When John is away on a lengthy ministry trip in Zimbabwe, our communication is predominately one of brief, text messages. Even in this day and age, cell transmission and reception in the rural, bush areas of Zimbabwe is frustratingly weak and aggravatingly wobbly at times. John and I know that our normal, day-to-day routine of talking, affirming, loving, and debriefing will be much more intermittent while he is away.
The other morning, our phones listed a series of messages between us:
John: How are you doing? Saw Amos and family yesterday.
Me: Hi Honey, we are fine. Glad you saw Amos.
John: How are you doing? Love n miss u!
Me: Love you, too.
Well, my husband wasn’t satisfied with my reply.
He called me.
John discerned that something was amiss.
He was right.
When I heard John’s voice, I gurgled and sputtered my greeting. I had been crying that morning. Tears had fallen fast and free.
I wasn’t fine.
I was tired – actually feeling quite exhausted from getting little sleep from the night before.
I was concerned – my dad has another Moh’s surgery to address skin cancer issues. The surgery is scheduled for two days after the boys’ and my arrival in the States in October.
I was frustrated – with Dad’s surgery date in sight, I feel more determined than ever that one of my South Africa permits (either permanent or temporary – I really don’t care at this point) need to be processed so that I will not have to travel to the South Africa Consulate in Los Angeles to apply for another permit.
I was discouraged and sad – we have been involved in a four-year waiting and wondering process for a permanent resident permit to come through for me. (Everyone in our family has already received their South Africa permanent resident permits.)
I felt unaffirmed – was my worth and my work in southern Africa something that South Africa Home Affairs even valued. Did my God value it?
I was struggling.
John’s love and care of me that morning steadied me. After our phone call, I knew that I needed something – anything – from God’s word to keep encouraging me forward in my day and in my life to build on my husband’s love and care. None of my life circumstances were going to change anytime fast – especially if I was going to place my trust and hope in the South Africa permit process.
I expectantly opened my Bible and asked for a word from my God.
He did not disappoint.
Here is what I read:
The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
Therefore, Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.
New International Version, John, 10: 2 – 7
As I shared, some of my predominant and not-very-helpful feelings at the moment center on discouragement, lack of worth, and lack of affirmation. I feel like I am a nameless, unknown entity lost in a system.
Have you ever felt like that?
Have you ever felt like you were stuck in sheep pen?
As I read God’s word, comfortingly familiar truths and new, strengthening insights flooded my heart and mind.
During the time of Jesus, the door or gate of a sheep pen was not a physical structure – but a person.
The shepherd would lay down at the opening of the enclosure to serve as the protector, defender, and guardian of his sheep at night. He lay in watch against any thief, robber, or foe who lurked in the darkness with malevolent intent. In the face of such uncertain danger, the warmth and care of the shepherd’s presence fostered assurance, security and trust. The sheep knew that their shepherd would offer his life in their defense. They slept in peace.
When morning arrived, the shepherd would call each sheep by name. His distinctive, intimate, and familiar voice would guide them forward into their new day. Going before his sheep, the shepherd would seek out a safe, practical, and prudent path for their journey up and into the hillsides and mountains of Israel. He provided the access, the direction and leadership, the guidance and care, and the pathway to their safe pasture – and ultimately to their salvation and life.
Jesus reminded me that He is my Door, my Gate.
As my Door and Gate, it is He who decides when it is the best and most prudent time for me to follow Him into safe pasture.
Jesus is also my Shepherd.
I am in His care.
He knows me by name.
He leads me at the proper time from the sheep pen to the next divine pathway He has for my life. And as we traverse the trail ahead, He goes before me.
There are all types of sheep pens in life, aren’t there?
I imagine that a sheep pen is a noisy, smelly, dusty, and crowded place. Sheep, by nature, are meek, gentle, and tend to clump together due to their inability to protect themselves from prey. They remain in the sheep pen to experience rest, care, and perhaps healing from the wounding hardships of their day.
For me, though, my particular sheep pen centers upon having a document in hand so that I may continue living and serving in southern Africa with my family. I cannot go forward on the next trail in ministry, or to the next pasture of missionary service without this piece of paper.
I have a friend whose sheep pen is disease. She is determining the course of treatment and needs as she waits for her Savior to lead her forward to healing, recovery, and life.
I have another friend whose sheep pen is single life. We have been praying for such a long time for an Ephesians 5 man – one who will love and cherish her as Christ loves and cherishes the church. A marriage partner who will go with her in truth, in power and in holiness according to the Spirit of Christ.
I have some other friends who are in a sheep pen with unemployment. They have yet to enter productive, purposeful work.
Some friends share a sheep pen with concern and fear for their young-adult children. Their children have made choices that have long-term, heart-sore consequences. My friends are praying for and waiting for a break-through in their children’s hearts and lives for a decision for Christ.
I have other acquaintances who are in a sheep enclosure with age. Their lives are ebbing away. They wait to enter the Kingdom of God and experience safe, abundant pasture for eternity.
Now, you may be wondering, “Wait a minute. Isn’t a sheep enclosure designed to be a place of safety and defense? What do you mean that there are health-related troubles, relationship needs, work issues, and life-and-death matters inside the pen – with the sheep? Are you saying that the Shepherd could actually be keeping them there????”
Yes, I am.
This is the new insight I gained from reading this passage that I’ve read too-many-times-to-count in my life. And I actually draw comfort from this dawning truth.
You see, as Jesus is the Door and the Gate of my life, He has positioned Himself there as my Shield, Defense, and Protector.
Jesus will not let me out of the sheep pen until the pasture I need to follow Him to is prepared and ready – for me.
I’m not stuck in a sheep pen – I’m being protected in one – by Jesus Himself.
How do I know?
Because my Jesus is intimately acquainted with me. He knows my every need. And it is through His merit, His intercession, and His purpose that I step forward on the next path of holiness He has for me in life. As His word promises:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy;
I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
New International Version, John 10: 10
So, what does that mean for me in terms of my permanent/temporary residence issues?
Well, if one of these two documents do not materialize in the next four to five weeks in South Africa, then I trust my God to lead me to the South Africa Consulate in Los Angeles. If this becomes the pathway He has forged, then I will trust my God and His gentle, kind, and loving guidance. I will follow.
My Savior and my Lord leads me from the discouragement, the worries, the fears, the follies, and the diversions of life and the sheep pens of this world onto the path of holiness.
He gave me this word of encouragement. I love Him and I trust Him and my heart is strengthened. I’m not crying in frustration or beset with anxiety like I once was earlier in the week.
Instead I pray and sing:
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
New International Version Psalm 100
Jesus is my Door to hope, to joy, and to praise.
Is He yours?