Shepherd of Your Soul
When I hike in the woods, I follow closely behind my fellow companions’ footsteps on the way if I’m with others. Have you ever done that before? Or maybe we do this, even if we’re hiking alone, if there are others on the trail ahead of us. Weather it’s a rainy day, or snowy, or sunny, we tend to step in the place where the person in front of me has stepped. Why? Because it makes us feel safe. We’re assured because the person who has stepped there first, was secure…so we follow with confidence. We almost follow out of instinct. This is the path that has been made for us.
The Scripture today talks about being a follower of Christ. I wonder if you’ve ever heard the hymn “He Leadeth Me?” It’s weird on zoom, because I can ask a question, but you can’t really nod where I can see your answer! But it’s a common hymn—I won’t sing it, but the words are “He leadeth me, he leadeth me, by his own hand he leadeth me: his faithful follower I would be, for by his hand he leadeth me.” But where exactly is Christ leading us? Where are we following? According to today’s Scripture, we don’t exactly get that this following will be easy. We may be assured of the steps we follow…but the road can look different for many.
I Peter was written to encourage, not discourage. And to testify to the true grace of God, and strengthen us to stand fast in it.
Suffering isn’t something that anyone likes And anything that makes life harder, isn’t something we’d naturally choose. Ever. Suffering can come in all forms and in all kinds of abuse & pain. For the Christians in I Peter, the abuse came in the likes of slander, riots, and social ostracism. Maybe you and I have experienced some of these to some degree, but many of us have no comprehension of the depths of suffering. There are many who experience suffering because of race or colour. Just this past week, we’ve learned the verdict in the case of the death of George Floyd. Our church is participating in a Regent Grant—and by the way, we need to catch you up on how that’s going! We’ll aim to do so in our next newsletter! But, our small team from North Lonsdale gathered with the cohort on the UBC campus and we opened by simply going around and stating how we were doing. I can’t even remember what I said. But I remember what the young professional who works at Regent said: My heart is weighing heavy right now. (She’s Asian). She went on to say how hard it is to hear and read about Asian-hate. My friend from First Baptist said he’s definitely been a victim of such racism. There are some serious real issues in our world, friends…and I know I’m sharing with you now through a Zoom lens…but as a people, as followers, as Christians…we need to be seek to understand those around us who may be suffering and especially if we are blind to the knowledge of it.
The history of North America reminds us of suffering of many peoples. I’ve mentioned our book group this Spring, as we’ve been reading through a book entitled Fire By Night….and one of the chapters “God of Victims” led us into a discussion of the Indigenous peoples of the lands we serve and work and live on.
I’ve had conversations with many of you about the love of God and North Lonsdale tagline is “Loved by God, we respond in Love.” Sometimes in order to love, we must first seek to understand.
I’ve been a part of a conference this past week for the United Church of Canada ministers. I heard a black minister named Simon Muwowo speak. He gave an amazing talk—I wish I could just hit play and let you hear it now…but he reminded us that “everything God created is a reflection of himself.” EVERYTHING. And we also follow a God who knows suffering, and has suffered for our sake.
Have you ever been posed those “would you rather” questions that I just hate! My kids love to ask me these questions. Here’s an example “Would you rather know the future, or be able to change the past?” Either way…this is hard!
Someone was reading about the author of “It is Well with My Soul” and felt that the story sounded a little too Job-like—too scripted---was it really true? Our friend looked on wikopedia! J Turns out….IS True….here this:
The song "It Is Well With My Soul" was written by a successful Christian lawyer Heratio Spafford. His only son died at age 4 in 1871. In 1872, the great Chicago fire wiped out his vast estate, made from a successful legal career. In 1873 he sent his wife & 4 daughters over to Europe on a summer trip on the ill fated SS Ville du Havre. Since he had a lot of work to do, he planned to follow them later. The Ship sank and he lost his 4 daughters with the wife being the only survivor. She sent him a famous telegram which simply read, "SAVED ALONE...." On his return home, his Law firm was burned down and the insurance company refused to pay him. They said "It's an Act of God". He had no money to pay for his house and no work, he also lost his house. Then while sitting and thinking what's happening to him, being a spiritual person, he wrote a song - "Whatever, my Lord, You have taught me to say - It is well, it is well with my soul".
He was a 19th century JOB. And moreover the "American colony" he and his wife established helped Armenians during the Genocide My friend who was skeptical at first, is Armenian.
We all may have stories of suffering. Some have suffered far greater than others. We experience suffering in different ways.
We do have someone to learn from. Someone whose footsteps we can follow, and feel safe in doing so, no matter what comes. We can’t always from what ails us or harms or is hurting us, we can’t always react against it, but we can be more Christ-like within it.
We suffer in the fellowship of Calvary. In the footsteps of the one who suffered for us, and covered our sins with his blood. When we suffer, we know that our value does not rely on this world, on this society, on this culture, on our colour. Our value is solely and completely in the hands of the shepherd of our souls.
So just where is Jesus leading us? We discover that Jesus has a tendency to lead us away from the places in life where we would rather be. Craig Barnes, author of When God Interrupts writes that “to mature as a follower of Jesus means to be led to the same powerless places he was led.” In the words of Henri J. Nouwen:
It means the road of downward mobility in the midst of
an upwardly mobile world. I do not say this with sadness,
but joyfully, because the downward road of God is the road
on which he reveals himself to us as God with us.
We live in a culture where suffering is to be avoided at all costs, right? A culture where we normally talk about upward mobility. But as followers of Christ, our ultimate goal isn’t to “move up.” We follow a Christ where the least of these is lifted up.
Many of us have been led places we’d rather not go. Places of pain and places of suffering that we wouldn’t have chosen on our own. Parents who are unable to conceive, death of loved ones, holding a dying child in your arms, sickness and disease, and we’re reminded by the Word of God that “by his wounds we have been healed.” Jesus heals us by his own pain—by his wounds, his own suffering experienced on the cross. In our own woundedness, we can always find understanding from a God who knows suffering. Henry Nouwen wrote a book once called “The Wounded Healer.”
And, we can be healed, though the wounds remain…Think about one of the most known Psalms in our Bible: Psalm 23…
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside the still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. EVEN THOUGH (all this is said so poetically we might think it means that life is a breeze)….but NO, listen as I keep reading through this psalm…. EVEN THOUGH….I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; YOUR rod and YOUR staff they comfort me.
EVEN THOUGH…those words by themselves tell us something. They tell us that life is simply not going to be easy. We’ll go down roads we didn’t plan on going down. We’ll make wrong turns, we’ll fall, we’ll fail, we’ll climb back up and press on with the strength of God.
Whether we think we’ve done everything ‘right’ or not, things may happen with absolutely no way to explain it, or even comprehend it. But by the wounds of Jesus, our wounds can be healed. Wounds of suffering that enable us to reach out to others in a way that we could never before.
Amy Carmichael was a missionary caring for impoverished girls in India. She spent the last 20 years of her life bed-ridden as an invalid, yet still testifying to the constant love and compassion of God. She writes:
But to what end is pain? I do not clearly know. But I have noticed that
when one who has not suffered draws near to one in pain there is rarely
much power to help.
When you are suffering, draw near to the God who knows suffering, the one who has the power to strengthen your soul—the truest source of your life. When all is said and done, it is the shepherd of your soul who will be the nearest to you. Draw near. Amen.