THE GOOD SHEPHERD AND THE GOOD LIFE

4th Sunday of Easter           

            What do you consider as blessing? What do you identify as a sign of God’s care and concern for you? What fills your picture of “the good life”? When you say, “If only I had ________________, then I’d be content,” what goes in the blank? Perhaps for some what goes in the blank is: lasting marriage, or happy family, or a certain level of affluence, some success in career, freedom from sickness or suffering. Is it safe to say that this is also, more or less, “the good life” we are looking for? Be honest: What do you want from God?

            I think many of us are just not on Jesus’ agenda page. What we dream of and hope for is not the same as what Jesus has promised us and what Jesus wants for us – that is, what he works by grace to give us. Perhaps, many of us struggle with disappointment with God because, at street level in our daily lives, we do not esteem what God values. Perhaps, we do not really appreciate and treasure  how God has harnessed the forces of nature and controlled the events of human history to give us what we really need.

            It will be good to look at the questions we have just raised against the background of today’s gospel passage. The way Jesus describes himself in today’s gospel passage is intimately connected to “finding the good life.” Jesus tells us, “I am the good shepherd.” The Good Shepherd leads us to the good life. “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” That is what we say in Psalm 23. And it is a profound expression of faith and trust in Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

            However, we tend to turn the Lord into a mere “delivery system.” We get excited about what he can do for us and what he can give us. We fall into thinking of prayer as asking God to attend to our own wish lists and give us what we cannot give ourselves. In a way, none of the things we ask for in prayer is bad; but there is something wrong about the whole system. We cannot treat God as a “delivery system.”

            Paul David Tripp, in his book New Morning Mercies, comments, “So many of our ideas of what ‘the good life’ is do not actually have God in them.” “We envision the ‘good’ quite apart from the grace of his presence, promises and provisions.” “It is the subtle belief that life somehow, some way can be found outside him; that the world is capable of being our savior.” “And because we fall into believing that life can be found outside him, God is not central to our dreams.”

            The only way God actually touches many of our dreams is that we see him as the delivery mechanism of the good life that we dream of and ask him to produce. He is not the end we hunger for; he is but the means to the end we crave.

            It is all a spiritual world turned upside down. In our fantasies of the good life, we are sovereign. We decide what is right, good, important, and valuable. We define what life is – what “good life” is. We control the agenda and set the timetable. The menu of the good life is written by us. God is merely ‘employed’ by us to do our bidding, and if he does, we will praise and thank him, and we will proclaim his goodness and greatness. It is self-centered religiosity.

            Here is what we all need to keep in mind at all times: The One who rules over this world is the ultimate definition of everything that is good, wise, right, true, and loving. The good life is never about doing whatever you need to do to get your way and get to the top. The good life is not found in expending all your resources, time, energy, and gifts to realize your personal dreams. The good life is not found in working yourself into as much control as possible over people and situations. It is not found in your will being done. The good life is not found in the success of our will, but in the submission of all things to God’s will. And it is here that the Good Shepherd leads us. The Good Shepherd leads us to the green pastures, to the good life, by guiding us to follow God’s will.

            In other words, the good life God is offering us does not consist merely of material and physical blessings; it is not just “good things.” The good life God is giving us is a person, and his name is Jesus – the Good Shepherd. “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” 

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