“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give to them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” John 10:27-28
I love this so much! If we are a follower of Jesus and have a relationship with him, we are one of his sheep. Now while a sheep isn’t the most aspiring animal to identify with (I prefer the lion, please) there is a reason for its being used here. When Jesus spoke to crowds in person he used visuals and stories that the people of that day and area could identify with. He painted word pictures as illustrations for his listeners.
To many people where Jesus lived, sheep were their livelihood—their business, and to those who tended the sheep, their lifestyle. Throughout the Bible, scripture refers to Jesus as our Shepherd. The concept of this is beautifully reassuring and it’s not an accident that Jesus used this analogy in the scriptures. But in case people had no clue, there are many verses that spell out what it means to be a good shepherd:
“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young”. Isaiah 40:11
“I am the Good Shepherd, the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” John 10:11
This verse is poignant because Jesus did lay down His life on the cross.
Because sheep don’t have a defense system, they are helpless without a shepherd. The shepherd takes care of all their needs.
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.” Psalm 23:1
So sheep are totally dependent on their shepherd. And because they spend all of their time together they get to know each other, as funny as that sounds. The shepherd learns their personalities—which one likes to wander too far away, which one is a bully, which one is a great caregiver to orphans. All day on the hillside the shepherd sang and talked to his sheep—sometimes to calm them, or to urge them to move, or just to pass the time. When he had to fetch them or round them up for the night he had a special whistle or call he used. It was important that they heard him and followed his command, because night brought out the hungry animals that preyed on the sheep. The shepherd watched all night to keep them safe.
Let’s revisit “My sheep hear my voice.” Do you believe that God speaks to us today? He really does! The Holy Spirit who is in us (as part of the trinity of God) speaks to us as we read scripture and makes it come alive to us. God uses other people to speak his heart and word to us. And the Holy Spirit also speaks to us the more we commune with God and take time to listen—it’s then we learn how to identify his voice.
There is a place within me where I hear his spirit talk to me. (Does that seem weird to you?) Sometimes his voice is very clear, in specific words, like these he said to me when I was belaboring the decision to adopt: “Of what eternal value is it to have a beautiful home? I need you to rescue that baby and make him your own.” Folks I heard that in my spirit as clearly as if he were standing in the room. You may think I’m looney, but it doesn’t change the facts.
Sometimes his voice comes to me in mind-pictures which give me wisdom on a situation. Or many times he reveals his voice as I write in my journal.
It’s pretty incredible to have him pour through me. I’ve been journaling a long time, but the first time I actually had God give me a “word” as I was writing was in 1992. I wrote for forty-five minutes with his voice in my spirit as the words flowed out.
I really didn’t want to hear what He was saying—so I know it didn’t come from my own imagination! But the experience blew me away and was imprinted on my mind and heart in detail so I remember it clearly to this day.
God had given me songs and poems and words for people before this. Let me tell you what happens when the Holy Spirit speaks through you—the words bypass your brain and you become an instrument of the Lord. As one who prefers to be in control (still struggle at times) and as a teacher who taught all about using words, it’s a rather strange experience to not use my brain to write! (The songs that came from his spirit I had to catch on a tape recorder because I did not know them at all and I am not a composer. I do not write music. I recorded them so I could learn them to sing for worship at church. It was all rather bizarre to say the least!)
So anyway, I’d had experience hearing his voice before this particular time. But in that particular word he spoke of difficult times to come (my husband leaving me). He spoke of the mess of things (yes, and I thought I was already going through difficult times!). And mostly he spoke to me of his love and that he’d be with me every step of the way. He reassured me that in him I was strong enough to make it through the hard time ahead of me.
Sometimes our wounded-ness causes us to turn to people (Jesus with skin on) more than to God. Our hearts and attention wander but he brings us back. Only he truly knows us and what we need to develop the close communion he desires with us. Did you understand that? Incredible as it is, God wants fellowship with us!
My attention had been on other people—trying to please them and be what I thought they wanted me to be, which led to resentment, frustration, and even anger. Jealousy had come to reside in my heart, along with its comrades Not Good Enough and Comparison.
I was a mess and my own spirit was so full of trying to cope and survive that God’s voice was pretty hard to hear at times. I was looking to others for my affirmation and reason for being. But God used this difficult time to begin setting me free. As it is with defeating all destructive patterns of behavior, the process took a while, but this was the real beginning—cutting the ties of people-pleasing. Because during this time there were a lot of people mad at me, feeling as if the change that was happening and my husband’s leaving were my fault. And to a certain degree I was a part of it.
Like God’s word to me foretold, my husband did leave me. It was the most excruciatingly painful time I’ve ever lived through. Abandonment, rejection, people-pleasing, measuring up—these had all been evil companions during my life, and now they were having a heyday! Add the extreme loneliness and heartbreak and the potential for disaster was there.
I am now thankful for that time because I had nowhere to turn except to the Shepherd of my soul. I began spending a lot of time talking with God and him with me, which was quite amazing. I’m glad I was journaling because, although there was deep, deep hurt and wounding, my relationship with God grew in a way I don’t think it ever would have.