Christians will often ask, “What is God’s will for me?” What they mean when they say that is the want help and guidance for specific decisions in their lives. Often times, we want this for the big decisions, when it really matters, when whatever we decide could have significant effects on our lives and the lives of the people we love. “If only he would just come down and talk to us!” We sometimes think in our frustration.
This is what is so very intriguing about what Jesus said in the text, he said “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” We listen to his voice! We follow him! You actually already have listened to his voice and have followed him. I can demonstrate how you have followed in some things.
What lead you to come to church today? The voice of Jesus, your shepherd has urged you to come. In one way or another, you felt that you needed to come. And if you say “I come because my parents made me!” Then its because your parents heard the voice of Jesus and responded for you. And you, parents, what moves you to baptize your children? You have heard the voice of Jesus your shepherd calling you to bring your children to him.
So yes, you have heard the voice of your shepherd. You understand how all this holds true in your “spiritual life.” But that is not our original question is it? Our original question was, how do we receive guidance and direction for the decisions that we make during our lives out there in the “real world?”
Perhaps we have hit upon something here! Is there a difference between your spiritual life and your life in the “real” world? Sometimes, we like to think that there is, we like to separate our “spiritual lives” from our “real world lives.” Sometimes it’s hard for us to see how our Lord has anything to do with such things as our work, our economics, our health, our home and so on. It’s as if we lead two very distinct and separate lives: one spiritual, and one (for lack of a better word) secular.
But God has never seen our lives in this way. He’s never seen a separation of the “spiritual life” and “real world life” its all one thing to him. He simply calls it life. Consider the 23rd psalm, It gives a day by day, step by step sort of picture of sheep and shepherd together. Shepherd leading; sheep following. Most significantly, it is not the story of a sheep and shepherd within the confines of a sheep pen! It’s not just about our time in church. It’s about sheep and shepherd going everywhere together. It’s about a sheep following his shepherd as they travel through the the “real world” together
The 23rd Psalm is a perennial favorite at funerals, because of that part that speaks about goring through the valley of the shadow of death in safety, But it should also be a big hit when we are at the top of our game, and have found our stride in life, when we are enjoying the green pastures and the quiet waters. Our shepherd is every bit as important in those places as in the more frightening places. For the shepherd is not merely a protector but a guide too. And his voice can be heard in every aspect and every area of our life, if we would care to listen. But some time we don’t care to listen: especially when we are “at the top of our game.” For it is when we are “at the top of our game” that we forget that we are sheep. We begin to think that we are lions or something with a little more status than a sheep. It is in those times that our own roaring voices drown out the voice of our shepherd.
So how do we listen again? How do we hear the guiding voice of our shepherd in all the places of our lives? It would help if we stopped roaring so much. Roaring just isn’t very suitable for a sheep. And once the roaring stops, if we listen and listen carefully and look around we will begin to see the shepherd and hear his voice as well. Lot of times this happens when we get ourselves in trouble, when we have no where else to turn; when the circumstance of life show that we are in fact still sheep. But its so much better if we could do that before that happens.
What I’m talking about is humbling yourself. What I’m talking about is admitting that you are indeed a sheep before you are forced to admit it by your circumstances. What I’m talking about is confessing that all that you are and all that you have is something that has been given to you by God. What I’m talking about is confessing your personal arrogance. That’s what God has been waiting for. He’s been waiting for you to finally come forward and admit to him that you are not what you have been pretending to be. And when you come to him with humility instead of arrogance; with contrition instead of pride, you will begin to hear his voice again; you’ll begin to hear the real strength of following him. .
But how? In Hebrews it says, “In many and various ways God spoke to the people of old by the prophets, but now in these last times, he has spoken to us in his Son.” And what does he say? Through his Son and what he has done he says to you and to “I love you.” “I shed my blood for you” “I forgive you”. “I Save you” “I set you free”. “I redeem you”. “I have come so that you may have life and have it to the full”.
That’s what I’m talking about! Life to the full! “Real life” does not really start until you live it under the forgiving guidance of your shepherd! Yeah, you might have a past, but that is forgotten by his blood. Remember that picture of the rejoicing shepherd, carrying the lost sheep on his shoulders? The shepherd was Jesus. The sheep was you. He’s happy that he has found you. He gives you permission to be happy too. And the future, with all of its twists and turns, he knows about that as well. And wants to be there with you, helping you to make the right decisions.
That was the big question of the day, wasn’t it. How does God help us make the right decisions in life. Long ago, in Greek civilization, there was a place where people would go whenever they wanted help in making a decision. It was called the oracle at Delphi. And it would always give these vague answers that could be interpreted in whatever way the seeker wanted to interpret it. When a famous general went to ask how he would do in a war the oracle said “a great power will be brought down.” He thought it meant that he would win. But of course it could also mean that he would loose...which he did.
A lot of people would like to treat the Lord in that way. A sort of oracle or, magic eight ball or some guy you go to whenever you had a problem and needed an answer. But God has never been that way. He’s never been a mere “go to guy”. By everything that he has done through his Son, it is clear that he is much much more than that. He’s a companion, a friend, a mentor, a savior, a shepherd. Someone who loves you deeply and would be with you all the time. We were created to live in his presence, and we are restored to his presence through the forgiveness of sins. We are kept in his presence by forgiveness. And when you live your life in his presence, you simply begin to be more like him, you simply begin to know what is right and good and true. “If only he would come down and talk to me!” He does talk to you. He’s in you and he has been talking to you since you were baptized. “My sheep listen to my voice and they follow me.” AMEN