From Praying the Names of Jesus Week Twenty-Three, Day Three
One of the most tender images of Jesus is one he supplied when referring to himself as the Good Shepherd. This name reminds us both of our own vulnerability and Jesus' watchful, protecting care. It evokes a sense of belonging, intimacy, and trust, revealing the Good Shepherd as the One who lays down his life for his sheep. When you pray to the Good Shepherd, you are admitting your need for his care and your confidence in his ability to watch over and protect you.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:11
Praying the Name
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. . . .
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.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. John 10:27-29
Reflect On: Psalm 23 and John 10:27-29.
Praise God: Because he watches over you.
Offer Thanks: For your pastor and for other pastors who have helped you in the past.
Confess: Your need for a Shepherd to watch over you.
Ask God: To encourage and strengthen your pastor.
It happened last Sunday. I was sitting in church at the start of the sermon and sinking fast, feeling overwhelmed by life and thinking thoughts I shouldn't have. God, why won't you help me? Can't you hear me? Am I such a rat [an inner voice quickly assured me I was]? And then, Please help me! I'm desperate. I need you!
That's how inelegant and faithless my prayers can be. It had been a trying weekend, topping off a difficult week, capping off a challenging month. Circumstances related to one of my children had conspired to make me feel like a cat that was constantly being stroked backwards — a slow and steady torture.
But then came the answer. It was almost a physical sensation. I could feel myself rising up, leaving despair behind. Grace was reaching me through the words of the sermon. The reading that day was from Paul's letter to the Philippians: "Finally, brothers and sisters," Paul counseled, "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things" (Philippians 4:8). And then a quote from Martin Luther: "Temptations, of course, cannot be avoided, but because we cannot prevent the birds from flying over our heads, there is no need that we should let them nest in our hair."
The sermon was wise, and it went straight to the heart of what was bothering me — the faithless, doubting, complaining thoughts that were flying around my head like sparrows looking for a place to nest. But it was more than that. It was the way the words were delivered — with the love of Christ, as though Jesus were speaking directly to me through my pastor — which, of course, he was.
I couldn't help but reflect on how right this seemed, because the word "pastor" is another word for "herdsman" or "shepherd." Pastor was the title given to leaders in the early church who were called to be shepherds after the example of the Good Shepherd. Certainly my pastor had done that for me that day. I had heard Christ's voice speaking through him.
Later I reflected on Psalm 23, which talks about fearing no evil, about being comforted by the fact that the shepherd stands near with his rod and his staff in hand. The rod the psalmist speaks of was a club that the shepherd used to ward off attacks from wild animals. As I thought back to my experience in church that day, I pictured Jesus standing next to me, club in hand, beating down all the faithless thoughts that tempted and discouraged me. I thought too of another image, one that made me smile. It's an arcade game in which you get to use a big hammer to pound down plastic gophers that pop up willy nilly. It's a great stress reliever!
What is causing you stress right now? What temptations are you facing? As you pray today, imagine yourself in the presence of Jesus, your Good Shepherd, who stands ready with his club in hand, able to ward off the enemy and keep you safe.