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Let the Shepherd lead

From the April 2019 issue of The Christian Science Journal

Are you overwhelmed by a tidal wave of tasks? Waking up feeling as though you’re already behind before you’ve even gotten out of bed? You’re in good company, according to a number of surveys. Many people report being stressed by all they have to do. 

At the core of this pressure is a nagging sense of personal responsibility. Whether we’re racing to meet deadlines at work, juggling demands at home, or fulfilling obligations to friends and loved ones, we may think we are the ones—out there on our own—responsible for keeping life on track.

However, this is not the truth about God’s child—the real identity of each of us. From God’s point of view, we don’t actually have any power apart from Him to make things happen. God is the only power, and He is all-acting. As God’s creation, we are, in truth, God’s spiritual expression, reflecting His intelligence, poise, and precision. As such, we are the very evidence of God’s harmonious activity, which is ongoing every moment.

Christ Jesus summed up man’s true role when he said, “I can of mine own self do nothing” (John 5:30). It’s God’s job to lead us, which He is always doing. And when we lean on God and let Him guide us, anxious self-focused feelings—such as burden, frustration, fear, and worry, which are no part of our true being—melt away. 

Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, tells us: “… God is our Shepherd. He guards, guides, feeds, and folds the sheep of His pasture; and their ears are attuned to His call” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, pp. 150–151). 

At times when I feel I have too much to do, I find help and comfort by turning to the twenty-third Psalm, which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd.” This poem beautifully illustrates how God cares for us. It’s the divine Shepherd who “maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” It’s the Shepherd who “leadeth me beside the still waters.” It’s the Shepherd who “restoreth my soul.” And it’s the Shepherd who “leadeth me in the paths of righteousness.” 

The shepherd does his work, but the sheep must listen, trust, and follow the shepherd. In other words, God is taking the lead, but we still have a role to play. Miscellaneous Writings explains man’s relation to God this way: “Man is not equal to his Maker. That which is formed is not cause, but effect; and has no underived power. But it is possible, and dutiful, to throw the weight of thought and action on the side of right, and to be thus lifted up” (p. 255). 

When we think and act from a loving, principled motive, we feel God’s protection, inspiration, and healing presence. Keeping our thought attuned to our divine Shepherd can be challenging when the concerns of the world are clamoring for attention, but the Shepherd is always looking out for us. 

In his book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, W. Phillip Keller observes that sheep thrive best when they can spend plenty of time lying contentedly in a pasture. However, sheep refuse to lie down unless four conditions are met: They must be free of all fear, free of friction with other sheep, free of pests and parasites, and free of hunger (see pp. 41–43). It’s the shepherd’s responsibility to ensure that these four criteria are satisfied. A caring shepherd provides the right atmosphere for the sheep to lie down and enjoy the green pastures.

When we let God guide us, anxious self-focused feelings melt away.

I found these ideas useful as I prepared for an upcoming wedding for a relative. The wedding was to take place at my home and was initially planned as a simple, small event. However, in the months leading up to the wedding, the size of the guest list doubled, and the details of the event changed weekly. It seemed as if most of the work had been left to me, and I started to feel overwhelmed, resentful, and anxious. 

Rather than “throw[ing] the weight of thought and action on the side of right,” I found myself bleating to a few friends about my frustrations. But complaining only left me feeling more entrenched in a sense of unfairness. When I confided to a fellow church member that I was finding it difficult to pray, she reminded me of a line from a hymn—“He’s got the whole world in His hands” (Christian Science Hymnal, No. 492). Together we sang the tune with our own words: “God’s got this whole wedding in His hands.” 

The feeling of burden began to lift. I was able to pray once again, and I found I could apply Keller’s four requirements for sheep to the wedding. 

First, I could turn to God to free myself of fear. Keller notes that sheep will not lie down if they’re feeling threatened or think a predator is nearby. I prayed to eliminate any sense of vulnerability or victimhood by embracing the all-presence of God. The omnipresence of God, good, meant I could never fall prey to stress and strain. Mrs. Eddy assures us: “It is safe to leave with God the government of man. He appoints and He anoints His Truth-bearers, and God is their sure defense and refuge” (Retrospection and Introspection, pp. 90–91). 

Second, I needed to correct a mistaken sense of God’s man. Sheep will not lie down if they’re feeling tension with another member of the flock. Similarly, I couldn’t find peace while nursing resentment of others. In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mrs. Eddy writes, “Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals” (pp. 476–477). I took this wedding preparation as an opportunity to follow Jesus’ example and see every member of the wedding party as God’s child, who could reflect only grace, consideration, and kindness. 

Third, I couldn’t let myself be bugged. Sheep won’t lie down if they’re being attacked by pests. Likewise, I needed to exterminate any negative thinking that was buzzing around me. Thoughts like, “How come I’m doing this all by myself?” and “What if I don’t get it all done in time?” could not be given a place to land in my thinking. Science and Health states, “The way to extract error from mortal mind is to pour in truth through flood-tides of Love” (p. 201). By entertaining true thoughts from God—such as joy and gratitude for His ever-present goodness—I shut out the false suggestions of doubt and criticism.   

Fourth, I had to see myself as never in a wanting state. Hungry sheep cannot lie down because they’re always searching for more food. I wasn’t going to act like a hungry sheep—feeling as though there was always more to do, constantly on the hunt for material satisfaction, and anxiously trying to ensure that every detail of the wedding was just right. 

I decided to follow the example of the Psalmist and claim, “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness” (Psalms 17:15). Identifying myself as whole, complete, and satisfied—as God made me—released me from the temptation to pursue human perfectionism. 

I still had many chores to complete before the wedding day, but the work no longer felt burdensome. For example, one evening I had to shovel gravel into the flower beds for over an hour. This task had not been on my checklist, but I greeted it with joy and sang hymns while I shoveled. Praise for God’s government and ever-present goodness had taken the place of frustration. 

By the time the wedding day arrived, I felt as relaxed as a sheep lying down in green pastures. I was content and calm because I trusted the Shepherd. One of my relatives noticed my demeanor and pulled me aside to say, “Whatever praying you’ve been doing about love, it really shows.” 

The wedding day was completely harmonious. This does not mean everything went exactly as planned, but none of the challenges that came up disrupted the atmosphere of God’s love. My experience with the wedding reminded me of words from a hymn by Frederic W. Root: 

Throughout the way, dear Shepherd, 
   Thy strong hand doth uphold; 
The weary ones, at nightfall, 
   Thou gently dost enfold. 
And when to Truth’s green pastures 
   With joy at length we come, 
There shall we find, O Shepherd, 
   Our blest, eternal home.
(Christian Science Hymnal, No. 245)

God makes us, protects us, comforts us, and guides us. When we trust our divine Shepherd to do His work, we can do ours without a sense of burden. We feel God’s gentle, healing presence guiding us, and we can lie down in green pastures—peaceful and undisturbed.

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