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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Advent Day 10: The Shepherd of our Souls

Day 10: The Shepherd of our Souls

Meditation (3-5 Minutes)

Begin by being still before God.  Read Psalms 23:1-3 and meditate on the words.

Psalms 23:1-3 (NIV)
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

1)    Be still and know he is God. 
2)    Picture yourself in a field, with the Lord as your shepherd.
a)    He tells you where to go.
b)    He protects you.
c)    He meets all your needs.
d)    He watches you as you sleep.
3)    Enjoy the green pastures.
4)    Kneel beside quiet water.
5)    Let him restore your soul.
6)    Listen as he guides you in paths of righteousness, for his name’s sake.

Prayer (5-10 Minutes)

1)    Ask God to speak to you during this devotional time.

2)    Requests of the Christ Child (Appendix 1):
a)    Ask God to be your shepherd.
b)    Ask him to send people to shepherd and guide you. 
c)    Ask God to make you worthy to be a shepherd for his flock. 
d)    Turn to appendix 2.
i)    List anyone you are “shepherding.” 
ii)    Pray and update.

3)    Gifts from the Christ Child (Appendix 2):
a)    Thank Jesus Christ for being the shepherd of your soul.
b)    Think about the people that have “shepherded you’ (your spiritual mentors).
i)     Praise God for them. 
ii)    Turn to Appendix 2.and write their names.

4)    Gifts to the Christ Child (Appendix 3):
a)    Offer your services to God, this Christmas, tending his flock. 
b)    Turn to Appendix 3: Pray and update.

5)    Ask God for knowledge of his will for you this Christmas and the power to carry it out. 

6)    Ask the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures you are about to read.

Bible Study (10-15 Minutes)

Shepherds are an important part of God’s message for us.  The words shepherd and shepherds are in the Bible 100 times.  The words flock and flocks are in the Bible 200 times.  Adam and Eve’s son, Abel was a shepherd.  At one time in his life, Moses “tended flocks.”  King David began his career as a shepherd.  Later, God called him to “shepherd” his people.  David wrote the words, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”  Shepherds were part of the first Christmas.  They spread the word that our savior was born. 

When you think about it, calling us “sheep” is not very flattering.  While sheep might look cute, they have “issues.”  They always need a shepherd.  Even with a shepherd, they wander off and get lost.  Alone, they starve.  They have no defense against wolves.  They are mean and bite. 

But alas, look around.  Everywhere, we see lost and confused people.  Homeless people wander the streets.  We bite each other through our petty squabbles and our wars.  The newspaper tells of a woman trampled while shopping a Christmas sale.  We read of a fight breaking out over a Christmas present.  Yes, we do need a shepherd, this Christmas.  Jesus is our Shepherd and we, his flock.  Jesus instructs us to become shepherds ourselves and lead people to Jesus.  This Christmas, tend his flock. 

Background Scripture

Read Psalms 32:1.  Who is your shepherd?  Write this verse in your journal. 

Think about David tending sheep.  He is sitting on the hill, playing his harp and singing praises to God.  He has just sung the words, “The Lord is my shepherd.”  Suddenly a wolf appears and goes after the sheep.  What do you think David does?  How much risk would he take to save his sheep?  (Write your answers in your journal.)

Read John 10:11.  Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd.  What does a good shepherd do for his sheep?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

How was Jesus a “Good Shepherd” for us?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read the prayer in Hebrews 13:20-21.  A Good Shepherd also guides his sheep and meets their needs.  Write the promises in these verses.  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read 1 Peter 5:2.  Many have difficulty recognizing the hand of God.  It is easer to see God working through people.  Knowing this, God sends us people to shepherd us.  He asks us to “Shepherd” his sheep.  What should our attitude be as we tend God’s flock?  (Write your answer in the journal.) 

Read Romans 12: 6-8.  God prepares us to tend his flock by giving us gifts.  What are the seven gifts listed in these verses?  (Write your answer in your journal.) 

Note the attitude we are supposed to display while exercising our gifts.  How should we show mercy?  How should we lead?  How should the gift of prophesy be used?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Read 1 Peter 2:25.  God is the “Shepherd of our Soul.”  Why do we need shepherds?  (Write your answer in your journal.)

Servants that Shepherd

Jim and Linda have been my Sunday School teachers for years.  Jim accepted Christ at age 11 and Linda at age 22.  While they exercise many spiritual gifts, their primary gift is service.  They “shepherd” our class with that gift. 

Jim is a deacon in our church.  Jim and Linda also head up our church’s “Willing Hands Ministry.”  “Willing Hands” provides assistance wherever people need help.  Many of the people they minister to are elderly.  “Willing Hands” may drive someone to the doctor, pick up medication, or make necessary home repairs.  When someone has a need, he or she calls the church office or Jim and Linda. 

“Our job is to match the need with an available resource.  We find someone in the church that has both the necessary skill set and the willingness to help.” Jim said.  Having watched them, I know that many times, Jim and Linda meet the need themselves.  They run errands and act as advocate for people that cannot otherwise help themselves.  

Their faith is a role model for the entire class.  I remember one particularly difficult year for them.  This was the year Jim’s mother died.  “She was ready to go home to be with her Lord but we were not ready to let her go.  We tried to be joyful but we missed her.”  I watched as they continued serving through their grief and the business of closing her affairs. 

Not soon after losing Jim’s mother, Jim and Linda had to face another trial.  Just before Jim’s mother passed away, Jim’s daughter got pregnant.  “We had almost given up on being grandparents,” Jim told the class.  Not long after Jim’s mother died, their daughter miscarried.  Knowing what wonderful grandparents they would make, we all grieved the loss of that child.  Jim and Linda took comfort that their grandchild is “happier than the living” and will never “see evil.”  (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3)

Amazingly, Jim and Linda continued their ministry through their grief.  My husband had surgery a couple of days after they lost their grandchild.  I was amazed when they came to the hospital and sat with me.  “What are you doing here?”  I asked.  “You are supposed to be taking care of yourself.” 

I will always remember Linda’s words.  “The way we care for ourselves is to care for others.”  What a lesson that was for me.  The circumstances of their lives did not cause them to lose focus.  They offer their willingness to God and continue to “shepherd.” By shepherding others, they allowed God to minister to their grieving souls. 

As I write this, Jim and Linda are ministering to a family whose child is gravely ill.  They have been faithful throughout the discouraging past few years of this child’s physical decline.  They have regularly visited the hospital, even when the child was hospitalized in other cities.  They take turns sitting with the child to give the mother much-needed breaks.  Through their leadership, church members have remembered to pray, helped build a wheel chair ramp, visited the hospital and home, and met other needs.  Jim and Linda have taught our church how to remain faithful when God’s will is confusing and our hearts are breaking.  Through it all, Jim and Linda have managed to make sure Jesus and his church get the credit for their “shepherding.” 

I asked Jim to tell me about a meaningful Christmas he experienced.  Before teaching adults, Jim taught youth.  “One Christmas, my Senior High class decided to gather gifts for a needy family.  Their purpose was to demonstrate love and concern.  The youth got excited and did a wonderful job.  They collected many, many gifts.  Our next goal was to locate a family and provide their children with gifts.  Surprisingly, we could not find a needy family.  Our gifts had no recipient.  The youth were disappointed and began to feel they had wasted their time.  They even questioned God and actually lost some of their purpose and reason for giving.  Just two days before Christmas, a desperate church member called.  She needed gifts for the foster children she was keeping.  She was an elderly woman with a lot of love and not much money.  She was broken hearted that she could not afford to give Christmas gifts to these children.  The church immediately called us.  I called my youth.  On Christmas Eve, we took the gifts over to the home.  There, we experienced the real meaning of Christmas.” 

Through the Holy Spirit and the guidance of these gentle shepherds, these youth learned many lessons.  They learned the lesson of giving through faith.  By giving, they met a faithful woman who had little economically, but gave all she had.  Like the Wise Men, she “opened her treasures” and gave to these foster children.  (Matthew 2:11)  This foster mother may not have had the economic “treasures” of the Wise Men but her gifts were just as valuable.  One of her “treasures” was her church family.  She trusted God and God provided for her needs through her church. 

The youth learned about “waiting on God.”  The Holy Spirit led them to collect the gifts.  He waited before providing a recipient for those gifts.  His waiting taught the youth to trust God’s plan and timing.  God is never late but he is seldom early. 

They learned the blessing of making a difference.  It was a Christmas the youth would never forget.  Jim’s gift of service to this family was the gifts they received.  His gift of service to the youth was to “shepherd” them into trusting and following “The Shepherd of our Soul.”

Application (5-10 Minutes)

1)    Making It Personal
a)    In your journal, write a letter to Jesus thanking Him for being the “Shepherd of our Soul.”  Thank him for sending us shepherds to guide us.  Praise him for the privilege of caring for his flock this Christmas. 
b)    Read Romans 12: 6-8 and list your spiritual gifts in your journal.
c)    Are you shepherding others this Christmas?  How are you using your spiritual gifts?  Is God leading you to do something specific?  Make a commitment.  (Write your answer in your journal.)
d)    Think about the shepherds in your life.  How are you allowing them to shepherd you?  (Write your answer in your journal.)
e)    Think about the needs in your life.  Do you need to lie down in the “green pastures?”  How are you letting the “Great Shepherd” minister to you?  (Write your answers in your journal.)

2)    Praying Continuously  (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
a)    As you go through your days, notice the people that “shepherd” you.  Praise God for them, even if you find yourself unreceptive to their “help.” 
i)    Is your manager asking you to make some kind of change? 
ii)    Are co-workers pushing you to do more? 
iii)    Is your spouse offering “helpful” suggestions? 
iv)    Is someone at your church holding you accountable? 
b)    Today, find something to do for someone else. 
i)    Make sure no one knows of your good deed. 
ii)    It can be something small or large. 
iii)    Allow Jesus to Shepherd your soul. 
iv)    Pray about what you are to do. 
v)    Follow through on what he tells you. 

3)    Ending The Day
a)    Thank our Heavenly Shepherd for sending us shepherds like Jim and Linda.  Pray for their family during this Christmas season.  Ask God to bless them with the delights of their heart. 
b)    Thank God for the shepherds in your life.
i)    Are you humble enough to allow them to shepherd you? 
ii)    If not, confess and ask for help.
c)    Examine your own life. 
i)    If you are not being a “shepherd,” confess to “The Great Shepherd.” 
ii)    Pray for the people you are shepherding.

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