Names of Jesus Week Twenty-Three, Day Four

The Name
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.

Key Scripture
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:11

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Thursday
Praying the Name

Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord
through which the righteous may enter.
Psalm 118:19 - 20

Therefore Jesus said again, "Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." John 10:7 - 10

Reflect On: John 10:7 - 10.

Praise God: For calling us into his kingdom.

Offer Thanks: For the way that Jesus has watched over you.

Confess: Any failure to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd.

Ask God: To stand guard over your mind and your heart.

Whenever I read this familiar passage from the Gospel of John, I think of a neighbor of mine who once invited a homeless man to spend the night. When it came time to settle down for the evening, my kindhearted neighbor became uneasy, wondering if the man sleeping in the downstairs guest room was as harmless as he seemed. To ease his fears, this father of five young children did the only thing he could think of. Instead of sleeping in his own bed that night, he slept in the hallway at the top of the stairs, determined to guard his sleeping family.

But what does this story have to do with Jesus, who calls himself the gate of the sheep? When we think of a gate, most of us imagine a pivoting gate attached to a wooden corral or fence. But Jesus was talking about a different kind of gate.

In Palestine, shepherds often slept, not in a house, but out in the open where there was good grazing for their sheep. At the end of each day, the shepherd would stand inside a low, circular sheep pen. As he called to his flock, each sheep would enter through an opening about six feet wide. Only when the last animal was safely inside the pen would the shepherd close the gate. He did this not by shutting a physical gate but by lying down in the opening with his staff and his rod beside him. During the night, the shepherd's body became the living gate through which no intruder could enter.

That's the image Christ wants us to have regarding the way he watches over us. By his sacrifice on the cross, Jesus restores our relationship with God. Through him we enter into eternal life. So we are Christ's sheep, purchased by the Good Shepherd with his own blood. And we are called by his voice to enter his kingdom.

But in this world, sheep are still among the most vulnerable of creatures. Scripture tells us that the devil is on the prowl, like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Just as ordinary sheep often lack the intelligence to protect themselves, we often lack the spiritual intelligence to know what is best for us. Fortunately, the Good Shepherd is still vigilant, still watchful, still ready and able to protect his sheep. One of the ways he does this is by giving us his Spirit to guide us.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul says that "those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires" (Romans 8:5). Your mind, in fact, is the gateway to the future because it shapes your will and emotions. Think a thought long enough and it will surely lead you somewhere. Without the enabling grace of the Holy Spirit, the human mind often cannot distinguish the right path.

Spend time today thanking the Good Shepherd for watching over and protecting you. Then ask him to show you any thought patterns that are at work to lead you away from him. As you pray, you may discover habitual thoughts — anxious, greedy, lustful, complaining, or envious thoughts — that tend to dominate your mind. Bring whatever you find before the Good Shepherd in prayer, telling him that you no longer want these patterns to dominate your mind and heart. Then imagine him as the living gate, standing guard over your mind, protecting you from anything or anyone who wants to enter without his permission. Ask for the grace to listen for his voice so that you may lie down in peace, confident of his watchful, loving care. 

For more from Ann Spangler, visit her blogspot on Christianity.com.