Although it may appear it comes natural for a sheep to trust a shepherd, it really is not true. For a sheep to trust, they have to willingly choose to put aside all their natural fears and instincts. I have seen the most trusting of sheep even struggle with this every so often. Choosing to trust is a continual practice they must give themselves to do or they will end up reverting to their natural ways and not allow the shepherd to love on them (like my wife and daughter are doing with Molly in this photo.)
I have to admit, it is not different for me and the Good Shepherd. My natural instinct is to keep to myself and try and push through life on my own. I have been trained to strengthen my ability to provide for myself and do things on my own. Seek out my own path and live life my own way.
Then Jesus came and invited me to live a life of Trust in Him and his goodness and provision for me. He asked me to be still instead of striving. He comforted me and earned my favor by giving his life for me. He proved his ability to care for me by coming back to life. Then, after enjoying some rest in the pasture of green grass and being beside still waters, he started taking me on a journey. At first it was fine, wide open fields walking along a path of righteousness. As long as life was lived like that, I found it easy to trust him.
Suddenly, Jesus started walking through a dark valley and simply told me to follow him. Being a sheep, I hate the dark and want nothing to do with it. I stopped at the edge of the shadows and asked him if He was sure. All I got in return was a smile and then he started walking again. Here is where I was left with a choice. Stay in the fields in the nice sunshine or stay with my shepherd.
In my head I know what I should do. I know my only safety is found in being close to him, but now he is leading me where I don't want to go. He is taking me into a place where my fears will come alive and I will face my greatest terror on each side of me. Around each corner and behind every shadow literally lurks death and He expects me to simply follow him through it all, even if it kills me.
I will be honest, this is not the part of being one of his sheep that I like. I prefer the green pastures (prosperity) and still waters (peace) and the restoring of my soul. I don't even mind the easy walks along the paths of righteousness, but all too often I want to draw the line of my commitment to follow him at the edge of the valley of the Shadow of Death. I don't like living in uncertainty here on earth. I like to know what I am facing, but Jesus, my shepherd tells me to keep following and trust him to bring me through this difficult time.
Many times I have refused to go where he led me, and I tried to stay in the easy place. What I have found in my experience is that has led me to a death of its own. Once I realized his deep love for me, I found my unwillingness to follow caused me to be separated from the one I love the most. After the first few times of refusing to follow, my desire for Him outweighed my desire for prosperity, peace, and restoration. After choosing to follow him, and in essence allowing my trust muscle to grow, I have realized there is always the next place he will bring me to rest, to be refreshed, and to be restored. I only had to trust him.
With each act of trusting, the next test seems a little more difficult. The valley a little deeper and darker, and the death a little more real. But with each choice to die to myself, I am learning that my real life is found in him.
Today I now recount the past year which has been what I refer to as my longest valley yet. It has pushed my faith further than ever before. I have cried out to him for a break, and he has just kept smiling and calling me to follow him. I have pleaded for some rest, but so far, he has just kept urging me forward. I have been begging for a little restoration, but my Good Shepherd has decided that this test is for my good, to make me grow and become more like him.
I won't lie, there have been days I have lowered my head and attempted to attack him in anger and frustration. I have searched for a different path out of the valley. I have gone astray and went my own way, only to get lost. But every time, he patiently comes and gets me. Carries me on his shoulders, and has placed me back on the path in the darkest part of the valley from which I ran. He whispers to me, "I love you too much to allow you to miss out on this opportunity to grow! Now, come on, follow me!" and he starts walking again, going deeper into the valley.
I am admittedly tired and worn out, but mostly due to my attempts to avoid the path he is leading me on. I have days I wished we could catch just a glimmer of sunshine in this storm, but He knows my every need and he has never failed me or forsaken me, even when I have forsaken him. He is stretching my faith like a body builder tears muscles, so that He can build up my trust in him for the day the next test comes. He knows that even though this valley has been tough, there is even a greater test ahead and he knows I am going to need an even stronger trust than what I have today. That is why he smiles and keeps leading me down this difficult path. He is preparing me for the tougher valley that is ahead of me, and he knows it is harder because he has already been there and found the best way to lead me through.
I pray that when this valley is over I will have been found faithful and that as I do find my next place of rest that instead of my muscle of Trust growing weak and my faith becoming fat in the green pastures and beside the still waters, that I will instead be restored and my muscle of Trust stronger so when the next valley comes I will willingly follow him through knowing He only is leading to the place I long to be, with my Good Shepherd in the land He has prepared for me!