Lord, give me and mine the comfortable enjoyment of thy presence forever, and then try us as Thou pleasest. Thy preserving power is all that I desire of Thee… – Joan Vokins (1691)
It took me a long time to come to a place where I could say this, but I believe in God. And not just any God; the God who created the cosmos and remains here with us as an intimately loving and surprisingly creative presence. The God I believe in and have experienced is one who is actively involved in the life of each individual, and in the course of human history as a whole.
Yet, despite my belief in this God who is amazingly, intimately present in our lives, I often fail to live with the confidence that my faith implies. If God is present and acting in the world today, if God has a purpose for my life and promises to guide me, then why do I get so worried about the future? Why do I feel the need to control outcomes, to know for sure what will happen tomorrow rather than simply focusing on being faithful today?
The writers of the Old Testament were fond of the image of the Shepherd as a metaphor for God, and Jesus adopted this image as one of the primary ways he spoke about God’s relationship with humanity. The good news of Jesus is, to put it a certain way, that we have a reliable and loving Shepherd, who will guide us through the trials and triumphs of life. If we keep our eyes on him, we can trust that we will be led into the fullness of God’s purposes for our lives.
This is all very hard on my ego. Sheep are dependent, helpless creatures. Though sheep to a shepherd is probably a very good metaphor for my relationship with God, it is a profoundly humbling one. As a sheep, I do not know all the details. I do not know every twist and turn that my Shepherd is going to take me on. But if I trust my Guide, I can rest in God’s care, focusing on the daily tasks before me. Sheep do not have to plan out the future.
I am not a very good sheep. Being a sheep takes a lot of faith, but my faith is weak. Even though I have experienced the love and guidance of God time and again, even though I have the witness of Scripture and of my Quaker community to remind me of who God is, I often fail to place my trust firmly in the Spirit. I love the Truth, but the reality is that I often cherish my own sense of control even more. Far too often, I choose to make myself miserable by clutching to control rather than to embrace the joy and peace of surrender to my Shepherd.
Life continues to be surprising, and the challenges I face today are almost never the ones that I expected to find the day before. All my worrying turns out to be a waste of energy and attention. What if, instead, I fixed my focus on the way the Spirit was moving in my life right now? What if I released my desire for control, and instead allowed myself to be led into the good pasture that I know my Shepherd has in store for me? What if I had enough faith to truly believe and act on Jesus’ teaching that today’s troubles are enough for today?