Following Your Leader (part 4): Deeper Intimacy with the Shepherd
by Kristina Matz
September 22, 2020
Imagine walking through an unfamiliar room with a friend. You each walk along opposite sides of the room as you call back and forth about all of the new and interesting things that you’re finding. Nothing is familiar, yet nothing seems dangerous. Now I want you to imagine that suddenly the room goes dark. You and your friend find yourself in pitch blackness. Just a moment before you felt completely comfortable being on opposite sides of the room, yet suddenly you find yourselves quickly feeling your way towards one another. The room feels dark, unknown, and scary. The desire for close companionship is palpable and you want it. Now!
If we are women who have repented of our sins and put our trust in Jesus Christ, then we follow after a Good Shepherd who desires close and intimate fellowship with us. Psalm 27:8 says, “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’” But, if we are being honest with ourselves, it is all too easy to get comfortable walking on the opposite side of the room as God, so to speak. It is in these moments that I have seen God “turn out the lights” in my life, drawing me into deeper intimacy with Him. It is this kind of pitch-black intimacy that we see being described in Psalm 23:4.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
Up until this point in Psalm 23, David has been talking about God. But in verse 4 we see the personal pronouns “I” and “you” come into view. Walking through the “valley of the shadow of death” has caused David to start talking directly to God! The valleys in our life are meant to draw us closer to the Good Shepherd. But what does that practically look like? There are three things that we can learn from David in this passage that, if faithfully applied, will help each of us to deepen our own intimacy with the Good Shepherd.
First, David trusted his Shepherd. As a former shepherd himself, he knew that good shepherds never took their flock through uncharted territory. Even though the terrain of his circumstances was unfamiliar to him, David trusted that God had gone before him and would continue to lead the way. And we have the firm confidence that our Good Shepherd is able to sympathize with our valleys and provide us with mercy and grace to help us in the midst of them (Hebrews 4:15-16).
Second, David sought his Shepherd. Let’s take a minute to honestly consider how we currently respond to uncertainty and difficulty. Do we call up a close friend? Do we pour out our hearts to our husbands? Neither of these things is wrong in and of itself, but they must never become the replacement for talking directly to our Good Shepherd. God should never be number two on our speed dial.
Finally, David relied on his Shepherd. He knew that he needed the continual protection and direction that came from the rod and staff of the Lord. Our Good Shepherd uses His Word as the clear and authoritative source of training and correction in our lives. So what does our relationship with God’s Word look like today? Is it our true source of comfort in the valleys?
Regardless of what 2019 looked like for each of us, in one way or another 2020 has gone dark. The question really isn’t whether or not we have found ourselves in a valley, but rather how have we responded to God turning out the lights. And unlike two friends blindly groping their way through the dark, Jesus has proclaimed, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) Trusting our Shepherd, seeking our Shepherd, and relying on our Shepherd will develop the radiant and steadfast intimacy with Him that we all need and desire as we continue to walk through the valleys of this year and every year after.
Following Your Leader (part 3): Green Pastures For Your Soul
by Holly Blakey
June 16, 2020
Nourished. Satisfied. Restored.
If you had to choose three words to describe an ongoing, desirable state for your own soul, could you choose any better than that?
As David penned the twenty-third Psalm and recounted the blessings of a life within the Good Shepherds care these are the benefits he knew internally:
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Packed in these two verses are tremendous, spiritual realities for those that are made new in Christ! Nourishment, satisfaction and restoration describe the Lord’s relentless work in our souls. But just like sheep to their shepherd, humans toward their Lord can be stubborn and push against his gracious work in their lives. So today I want you to consider these questions: am I following my shepherd or pushing against him? Do I run in the direction that he leads me or go my own way? Let’s dig in further to find out!
“He makes me lie down in green pastures” is not an easy task for a shepherd leading his sheep! Many hurdles have to be overcome for timid, fretful sheep to be quieted and comfortable enough to lie down. And until the necessary requirements of nourishment are met no sheep is able to lie down and be content.
“He leads me besides still waters” is essential for the life of a sheep! Not every source of water is safe and pure for the well-being of these animals, and not having enough clean water to satisfy their thirsty bodies that are composed of 70% water would be detrimental to their health. They can’t go on if their thirst isn’t quenched in the right water source.
“He restores my soul” points to the continual task of caring for a cast down sheep. The slightest wrong movement can cause a sheep to roll onto it’s back stuck, feet up in the air, struggling to stand yet unable on their own. They are helpless and cannot be restored unless their shepherd finds them before its too late and rescues them from this position. He has to return them back upright, make sure blood circulation is restored, and check on their ability to steadily walk again.
And lastly a shepherd has to always keep his flock on the move. They cannot remain in the same pasture for too long, yet left to themselves that is exactly what they will do. They’ll graze the same hills until there’s nothing left. They’ll pollute their own ground until it’s full of parasites and disease. And it’s up to the shepherd to manage and guide them from one place to the next. If he’s unskilled in this knowledge he proves to be a lousy and unintelligent shepherd.
Now everything described about the physical state of these sheep has a goal to communicate spiritually. A human shepherd provides nourishment, satisfaction, and restoration to his sheep, but our spiritual shepherd faithfully gives those things to our souls! Which means when we are looking at our souls and failing to see nourishment, satisfaction, or restoration, it’s not because those things aren’t available to us. It is because we are failing to look to our Good Shepherd for them.
In these verses the shepherd is clearly on display. It’s all about the one who is leading us. Resolve today to set your focus on the Good Shepherd. Remind yourself of all the ways he has restored your soul in the past. Trust that he can provide nourishment and satisfaction for you today, tomorrow, and forever.
Following Your Leader (part 2): A Settled Soul
by Holly Blakey
May 18, 2020
Have you ever Google searched the word contentment? What do you imagine would pop up? If you guessed epic sceneries, still waters, and the only humans in sight are the backs of heads as they stare into perfection, you nailed it! Contentment is often viewed as a state of happiness and satisfaction from the outside in. Genuine satisfaction on the inside is believed to come from the outside. The general thought becomes, “If only I had that greener grass in another field then I’d be happy.” And that greener grass can be a thousand different (good or bad) things at any given time. Homes, cars, kids, food, a ministry position, vacation, clothes, coffee, being served or blessed, money, fitness, rest, a less busy life, friends, a relationship, new stuff, this crisis to end… you name it, and it is likely someone’s “greener grass.”
Unfortunately, there are many Christians in the care of the Good Shepherd who think this way and misunderstand biblical contentment, and today’s section from Psalm 23 presents an uncommon but helpful picture. Too few people steadily live what we will read today, and I think it is a phrase that will make some women uncomfortable. After stating boldly, “The LORD is my shepherd,” David writes, “I shall not want.”
He firmly states he is satisfied! He is perfectly content with his lot in life. He desires and craves nothing more—he is taken care of. He completely trusts the one managing his life. Since the all-powerful, all-knowing, sovereign, holy one governs over him, could he possibly think he lacked anything worth wanting? Clearly not. His desires were satisfied because he intimately knew the one who led him.
Let’s be real. Many frustrations in our lives brew inside of hearts that are discontent, revealing the opposite of an “I shall not want” life. Even when we face genuine struggles, they are compounded if we think contentment is found in different circumstances rather than in looking upward to the one who leads us.
How often do you long for something different than you have — whether the addition of something into your life, or the removal of something from it? Do you ever just wish hard situations would go away? Or for difficult people to be removed from your path? Or simply to have the next new thing or the next new season that you look forward to?
It’s easy to fall into the trap that a change on the outside will breed contentment on the inside, but this is always a lie in disguise! Circumstantial change is a temporary fix to discontentment, because the real problem is internal, not external.
Think about this familiar text written by the Apostle Paul. He says, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13).
Did you catch that? Whether he had plenty or was hungry, his soul was settled. Whether he had abundance or was in need, he was at peace. He said “in any and every circumstance” he had learned the secret of contentment — it is Christ! It is found “in him who strengthens me.”
Right now an unsettled soul should be an instant reminder to get your mind fixed upward. Be sure to recall the character of the one who leads you! Purpose to find your soul’s satisfaction in him, not in a different set of circumstances. If the LORD is really your shepherd, whether you are in the valley or on the mountain top right now, your soul ought to proclaim, “I shall not want!”
Following Your Leader (part 1): The One Who Leads You
by Holly Blakey
May 8, 2020
Have you ever had the experience of following someone else into unknown territory? Maybe it was some outdoor adventure, some hefty home project, some trip in a foreign country, or just signing a stack of papers to purchase your first home, but it was an unknown path and you were following the lead of someone else. If you’ve been in situations like these than at some point you’ve likely asked yourself: Who is the one leading me and how qualified are they for the job? Or even beyond that, does this person care for me and can I trust them?
When you commit to a hefty home project you want an expert in their field. When you’re touring a foreign country you want a guide you can trust to keep you safe. And when you sign your life away on home disclosures you want a realtor who is qualified to guide you!
But far beyond all of these important situations is the totality of your life. Every new day you are entering unknown territory. In Psalm 23 a divinely, inspired account is written from a man who understood he was following a leader into the unknown. Who was this leader? How qualified was he? What would the path look like? Did this leader care? Was this leader trustworthy? How do you fall under this leader’s control? These are important questions for us to consider because the same person leading David leads us today, and the same picture of confidence that was proclaimed through his life can shout from our lives as well!
Psalm 23:1 begins with a bold declaration: “The LORD is my shepherd.” David exclaimed this with gladness! He knew that the LORD, Yahweh, King of Israel— this was his shepherd. And as a shepherd himself he knew thoroughly the relationship between sheep and the one leading them. In fact he knew that the entire lot in life for any particular sheep depended on the kind of man who owned it. He knew that sheep will either thrive or struggle, have abundance or face want, be safe or be in danger, and ultimately survive or die, and that all depended on the one who led them.
You and I were born separated from our shepherd. Consider how for years in your life you were “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:1-2). The one who led you at that time was your own flesh that you were enslaved to along with the evil one who runs rampant in this world. You were following the influence of the deceiver, tempter and liar because you were born into the fold of another flock. Your lot in life was misery, sin and death. And there was nothing you could do to transfer to the care of the Good Shepherd. There was nothing you could do to be bought and owned by Yahweh. There was nothing you could do to gain the special affection that our Lord places on those he owns and has purchased.
BUT GOD. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5). It is God who loved you and bought you and saved you. And right now today he leads you.
Every single thing happening in your life is governed by your Good Shepherd. In fact, every circumstance, every trial, every struggle, every hardship, every blessing, every satisfaction, every relationship, every frustration, every loss, every gain, and every burden — these aren’t just things he has “allowed” in your life as-if he sits on the sidelines passively. Absolutely not! He has led you here. He has brought you to this place. He has assigned in exact measure and to the exact degree what is right for you today, according to his good purposes.
Is he qualified for the job? Does he care for you? Can you trust him? Yes, yes and yes! Our Good Shepherd laid down his life for his sheep. He has gone to the greatest, sacrificial length to love you and bring you into his fold. And if the lot in life for sheep depends on it’s shepherd than we ought to be compelled toward an unshakable, invincible faith because who better could be my shepherd? Is not the Good Shepherd incomparably superior to manage the affairs of your life than any other? There is no better manager to rule over you! There is no other leader worth following!
“The LORD is my shepherd” is one of the most comforting phrases in all of Scripture, but it is only comforting if we understand who the LORD is and what he has done. To help you do this today, I want to challenge you to do two things as I close. First, consider the attributes of God. What does the Bible tell us our shepherd is like? Second, remember the Gospel. Thank God that because Jesus died on the cross for you, it is even possible for a sinner to say, “The LORD is my shepherd.”
Don’t Waste This Trial
by Holly Blakey
April 3, 2020
There’s no doubt that the heat on our lives has been cranked to “high” these past several weeks! In March COVID-19 showed up in it’s first known case in Idaho, and it has since spread to over 900 known individuals. What began as a guideline of “no gatherings over 250 people” quickly moved to a “stay at home” order. Schools have since shut down, retail stores are closed, and restaurants are only operating for carry out or delivery options. To say these are interesting times to be alive is an understatement! Not one of us could have predicted nor imagined that April 2020 would look like THIS. Not one of us would have guessed that we, plus everyone we know, would be home bound out of nowhere with no known date to resume where we left off. We haven’t been able to gather with our church for two Sundays so far, and we are about to begin the most bizarre Easter week we’ve ever experienced. Interesting times is an understatement!
But the Bible talks about the “heat” that gets cranked up in our lives when it speaks of trials. This heat isn’t a pointless pressure disrupting our life; it is a planned and measured test that has a serious purpose to accomplish in each one of us. 1 Peter 1:6-7 reads, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
Peter gives important insight in these verses, but there’s two statements I’d like to highlight for the women in our church. The first is that he says, “if necessary.” Trials show up in our lives only if they are necessary, which means the trials you face are needed and have a purpose to accomplish. And the second is that trials test the genuineness of our faith. It’s one thing to affirm sound doctrine and appear to bear genuine fruit in your life, but what’s bound up in your heart is truly made known in times of trial or testing. There’s no way to avoid seeing what’s actually there when the heat is cranked to high!
Which is why I encourage you to consider these questions:
What is being exposed as the heat is cranked up in my life?
What has overflowed from my heart in this time of testing?
For some people, trials will expose that their faith is fake. They will realize that their trust, hope, confidence, joy and stability was all bound up in their circumstances rather than in the Rock who is our immovable God. Meanwhile for others they’ll grow confident in the genuineness of their faith as they’re tested, but even that’s never where it’ll stop! The fire testing their faith will cause the impurities from their heart to rise to the surface. They will see fruit of their flesh to repent of, and areas of immaturity that need growth. And this is why Peter says we can rejoice! This is why James says to “count it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds.” The work God seeks to accomplish in us is reason to be glad when we meet trials! The surety of our faith as a result is absolutely a reason to rejoice!
Because of this your heart’s cry in times of testing ought to be a commitment to not waste this trial! Don’t waste all that God is trying to show you and build in you through this season!
- Don’t waste seeing the sinful attitudes that have risen up in your life these past several weeks, or the opportunity you have to see how you spend extra hours that have been given to you.
- Don’t waste seeing how Jesus is a companion and a helper when you feel lonely and isolated.
- Don’t waste seeing how diligent you actually are to train and disciple your children while you’re home bound, or seeing your heart exposed as your finances are disrupted.
- Don’t waste seeing what your heart longs for most right now, and the reasons why.
- Don’t waste seeing how you respond when your health is threatened, or as you face the pressures of this unique season.
- Don’t waste seeing how you treat your husband as you’re both home more, or how proactive you’re being as his helper.
- Don’t waste seeing how much you’re mindful of yourself right now versus creatively serving others.
- Don’t waste seeing what your prayers are really all about during this uncertain time.
- Don’t waste seeing what you’re actually trusting in.
Right now God has assigned a bizarre path to walk down due to COVID-19, but he’s also providing a way to see your own soul more clearly. He’s providing a way for the impurities in your heart to rise to the surface so they can be dealt with. He’s providing clarity about your faith. So as long as he’s assigning this trial to us, let’s commit to NOT let it be wasted. Let’s be women who make every effort to exit this season more like Christ than when we entered it. Let’s go!