don’t get to shift bullets. I mean, the real reason is, we are aware of the monster controlling us and we remain in bondage; we don’t fight; we don’t run, we even find pleasure in it. Our deception is so dangerous that we make excuses for it, we have fallen in love with the thing that hates us.
I have been ranting about death to self a lot these past few weeks, but I have been missing the bigger picture. Yes it’s true, this world is full of trouble and when we seek solace from the despair, we come face to face to a bloodstain, wooden cross to carry. I have been running from this truth, hoping to avoid it somehow, whilst reaping the peace it springs at its edges. But the beautiful thing is the cross isn’t only an emblem of suffering and shame, but of discipline, obedience, forgiveness, love and the one I most need now, hope. The cross bears the paradox of being death and life at the same time.
Beauty of Pain
I was so focused on my death, I couldn’t see passed it. All I was thinking was, “What will I have left after this painful death?” I wasn’t seeing the beauty to this pain, perhaps not even Christ when he felt forsaken saw it either. I found to be true, a kernel of wheat cannot grow unless it dies, bursts, rips, gets torn. Has your mother or friend ever shared embarrassing, sometimes painful pregnancy stories with you? Well my mother does, over and over and over, I pretend to dislike them but I honestly couldn’t get enough of them!
She says it was like, “My life turned upside down.” Yet she can affirm how much she loves her children, and even how much those experiences help her love her children. The cross or self denial or discipline, whichever you choose, is not the destination, it’s the journey. For a mother, (all being well) a healthy bundle of joy awaits, for us, life, abundant life. So I’ve started telling myself when I feel exhausted on this journey from carrying the cross, it’s because I am ‘expecting’. I am expecting life. Thomas Merton understood this beauty,
Why should I cherish in my heart a hope that devours me—the hope for perfect happiness in this life—when such hope, doomed to frustration, is nothing but despair? My hope is in what the eye has never seen. Therefore, let me not trust in visible rewards. My hope is in what the heart of man cannot feel. Therefore, let me not trust in the feelings of my heart. My hope is in what the hand of man has never touched. Do not let me trust what I can grasp between my fingers.
Death will loosen my grasp and my vain hope will be gone. Let my trust be in Your mercy, not in myself. Let my hope be in Your love, not in health, or strength, or ability or human resources. If I trust You, everything else will become, for me, strength, health, and support. Everything will bring me to heaven. If I do not trust You, everything will be my destruction.Thomas Merton, Thoughts In Solitude
He calls us to obey, trust. John chapter 10 has been working on me with my submission struggle. Sheep do nothing but drink, eat, follow. Yet, Christ says he has called them to life and not just life, but abundant life! What if this is what it really means to live? To eat the word of life, drink the wine of the Spirit and follow the Shepherd? Guess what, because it’s life that I’m after I must be a sheep. Oh, far away I found myself from the fold.
Sheep Need a Shepherd to Survive
Sheep are by nature are preys. The only defense they have is a thick coat of wool. That might be beneficial in the cold, but not when a lion is interested in what’s underneath. The sheep does not have a choice but to depend wholly on the shepherd because it recognizes its powerlessness. That’s why the parable says the Shepherd left the ninety-nine. That one is almost as good as dead on their own.
Despite our poor excuses for sources of security, when real danger appears, be it spiritual attacks, financial crises, sicknesses and relational issues, we realize how defenseless we are. Sheep-like Christians don’t acknowledge this helplessness at crossroads or on Sundays, but every waking moment of the day. This is does not mean we live in anxiety of our frailty, but submissive to Christ because of it. The Shepherd of our souls is no hireling, he’s not doing this for the money. He cares, like deeply, authentically and fully. He gives up His life for the sheep. He isn’t only the shepherd but also the gate, access to all things. David proclaims:
The Lord is my shepherd;Psalms 23:1 (NLT)
I have all that I need.
Sheep Strive In a Community
Sheep have this thing they do when threat appears, they huddle together. Whilst the shepherd wards of the attacker, to prevent vulnerability, they get closer. When isolated, they bleat until returned to the flock. I have grown sorrowful for people who proclaim they don’t need anyone. If they say they are called by The Shepherd, He takes care of us individually but as a flock.
He addresses in groups, Israel, Jerusalem, the Church, other nations. He has called us to be a body, a multi-membered bride. He died for all, not just you. Perhaps it’s the bleating we hear when they express these things, or when they themselves withdraw, when their eyes tell us they are not okay. Perhaps it’s the silent cries that shout to alert us of the separation.
Sheep are Followers
If a sheep goes one way, you can almost be certain the others will follow even if it is off a cliff. They often lead each other to slaughter houses. When a shepherd is present, this trait amplifies even more. Shepherd spends a considerable amount of time bonding with the sheep. He can `call of them by name, sometimes up to fifty. He scans for the ones who limp, pregnant, or young and helps them. He anoints their bruises with oil and carries them across streams. Jesus says, His sheep follow His voice because they know Him. I don’t believe a sheep that keeps running away will develop a deep intimacy with the shepherd so they follow when he speaks. Talk about consistency.
Sheep are Humble
Everyone is on the same level. No one seeks authority over the other. They look out for the flock, not just themselves. They never fight back when being killed. They may cry, actual tears! But they never fight. They don’t get into quarrels and stick out just to say they won. This is no sign of weakness at all! God has to be standing up strong in your spirit to not desire to preserve yourself, your reputation or right. Sheep don’t change their beliefs to conform, they just never change their posture of humility, even if it means death. Sheep understand that vengeance belongs to their Shepherd.
Unlike actual sheep, we have another nature raging within us, dog-like inclinations. Why do we rage war against sin? Because it will steal from us, destroy and ultimately kill us. To fight any desire successfully, we must replace it with another. We not only shift our minds from sin but we turn it on Christ, ultimate pleasure. But we don’t just fight, we lay hold on abundant life. We lay hold on Christ. We are not surrendering to our death really; we are surrendering ultimately to life abundantly. I rather to stay with a Shepherd who sacrifices His life for me than a devil who is interested in destroying me. (John 10:10) Let’s look pass the weight of the cross to the joy that is set before us, just like Jesus did. Remember, you are precious.