Have you ever taken a shot to head that left you reeling with a nasty headache? Growing up playing sports this happened to me a few times. What I found out later is that this type of headache is nothing compared to a “spiritual” headache.
As a follower of Christ, intent on “living uprightly and holy”, “walking in purity”, “being disciplined”, and “being righteous”, I spent a lot of years with a perpetual spiritual headache. I did a pretty good job of doing some of these things, but in my mind all I saw was what I wasn’t doing enough of. I made efforts to be as “good” as possible only to feel that I wasn’t good enough. I made efforts to “do” things to please God only to feel that I didn’t do enough. How is it possible to jump into the ring with the intent to please God in all of these things yet walk away from the ring with a giant headache?
What I failed to realize is that God was already pleased with me. I failed to realize that my “righteousness” is like filthy rags (aka used menstrual cloths), but that God has made me “the righteousness of God IN Christ Jesus”. I subconsciously felt that somehow my efforts to be good (in my own strength) would qualify me to earn favor (aka score points) with God. I didn’t truly realize that I was already qualified with favor as His son. I was giving MYSELF a headache and the devil was having a field day lobbing accusations in my direction that I often mistook as conviction, only to realize that it was condemnation. It is one of our enemies sneakiest, yet most potent weapons.
The Holy Spirit will convict us when we err, but God does not accuse us. He does not bring condemnation onto His children. Jesus came to set captives free, to give abundant life, and to guide us with love; not to rule us by way of accusation and condemnation. That is the job of the devil! Satan is the accuser of the brethren!
There is no greater way to discover the heart of Jesus than through scripture. Time and again scripture references the job of a shepherd to illustrate God’s love for us. First, we see David (a foreshadowing/type of Christ) who was a shepherd who ultimately became a king. Then, Jesus himself tells us in John 10:11 that He is the Good Shepherd. He even utilizes the parable of the lost sheep to demonstrate His love for humanity in the presence of Pharisees and religious scholars of His time.
Recently, I began to study the job of a shepherd and what it involves and something I found interesting is just the way the shepherd treats the sheep. First of all, it is really obvious that we are like the sheep. We are helpless, hopeless, and defenseless without a “good shepherd” to look after us. Something that really grabbed my attention is how the shepherd utilizes his staff. I believe many Christians see God as a dictator, lying in wait for His sheep to step out of line so He can smack them into place with His mighty rod. This is not how the shepherd utilizes His staff at all.
One bit of commentary I read noted that the shepherd often uses his hook to bring newborn lambs into intimate relationship with its ewe. With so many lambs often being born during the lambing season the lamb can get lost in the confusion of it all. The shepherd will use the hook to loop around the lamb and guide it to its mother. He doesn’t use his hands to move him because the man’s scent will prevent the ewe from nursing the baby. Another way it is utilized is for drawing the lamb in for closer inspection, simultaneously making the sheep more and more aware of the presence of the shepherd. The Holy Spirit does the same in the sense that through Him we are comforted, knowing that He is with us always. The staff is also used for guiding the sheep. While in India I have witnessed many times a shepherd herding his animals down the road from one field to another with his staff. Sheep in particular have a tendency to wander off and aren’t aware of the dangers ahead, so the shepherd takes the tip of his stick and lays it onto the animal’s side and applies pressure, guiding them back into his direction of choice. Finally, the shepherd uses his staff to fend of predators. God doesn’t leave a sheep out in the open to defend itself. It cannot. The shepherd will address the threat of an enemy with force, but He will not turn on His flock and start swinging.
A shepherd’s hook is for guiding sheep, not beating them. Jesus is a compassionate, patient, loving, protective, and graceful Shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd. Does God correct us? Absolutely. Does He correct by beating? No He does not. It is by gentle guidance. For some reason I don’t picture the shepherd scaring the sheep. It doesn’t mention the shepherd beating the sheep. What good would it do the shepherd if he broke the legs of his sheep? What if the shepherd paralyzed the sheep with fear? I believe fear paralyzes. I KNOW many well intentioned Christians (because I was one) are paralyzed by condemnation and fear of letting God down. This causes constant inward focus. What If we focused more on the finished work of Christ and moved forward in the freedom He purchased for us? How could being afraid of someone actually draw me too them? I am drawn to the One who understands everything that I am going through. I WANT to give my heart to the One who listens, watches, knows, and loves anyway. When I moved away from a fear-based approach toward God to understanding how loved I was (For God SO loved) it did nothing but draw me closer to him.
It doesn’t matter how awesome you think you are, no amount of fortitude or willpower will ever be enough to “make yourself righteous”. It is by grace alone. It is by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-10)! If we could make ourselves righteous why would there be a need for Jesus? Doing more and trying harder can never one-up the perfect sacrifice. The cross was and is the ultimate confirmation of God’s love and approval of His children. Our continuous self-efforts to walk righteously, perfectly, and seamlessly in our own strength will only leave us with a headache unlike anything we’ve experienced before. You may have a headache today from trying to be spiritual for so long, but I can assure you that God is not the source of it.