A Hard Morning, A Hard Heart

Hard Heart

I had a hard start to my day. My son, Zachariah, who is almost always happy and silly, was bursting into tears at every turn this morning. Was it because he was tired after waking up earlier than usual? Hungry? Sick? Unhappy that I wouldn’t let him stand on the dog? Frustrated that I wanted him to drink from his own cup instead of backwashing into mine?

It’s unclear.

What is clear is that he was facing some emotion or need that he could only express in tears. He doesn’t have enough words to tell me what he’s feeling and what he needs from me, so, he cried. He’s come so far in his short life, it’s easy for me to forget that it was a little less than 17 months ago that he was a newborn in the NICU, unable to breathe or eat without assistance. At that time, and for many months thereafter, his only means of expressing his needs was to cry. Now, as a toddler, he can play, walk, and feed himself. He even knows a few words which help him to communicate a little. However, he is forced to fall back on crying when he needs something but can't tell me what it is.

I wish that I could say that I consistently responded to his tears with loving compassion. Instead, my frustration grew as the morning went on. I was beginning to respond with harsh impatience. Finally, we sat down to lunch and I began to wonder why Zachariah had been so sad this morning. I had a simple, yet profound realization: Zachariah was not crying to annoy me; he was crying because he needed my help. He was having a hard day and wasn’t enjoying it any more than I was. He needed me to help him work through it. He was asking me for a good thing and I was responding with irritation.

That realization broke my heart.

Now, I’ve never intended for this site to be a “mommy blog.” I’m not telling you this story to give you a parenting insight. I know that all the tips and tricks in the world for being a “better mom” can never get to the root of this type of parenting problem. Behavior modification is not what I need. I need heart transformation. When I have a resentful attitude toward my son as he struggles, it’s because sin is present and has hardened my heart toward him. It’s the same in any situation where I react with annoyance or exasperation toward others. Sin is overflowing from my heart.

"For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." Luke 6:43-45

When my words and actions spill over with frustration, it’s because I’ve allowed the diseased tree of anger to take root in my heart. I need to repent and ask God to dig it out and replace it with the tree of life that is rooted in Jesus. Then, my life will produce the good fruit of the righteousness granted to me through Christ. The Holy Spirit will work in my heart so that my words and actions will overflow with joy in the Lord instead of bitter selfishness.

As a child of God, I know that I can approach my Father with the assurance that he will hear and answer my prayer for sacntification. His heart toward his beloved children is never hard the way mine was toward my son this morning. When we come to him, asking for good things, he delights to hear us and give us what we ask (Luke 11:9-13). And when, like toddlers, our words fail us and we are unable to express what we need in prayer, the Holy Spirit within us conveys it for us. God is a good, soft-hearted father who hears us with joy, knows what we need, and delights to provide for us.
 

Secure in Christ: Our Good Shepherd

Secure in Christ

Adulting is hard. I often wish I could go back to a time in my childhood when I wasn’t responsible for anyone but myself. I didn’t have to worry about preparing meals, maintaining a home, or making sure bills were paid. I was able to live carefree because I was blessed to be a part of a family where I was always safe and provided for. At the time, I took that for granted. 

No matter how old you are or what kind of home you grew up in, I’m going to guess that you have a deep desire for this kind of security too. Even the most independent among us rest a little easier knowing that someone who cares has our back when we really need them.

In the passage we’re looking at today, we’re going to see that God provides the security we long for. He is not indifferent or unfeeling toward us but faithfully offers us just what we need. He cares for us lovingly, like a shepherd tending his sheep.

John 10:1-18 is a continuation of a conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees that began in John 9 after Jesus healed a man who was born blind. The Pharisees became angry and kicked the man out of the Temple because he wouldn’t denounce Jesus. They overheard Jesus speaking to the healed man later and started arguing with him. Jesus told them they were guilty of sin because they seen him and not believed. That’s where chapter 10 picks up.

Here, Jesus employed an extended metaphor to contrast himself against the many corrupt leaders of Israel who had used their positions to lure the Israelites down a path of defiance against God. In the Old Testament, the corruption of Israel’s rulers splintered and weakened the nation. The Promised Land was conquered by foreign invaders and God’s people were taken into exile. Only a small remnant ever returned to their homeland. In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were just the latest in a long line of corruption. 

To make this contrast, Jesus used symbolism that appears frequently throughout the Bible: the shepherd and the sheep. Shepherding would have been familiar to the people both as a common occupation and as an analogy for God’s tender care for his people (as in Psalm 23). In this passage, Jesus (the door, the good shepherd) rebukes the Pharisees (the stranger, the thief, the hired hand) for their corruption, and teaches us how he cares for believers (his flock). As the door and the good shepherd, Jesus gathers, provides for, and sacrifices himself for the security of his beloved people: his flock.

He Gathers His Sheep

1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

A sheepfold was a protective enclosure for the different flocks of sheep in a community. When a shepherd came to collect his sheep from among the other flocks, the watchman would recognize him and let him in. His sheep would know him so well, they would hear his voice and come when he called. This idea continues in verses 14-16

14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 

Just like the sheep in this illustration, believers are people from all walks of life who hear and respond to Christ’s call to follow him and be a part of God’s flock. Faithful Christians come from all nations, races, and languages (Revelation 7:9) and are united in their desire to follow Christ together. They don’t just respond to Jesus at conversion but follow his leading for life. 

As believers, we must memorize the sound of our Good Shepherd’s voice so that we will hear and respond to it. As we grow in godliness through the work of the Holy Spirit, our knowledge of God will increase so that we can distinguish truth from deception. This won’t just happen passively. Just as you would never be able to get to know a friend or your spouse better if you never listened to anything they said, a Christian cannot expect to know God if they ignore his primary means of communication to us: the Bible. False teachers want to trick believers with lies about God that will trap them in sin. Believers must arm themselves with a deep knowledge of the Word so that they can discern right teaching from false teaching and not be misled. We also need to ask the Holy Spirit to make our rebellious hearts obedient, so that we desire to follow and obey our shepherd.

He Provides For His Flock

7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 

The caring shepherd acts as a door for the sheep between their enclosure and the pasture. When danger is present, the shepherd gathers the sheep into their pen where he can protect them. When it’s safe, he allows the sheep to go out to the pasture to graze in lush meadows by quiet streams. The shepherd is concerned for the well-being of his sheep and wants them to thrive in his care. 

The thieves are false teachers, who distort God’s word for their own gain. They twist up the truth at the expense of others’ souls. They tell us that God loves us more when we follow a strict set of rules and less when we fail. If we’re struggling, they say we just don’t have enough faith. Try harder. They whisper that maybe we’re just not good enough, or God doesn’t even care. Why bother? These are lies that can be taken down with knowledge of God's word, but we also need to believe the truth of found in the Bible so we can abide in the security it offers.

Jesus cares for his flock of believers and provides for all of our needs. We can trust the promises of God’s Word and rest in the knowledge that nothing we need will ever be withheld from us (Psalm 84:11). We need to believe that that's true. Sometimes, in dark seasons we may wonder if God has abandoned us. In those times, we need to pray for God to give us the faith we lack. We need to go before him and say, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

He Sacrifices Himself For His Sheep

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

God cares deeply for us because we belong to him. Satan prowls like a wolf waiting to pounce on the weak. False teachers are like hired hands who scatter at the first sign of trouble, but Christ is our good shepherd. Without compulsion or coercion, he willingly gave himself up for us when he died on the cross for our sins. As God’s beloved son, with authority over life and death, he rose so that we can have new life in him, free from the bondage of sin. The sheep shouldn't repay the shepherd by turning around and playing chicken with the wolf. We must respond by putting our sin to death and worshipping Christ with our obedience. We need to live in the freedom we've already been given. We should hate our sin and run from it, not see how close we can get before it snatches us up.

Even though I still have to do adult things and care for others, I am secure in the knowledge that Jesus is our good shepherd. He teaches believers to hear his voice and respond to it and gathers us into community with all of his sons and daughters. He gives us everything we need and never holds back anything good from us. He lays down his own life to save us from the deadly trap of sin. 

Precious Father, thank you for being our shepherd. Thank you for calling us to be a part of your family and giving us security in your provision and protection. Thank you for freeing us from our slavery to sin through Jesus' death on the cross. Grow in us the desire to seek you and hear from you through your Word, and give us the faith we need to trust your promises. Holy Spirit, transform our hearts so that we can gratefully and joyfully worship you in obedience. Amen.


Respond

What verses do you turn to when you need to remember the goodness of our shepherd? What other ways do you remind yourself of the security we have in Christ?

God Remembers Us

It was the day before Thanksgiving, November 23rd. I’d just finished a workout and was about to head for the shower when my phone rang. All at once, my plans for the day (and Thanksgiving, and the weekend, and the next several weeks…) went out the window. Our adoption agency was calling to tell me that our baby boy (you know, the one due in mid-December) was coming today

My husband and I were suddenly plunged into the chaos of trying to catch a flight to the other side of the country on the busiest travel day of the year. We were excited to finally meet our little boy and his amazing birth mom, but there was so much to arrange and plan in such a short period of time. Birth mom and baby were both having some worrisome symptoms, so our little boy was delivered via emergency c-section before we could even leave the house for the airport. We saw the first picture of him right before we got on our flight; he was covered in tubes and wires because he’d come too early, We were happy, but worried, and more than a little overwhelmed.

The first picture we saw of our boy.

The first picture we saw of our boy.

We met our son and his birth mama on Thanksgiving morning. The days and weeks that followed were full. We loved on our son’s birth mama and spent hours and hours sitting by his bed in the NICU as he gained the strength he needed to be discharged. Stuck in a strange city all the way across the country, God’s provision was evident. Frustrations were plentiful, but God mercifully provided for our physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual needs as we waited for our little boy to grow strong enough to leave the hospital, and then for permission from the government to travel home with him. After exactly three weeks, we finally made it home to Oregon with our son.

Looking back over the past few months and years, I am amazed at how God orchestrated our journey to parenthood to be one big story about how He never forgot us.

All along the way, as Jason and I dealt with infertility and then with the ups and downs of the adoption process, I struggled to hope in God. It was hard to believe that He was hearing my prayers to be a mom when the nursery was still empty. Sometimes, it seemed like He’d just forgotten. 

But, through more than four years of foiled plans and uncertainty, I’ve learned to look for evidence of God's grace in the small things, and trust that unanswered prayers don't mean that God has forgotten about me. God does not forget His people in their distress. So many stories from His Word testify to this:

  • He remembered** Noah in the flood and caused the flood waters to subside (Genesis 8:1).
  • He remembered Abraham, and saved his cousin, Lot, during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:29).
  • He remembered Rachel (Genesis 30:22) and Hannah (1 Samuel 1:19) and allowed both women to conceive in spite of their barrenness.
  • He remembered his people, Israel, and saved them from their enslavement in Egypt (Exodus 2:23-25).

That passage from Exodus 2 is a particularly poignant description of how God loves his people in their suffering, as he responds to the cries of His people during their enslavement in Egypt:

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.
Exodus 2:23-25

Isn’t that beautiful? God heard them. He remembered his promises to them. He saw them. He knew their suffering.

God heard our prayers for a child and saw our grief through infertility and the long adoption process.  He was working behind the scenes for our good and His glory. He knew our pain. He always remembered us. 

Zachariah

That’s how we settled on our son’s name: Zachariah, “God has remembered.” To remind ourselves, and to testify to everyone, that God never forgets His people in their distress.

We are overjoyed by the abundant blessing of being Zachariah’s parents. He is a sweet reminder of God’s constant faithfulness.

 

**Being omnipotent and all, God can hardly forget anything. So, don't be confused when the Bible talks about God remembering something or someone. God doesn't remember like when I finally figure out where I put my missing cell phone; He remembers, never having forgotten in the first place!


Respond

Have you ever felt forgotten by God? Where do you find reminders that God always remembers you?