The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack. (Psalm 23:1)
Learning from the Sheep
What could a shepherd possibly provide me that would leave me lacking of nothing? Though familiar with this famous psalm, it was not until recently that I started to recognize it as a lesson in trust, which is something I seriously struggle to possess within my faith. Psalm 23 builds an understanding of the trustworthiness of Christ, especially when you consider the role of a shepherd in relation to his sheep.
Curious to how this relationship looked exactly, I googled the ‘role and responsibilities of a shepherd’ with regard to the care of his sheep. This gave me a great insight into that special bond between the two and enlightened me as to why Jesus uses this image in his teaching to help us see his role in our own lives. In calling himself the “Good Shepherd,” the people first witnessing him preach would understand the shepherd as protector, comforter and provider.
The Lowly Shepherd
Jesus, however, was not the first to use the bond between shepherd and sheep to teach; this image can be seen throughout the Old Testament as well. Though clearly this reference is a foretelling of the Messiah, who is Christ the Lord, the Old Testament provides many examples of those who made a living (at least at some point during their lives) in shepherding such as Moses, Jacob, Abraham, King David, and the prophet Amos.
Isaiah uses the shepherd imagery in his poetry as well: Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, Carrying them in his bosom, leading the ewes with care. (Isaiah 40:11)
The shepherd was not typically seen as the most illustrious of career paths. This was a lowly position but incredibly crucial to the livelihood and lives of the people in the Old Testament as well as the time of Jesus. As I read Isaiah’s description of the shepherd, my heart is moved by the tender, loving care evident toward the sheep. I’m sure they were gruff shepherds working the pastures, but clearly more often, these were men of great compassion. They certainly possessed a strong sense of protection for their charges. The more you know about being a good shepherd the more your heart will be filled with gratitude for the Good Shepherd, Jesus.
What A Shepherd Does
Here are a few of the responsibilities of a shepherd and how they juxtaposition Jesus’ loving and tender care for us.
First, the shepherd is responsible for the flock’s welfare and safety. According to my research, sheep aren’t as dumb as they are often portrayed. They can, however, still get themselves into a lot of trouble. Do you see the comparisons to people already emerging? Well meaning sheep, who just want to graze upon the green pasture, have been known to myopically follow the grass away from the flock into harm’s way. Sheep can become lost, putting them in grave danger from predators or even stumble off a cliff while fixated on eating the grass before them.
How often I’ve become short-sighted in my own life; losing my way or unaware of the danger and continue on the path only to get hurt.
My free will can be a real hindrance to my well-being some days. There are paths that look fulfilling but if I head down them apart from Jesus, I am apt to find more harm than good. When I look back at Psalm 23, I see the benefit of staying near and following Christ: He guides me along right paths for the sake of his name. (Psalm 23:3) In order for me to submit to the leading of the shepherd, I’ve got to feel he has my best interests in mind. I have to trust him. This quote from the commentary on Psalm 23 from The Didache Bible encouraged this surrender as it again points out the closeness of shepherd and sheep. “This Psalm portrays God as one who knew the psalmist intimately and was with him on every step of his journey, in every moment of his life.” (Cole, Jeffrey, Editor. The Didache Bible: Ignatius Bible Edition, (RSVCE). Ignatius Press, 2014. Page 628).
Second, the shepherd protects the sheep from predators. His ultimate concern is flock perseverance. Wolves, coyotes, foxes, and mountain lions are all natural predators to sheep. The predators either seek the sheep out of hunger or stumble upon those that have lost their way. St. Peter warns us that sheep are not the only ones with a natural predator in need of protection: “Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
There was a time when I was ignorant to the “snares of the devil” (2 Timothy 2:26) to the point of even denying his existence; which is his greatest snare. Unaware of this danger, I was the most vulnerable. Like the sheep, Jesus gratefully pursued me. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus gives us another reason he pursues us when we are lost: “What man among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one until he finds it? And when he does find it, he sets it on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you, in just the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.” (Luke 15:4-7) Protecting us from the predator means preserving us for Heaven. He values every single soul, and rejoices with each one that preserved for eternal glory.
Constant Care and Attention
Third, the shepherd is often trained to assist the sheep with health issues. Just like sheep, we are susceptible to diseases. Humans, being multifaceted beings face more than just physical ailments. We must contend with our emotional and spiritual well-being as well. Jesus the Divine Physician is more than adequately equipped to tend to those needs.
In addition, like the shepherd, who “will make frequent checks on the ewes at all hours of the day and night, and may assist the ewe if birthing problems occur,” Jesus is ever present with us. How comforting knowing that Jesus is constant checking in on us throughout the day and through the night. His grace is abundantly available to assist us when we birth problems in our lives.
It is REMARKABLE how much the Sheep/Shepherd relationship has to teach us about how Jesus takes care of each of us!
Recognizing the Shepherd's Voice
The last characteristic of the shepherd I wish to expound upon is the unique call each shepherd has to summons his flock. Each shepherd trained his sheep to recognize only his voice, so regardless of the number of shepherds sharing the pasture, they would have known to whom they belong and who to follow. Knowing this, Jesus words from John’s Gospel, “I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I will lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15), take on an even richer meaning.
To train our ears to hear only the Good Shepherd’s call we must spend time listening to and for him. Reading Scripture, the Word of God, is perhaps one of the most obvious places to seek to learn his voice. In the Bible, we encounter the Spirit guidance as Jesus’ very words and works are shared with us. In addition, we can hone our hearing through time in prayer and regular participation in the Sacraments.
What Sheep Teach us About Trust
So what does this all have to do with trust? A shepherd would lay down his life for his sheep. Jesus has done that for us a great sign of his tender care. Unlike the shepherd laying down his life to protect his livelihood. Jesus did it out of his immense love for each and every one of us. Psalm 23 reminds us that he will not only make straight our paths but along that journey will satiate our thirst, lay a banquet before us, anoint us and bring us to the joy of life everlasting. We have nothing to fear, and that is why this is a lesson in trust.
“May the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant, Jesus our Lord, furnish you with all that is good, that you may do his will. May he carry out in you what is pleasing to him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever [and ever]. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21)
All Rights Reserved, Allison Gingras 2017
This article first appeared on CatholicStand.com
The Lent 2017 Kickoff
Here we are at the beginning of another Lent. I am not sure when my Lenten love affair began, but I can tell you that it is currently in full bloom! I feel energized during this time of sacrifice. The grace of a Christian world praying, fasting and helping others in order to strengthen their relationship with Christ, is exciting! This year, as I contemplated what areas of my life could use a booster shot of faith - 6 ideas came to me. Being the overachiever that I am - instead of picking and choosing, I'm going to do my best to rock all of 6 them!
Prayer with Small Groups
My own reawakening to a life with Christ came about thanks to an amazing small group experience. Finding the right people, material and schedule, provided me an opportunity to connect with God not only on Sundays but also on the night of our meeting (as well as each day I spent with my reading assignments).
The small group gave me something to ACT (Accountability, Community and Teach-ability) upon. While I could always find many reasons not to read for myself, knowing others would be counting on me pushes through all my excuses. Aside from the accountability, I now have a community I am excited to spend time with and that also prepares me to be prepared for our study time. Learning new things also inspired and motivated me; and before long I found I had create daily prayer and reflection habits!
How I Plan to Overachieve in Prayer this Lent
Fasting To Improve my Life
For the past year, I have been hard at work on two areas of my life I had seriously neglected. My health (and weight) and my finances. In April 2016, this lifetime member returned to Weight Watchers after beginning the weight loss journey the year before with my daily Rosary walk and more mindful eating. After some initial success; I am now stuck roughly 5 lbs from my goal weight - but more importantly am feeling stuck in my willpower and lacking the motivation to continue. In addition, I've also been fighting a severe Eczema flare since June - and after applying every topical remedy I can find - know it is time to fight this from the inside.
So, Fast #1 is going to be in an elimination diet which will include not only gluten, dairy and wheat; but now also nuts, my beloved peanut butter and eggs. BRING ON THE AIR DIET! The tracking encouraged by Weight Watchers, which is really key to staying 'on track' (pun intended), will be valuable to helping me pinpoint if there is a food triggering responsible for this itch-fest that has become my life! Why include this in my Lent Plan? Simple, because focusing on what Jesus did for me during these 40 days of Lent; will certainly make not being able to have a PB&J for breakfast a little less dramatic!
Fasting isn't JUST about Food
Fast #2 will be from television. I have offered this one up every year. It is the best way to make more time for what I really want to do this Lent; which is build a stronger relationship with Jesus. This reduction in TV time always helps me eat less too - a win-win for sure!
Not So Secret Almsgiving
While I am well aware that the Bible teaches us to do our good deeds in private; as a blogger there is a part of me that hopes there is a little pass when you are sharing for the good of helping others develop their Lenten plans. I mentioned above that in addition to the health crisis; we also finally had to admit to a serious financial crisis as well. While the Lord has been incredibly generous to my family this year as we work all this out; I wanted to use Lent as a time to push our financial recovery plan even further. Sacrifice in a budget is even harder for me than giving up my favorite foods; so once again I will be clinging to the grace of Lent to strengthen my (ours really, as this is a family mission) resolve.
This idea starts off really as a fast and in the end will convert into alms-giving. Our goal is to look over our budget; and tighten it in places we have been either unaware or unwilling to in the past. We will then donate 10% of whatever we are able to save in the next 40 plus days.
40 Bags for 40 Days
Lastly, as I look around my home, I see clutter. Although I have been actively decluttering for the past 10 years; there still seems to be lots of hot spots needing attention. A blogger friend mentioned White House Black Shutters' 40 Bags in 40 Days declutter challenge, and I immediately knew that was the final piece of my Lenten Overachieving Puzzle!
What about you? Accountability, Community and Teach-ability are wonderful ways for us to connect during Lent. Share you Lenten Plan in the comments; and be sure to visit this month's CWBN Blog Hop!
Truth Hidden in a Rosebush
The story of what I learned about prayer the first time seeking St. Therese's intercession. All I was asking for was help finding a boyfriend, landing a new job and buying a car ... simple request I thought; until I landed in the rosebush!
Read the entire story over on the New Evangelizers!
My Review of an Amazing new Video Series
"I will think of everything, you think only of love Me. Jesus, Mary, I love you. Save Souls"
This has been my new prayer mantra; which I gleamed from this gem with Sr. Faustina Maria.
Busy Week of Interviews on A Seeking Heart with Allison Gingras
But wait there's more... Here's one to enjoy right now:
All Rights Reserved Allison Gingras 2017
Really. Please don't leave Social Media for Lent. I understand that many people use this hiatus to spend time working on their own personal spiritual growth; and I can completely respect that HOWEVER.... please don't completely disappear for 40 days when social media needs you the most. Okay, I've always had a flair for the dramatic but here's why I am begging you to stay:
'Tis the Season
Lent is a season when many people make a resolution to investigate or rejuvenate a faith life. The internet just happens to be a place many people will turn for guidance and even perhaps seek a community to take the journey with. So, what happens when those who are most likely to post something faith based, could possibly answer questions or would be open to connect as community make a mass exodus off social media during Lent?? There is a risk for missed opportunity to evangelize, catechize and support those seeking meaning through an experience with Christ this Lent.
If You Simply Must
Some alternatives to consider if you still feel called to follow a social media blackout:
How I am Spending My Lent
This year WINE: Women In the The Evangelization is journeying through Lent with the one of a kind: Walk in Her Sandals: Experiencing Christ’s Passion through the Eyes of Women.
You’ve never read a book like this before:
It’s part Bible study, part reflection on women’s special gifts, part prayer and discussion guide . . . all tied together with a fabulous biblical historical mini-novel about women living through the events of Jesus’s passion, death, and resurrection. Reading it will draw you into the experience of Lent in an entirely new way. It will deepen your relationship with Jesus. It will lead you to contemplate your own gifts in light of his work. And it will encourage you to step out into the new year refreshed and empowered to follow the Lord.
CLICK HERE: To Join the WINE LENTEN BOOK CLUB ... including exclusive WINE Lenten email; WINE Enthusiast resources, and to WINE Walk in Her Sandals book and journal bundle. ON Facebook - Search for the WINE Lenten Book Club and join our growing community. We'll be sharing quotes, video, photo challenges and so much more! *Yours truly is honored to be facilitating the online component of this awesome Lenten Book Club!!
All Rights Reserved, Allison Gingras 2017
Book Club description quoted from the WINE website, all rights reserved.
In addition to sharing my faith thoughts on Reconciled To You and chatting away daily on A Seeking Heart with Allison Gingras, I am also blessed to contribute across the web.
Can I Really Trust a Shepherd?
Ben Walther - A Light to the Nations
A Very Unexpected Response