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Showing posts with label Lent. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lent. Show all posts

Saturday, March 30, 2024

21 Ways to Pray (plus variations, bonuses, and tips)

I focused on prayer in my personal life during the 40 days of Lent, from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. I heard recently that prayer is the engine that drives life. The illustration was of car. You can have a beautiful, shiny car with brand new tires and an immaculate interior, but it won't take you anywhere if it doesn't have an engine; it's pretty useless. In your life, you may impress people with your outward appearance by saying and doing the right things, but you won't get anywhere without prayer. Prayer is the engine that moves us spiritually. And prayer is so much more than we think. Here are 21 different ways of pray, plus several bonuses, variations, and tips. I pray these will help you go deeper in prayer and connect you to the power of God to move your life.

1. Simple Prayer
Richard Foster names 21 types of prayer in his book "Prayer".  The first type is "Simple Prayer".  Simple Prayer is coming to God just as we are, without pretense, sharing our thoughts, feelings, joys, and sorrows. It's the foundation of a prayer life, emphasizing honesty and openness with God, akin to a child speaking to a loving parent. This form of prayer encourages us to lay down our complexities and approach God with simplicity and sincerity.  You don't have to do anything special.  You just talk to God.

2. Prayer of the Forsaken
Prayer of the Forsaken is when we cry out to God from a place of feeling abandoned or distant. It mirrors Jesus' own cry on the cross, helping us to express our deepest doubts and fears to God, trusting that He is with us even when He seems far away. This prayer teaches us that it's okay to question and wrestle with God's presence in our lives.

3. The Prayer of the Examen
The Prayer of Examen is a reflective practice that involves reviewing our day in the presence of God, identifying moments where we felt closest to or furthest from Him. It encourages gratitude for God's presence and asks for His guidance in recognizing His work in our lives, helping us to notice and respond to God's daily invitations.

4. The Prayer of Tears
The Prayer of Tears allows us to bring our deepest hurts, grief, and sorrow before God, trusting Him with our vulnerabilities. It acknowledges that it's okay to cry and be broken before God, who comforts us and collects our tears as a testament to our trust in His presence and healing.

5. The Prayer of Relinquishment
The Prayer of Relinquishment is about letting go of our desires and outcomes, surrendering our will to God's will. It's a practice of trust, where we release control and open ourselves to God's plans, finding peace in the midst of uncertainty and faith in God's goodness.

6. Formation Prayer
Formation Prayer focuses on allowing God to shape and mold our inner being, aligning our hearts, minds, and wills with His. It's a prayer of transformation, seeking to become more like Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, fostering spiritual growth and maturity.

7. The Prayer of Adoration
The Prayer of Adoration centers on praising God for who He is, beyond what He does for us. It's an expression of love and worship, acknowledging God's greatness, goodness, and sovereignty, drawing us into a posture of awe and reverence.

8. The Prayer of Rest
The Prayer of Rest is about finding peace and rest in God's presence, trusting Him beyond our understanding or efforts. It encourages us to cease striving, to relax in God's love and care, and to find rejuvenation and strength in His sovereignty.

9. Sacramental Prayer
Sacramental Prayer sees the sacred in the ordinary, recognizing and celebrating God's presence in rituals and everyday moments. It bridges the spiritual and physical, inviting us to encounter God through tangible means and acknowledging His grace in all aspects of life.

10. Unceasing Prayer
Unceasing Prayer is the practice of maintaining a constant awareness of God's presence throughout our daily activities. It teaches us to turn every thought, word, and action into a prayer, fostering a deep, ongoing communion with God.

11. The Prayer of the Heart
The Prayer of the Heart is a silent, wordless prayer where the heart communes directly with God. It transcends language, focusing on the deep inner connection between the believer and the Divine, often leading to profound experiences of God's presence and love.

12. Intercessory Prayer
Intercessory Prayer involves praying on behalf of others, lifting their needs, concerns, and situations before God. It's a powerful way to express love and compassion, standing in the gap for those around us and believing in God's power to intervene.

13. Healing Prayer
Healing Prayer seeks God's healing touch for physical, emotional, or spiritual wounds. It's an act of faith, inviting God's restorative power into our lives or the lives of others, acknowledging His ability to heal and transform.

14. The Prayer of Suffering
The Prayer of Suffering joins our own sufferings with those of Christ, offering them up for the benefit of others or as a form of intercession. It's a profound expression of solidarity with the suffering of Jesus, finding purpose and redemption in our own pain.

15. Authoritative Prayer
Authoritative Prayer uses the authority granted to us through Jesus to pray against evil and for the establishment of God's kingdom on earth. It's a bold form of prayer that confronts darkness with the power of Christ's victory, asserting God's rule and reign in various situations.

16. The Prayer of Radical Commitment
The Prayer of Radical Commitment is a total surrender to God, dedicating our lives fully to His service and glory. It's a decisive step of faith, choosing to follow God's calling and purposes above all else, regardless of the cost.

17. Prayer of the Ordinary
Prayer of the Ordinary finds God in the mundane aspects of life, celebrating His presence in everyday moments. It encourages us to see the divine in the ordinary, fostering a sense of sanctity and gratitude in all aspects of life.

18. Prayer of Petition
Prayer of Petition brings our personal needs, desires, and concerns before God, asking for His help and provision. It's a form of prayer that expresses our dependence on God, trusting Him to care for us in both big and small matters.

19. Corporate Prayer
Corporate Prayer is the collective prayer of a community, whether a church, family, or group of believers. It emphasizes the unity and power found in praying together, strengthening the community's faith and fostering a shared experience of God's presence.

20. Prayer of Thanksgiving
Prayer of Thanksgiving is an expression of gratitude to God for His blessings, grace, and work in our lives. It's a reminder to acknowledge God's goodness and to cultivate a heart of thankfulness in all circumstances.

21. Prayer of Praise
Prayer of Praise joyfully acknowledges God's greatness, celebrating His attributes and acts. It's a prayer that elevates God above all else, rejoicing in His majesty and expressing our unwavering adoration and love.

BONUS (More Tips and Ways to Pray):

22. The Prayer of Abandonment
The Prayer of Abandonment is a profound form of prayer that involves surrendering oneself fully to God's will, especially in moments of feeling forsaken or in deep distress. It is characterized by a total relinquishment of one's own desires and plans, trusting God completely even when His presence feels distant or His plans unclear. This prayer reflects a deep faith and acceptance of God's sovereignty, embracing whatever comes as part of His divine purpose.

23. The Prayer of Waiting
The Prayer of Waiting is an act of stillness and patience in God's presence, trusting in His timing and wisdom without rushing for an immediate answer or outcome. It emphasizes the virtue of quiet trust and the relinquishment of control, allowing God to work in His own time and way.  “Lord, in this quiet moment, I wait for You. Teach me to rest in Your timing, embracing the peace that comes from trusting in Your perfect plans for my life. Amen.”

24. The Examen of Conscience
The Examen of Conscience involves a thoughtful reflection on our actions, thoughts, and emotions throughout the day, assessing them against our spiritual and moral values. This introspective practice helps identify areas of sin or neglect, prompting repentance and the desire for personal growth in alignment with God's will.

25. Meditative Prayer
In Meditative Prayer, we engage in focused reflection on Scripture, the nature of God, or spiritual truths. It emphasizes the importance of quieting the mind and heart to listen attentively to God's voice and presence, fostering a personal and transformative encounter with the Divine. This form of prayer cultivates a space for the soul to explore the depths of faith, enabling a deeper understanding and intimacy with God through thoughtful meditation and reflection.

26. Contemplative Prayer
Contemplative prayer
is a silent, loving encounter with God, characterized by resting in His presence rather than engaging in verbal communication. It's a deep form of prayer that seeks to experience God's presence intimately, beyond words or thoughts, fostering a profound spiritual union.  One way to practice this form of prayer would be to begin with a brief prayer or Scripture reading to center your thoughts on God.  Sit comfortably and breathe deeply.  Silently invite God into this time, expressing your desire to be with Him.  Let go of specific prayers, thoughts, and images. Embrace the silence, resting in God's presence. If your mind wanders, gently return your focus to God without judgment.  Listen: Stay open and receptive to God. Contemplative Prayer is more about listening to God than speaking to Him.  End your time of prayer with a moment of thanksgiving, acknowledging God's presence and the time spent together.

27. Lectio Divina
Lectio Divina, or "Divine Reading," is an ancient Christian practice that combines reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation of Scripture to foster a deeper communion with God. Through this four-step process, believers are invited to listen to the Holy Spirit's guidance, allowing God's Word to speak personally and transform their lives.  Methodi:  Take a reading from scripture; the psalms or parts of the prophets or epistles are most useful for this style of prayer.  Read through the text very slowly.  When you are struck by a word or a phrase STOP.  Stay with the words that moved you, maybe repeating them slowly, allowing them to sink into your heart. Only move on when you are quite ready.  Try to have an inner stillness so that you can perceive the gentle action of God.  Examples of texts you might use are:  Psalm 139:1-18;Isaiah 43:1-3;Romans 8:14-17, 28-39; 2 Timothy 1:6-10.

28. Prayers of Protection
Prayers of protection are
petitions to God for safeguarding against spiritual, physical, and emotional harm. These prayers invoke God's power to shield and deliver individuals or communities from evil, danger and deception, emphasizing trust in God's omnipotence and care. They serve as a reminder of the believer's reliance on God for security and the assurance that, even in times of peril, God's protective presence is a constant refuge.

29. Body Posture
Body Posture - In his book "Prayer," Richard Foster highlights the significance of body posture in enhancing the prayer experience, suggesting that physical positions, such as kneeling, standing, or lifting hands, can reflect and even deepen the intentions of the heart in prayer. He explains that these postures are not mere outward forms but can significantly impact the inward spirit of prayer, promoting humility, reverence, and openness to God. Foster encourages believers to consider how their physical posture can express and facilitate a more profound engagement with God during prayer.

Kneeling - Signifying humility and submission to God.

Standing - Reflecting respect and honor in God's presence.

Lifting Hands - Indicating surrender and a desire to receive from God.

Bowing - Expressing reverence and worship.

Prostration (lying face down) - Demonstrating utmost humility and dependency on God.

Walking - Used in walking prayers or labyrinths, symbolizing a spiritual journey or pilgrimage.

30. Dancing Prayer
The Tripudium is a form of sacred dance prayer mentioned by Richard Foster as an expression of joy and worship. It traditionally involves a pattern of three steps forward and one step back, symbolizing the dance's progression and occasional retreats in the spiritual journey. This rhythmic movement serves as a physical metaphor for the spiritual life, where the faithful advance in their relationship with God, encounter challenges or moments of reflection, and then continue forward. The Tripudium is celebrated as a way to engage the body in prayer and worship, embodying the joy and dynamism of the spiritual walk with God.  Click here for an example of the Tripudium dance.

31. Labyrinth Prayer
A labyrinth is used in prayer as a tool for meditation and spiritual reflection, offering a physical path that mirrors the journey of life and the inner journey of the soul towards God. Walking the labyrinth involves following a single, winding path to the center and back out again, which facilitates a contemplative state where one can meditate on Scripture and pray in the presence of God. This practice allows individuals to quiet their minds, focus on their spiritual walk, and seek clarity or guidance. The labyrinth serves as a metaphor for the twists and turns of life, inviting walkers to surrender their questions and burdens as they move towards the center, symbolizing a deeper communion with God, and then carrying back out into the world the peace and insights they have received.

32. Written Prayer
Another way to pray that has been helpful for me is to write out your prayers.  The writing process can help you collect your thoughts and refine your prayer into more specific terms.  Writing out your prayers can also serve to keep a record of your prayers (a prayer journal) that you can review later to see how your prayers have evolved and/or how God has answered your prayers.  Written prayers can also be left in special places.  There is a long tradition of writing short prayers and leaving them in the cracks of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

33. Breath Prayer
Breath Prayers are a simple practice that involves pairing a brief prayer with the rhythm of one's breathing. A short phrase or scripture that can be spoken in one breath is chosen to pray throughout the day. This form of prayer encourages mindfulness and constant communion with God. As one inhales and exhales, the prayer is silently repeated, embedding the prayer into the very act of breathing encouraging ongoing connection with God. This practice helps center the believer's thoughts on God's presence, offering peace and spiritual focus amidst the busyness of daily life.

34. The Jesus Prayer
The Jesus Prayer is a simple yet profound prayer consisting of the invocation: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." It is designed to foster a continual awareness of God's presence and to facilitate a deepening of one's relationship with Christ through repetition, often in sync with one's breathing. The prayer embodies humility, repentance, and a heartfelt plea for God's mercy, making it a powerful tool for spiritual growth and contemplation.

35. Centering Prayer
Centering Prayer is a method of Christian meditation that encourages practitioners to cultivate inner silence and a deeper awareness of God's presence by letting go of their own thoughts and emotions.
Choose a sacred word that best supports your sincere intention to be in the Lord's presence and open to His divine action within you. Let that word be gently present as your symbol of your sincere intention to be in the Lord's presence and open to His divine action within you. Whenever you become aware of anything (thoughts, feelings, perceptions, images, associations, etc.), simply return to your sacred word, your anchor.  Suggestions for centering words:  Peace, Love, Grace, Trust, Mercy, Light, or Presence.

36. Float Sessions with the Holy Spirit
Let me share a memorable prayer retreat I try to practice about once a year. It started a few years ago when my wife gifted me a float session at Lucidity Float in Chattanooga, TN. They provide 90 minute sessions in a specially designed float tank filled with highly concentrated salt water. The concentration is so high you float in the water. The tank is also enclosed and completely dark. It is a very relaxing, distressing experience (unless you are claustrophobic).  I also find it quite prayerful. My method is to choose a short verse to be my focus during the session. As I float silently in the pool of water, I concentrate on the verse as I slowly clear my mind of all else. It usually takes 15-30 minutes to get centered. My mind will wander to things I need to do, people I need to call, etc. But each time I realize my distraction, I gently return to my verse. Eventually, I am totally relaxed and my mind is clear and focused. It's hard to describe, but I enter a state halfway between awake and sleep. Sometimes I actually do drift off to sleep for a moment, but then I surface to an in-between state of consciousness centered in the Scripture I've chosen.  On my most recent float for my 50th birthday, I chose Jesus’ baptism from Matthew 3:16-17, especially the phrase “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  Entering into a state of deep meditation, I received God's gracious affirmation that Christ is in my heart and therefore those words from Matthew 3:17 are for me too. I am His dearly loved son, and God is pleased with me. I imagined the Holy Spirit Dove descending on Jesus as He rose up out of the baptismal waters. Then, my mind wandered from the waters of Jesus’ baptism to the waters of creation in Genesis 1:2, “The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” This was a connection I had never thought of before. And I can't rightly say I thought of it then either. Rather, it was given to me by the Holy Spirit as I meditated on God's Word subconsciously. This “soaking in God's Word” was deeply refreshing and insightful as the Spirit guided my mind through many other moments in Scripture where the Spirit interacted with water--the dove soaring from Noah's ark to find dry land after the great flood, the holy presence of God in the pillar of fire and smoke parting the Red Sea to deliver His people from Egypt, Elisha's lost ax head floating to the surface of the Jordan River, the Ethiopian Eunuch being baptized by Philip before Philip is inexplicably carried away by the Holy Spirit.  Prayer is a powerful thing–refreshing and renewing, connecting and surrounding us with the power of God, the source and sustainer of life.  Delve deep into prayer.  Soak in it.  Float in it.  If you’d like to try a float session, you can read more about them and book appointments at this link.

37. In the Name of Jesus
Praying "In the Name of Jesus" signifies more than just appending a phrase at the end of a prayer. It is praying with the awareness and recognition of who Jesus is, His authority, and His will. To pray in Jesus' name means to pray in alignment with His character, purposes, and desires, as if Jesus Himself were making the request. It implies a deep relational understanding and connection with Christ, acknowledging His role as mediator between God and humanity. Praying in Jesus' name invites His power and presence into the situation, asking for prayers to be answered according to His will and for His glory.  Whether or not the specific phrase “in Jesus’ name” is specifically stated, all true Christian prayer seeks to embody the attitude of being in Jesus’ name.

38. Amen
The word "Amen" is a declaration of affirmation often found at the end of prayers, signifying agreement and truth. It is derived from Hebrew, meaning "so be it" or "truly," and has been adopted as the traditional closing word to prayers and hymns, underscoring the trust and faith placed in the words that precede it. "Amen" is more than a ritualistic conclusion; it is a powerful expression of belief and confidence in the promises of God, symbolizing the prayerful petitioner's hope that their words will be heard and acted upon by the Divine. Its use unites believers in a common acknowledgment of the presence and sovereignty of God, making it a profound connective thread in the fabric of spiritual practice.

Monday, December 11, 2023

Jesus Instructions for Fasting

We’ve been studying Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount for the last 12 weeks or so.  It’s called the Sermon on the Mount because Jesus went up on top of a mount to teach these lessons.  Notice in the picture here:  The water is the Sea of Galilee.  The church on top of the “Mount” may be the place Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount.  In this sermon, Jesus lays out His vision for God’s people—who they are and how they live.  

There were 3 common practices for Jews of Jesus day. They gave, they prayed, & they fasted.  In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus addressed each one.  He assumed His followers would give, pray, and fast.  Each time in His sermon, He said, “When you give… When you pray… When you fast…”  It was not “If you give… pray… fast…”  It was when not if.  So if we follow Jesus, we should also practice these 3 pillars of faith.

However, Jesus was clear that when His followers give, pray, and fast, they shouldn’t be like hypocrites.  A hypocrite is an actor who puts on a show for people.  Jesus says, “Don’t be like that. Because if you practice your religion to impress people, that’s the only reward you will ever get.”  Instead, Jesus said to give, pray, and fast privately.  That way only God will know what you’re doing and He will reward you.

Today, I want to read Matthew 6:16-18.  Jesus said:

Matthew 6:16-18
“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. 17 But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. 18 Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

So, What is Fasting?
Fasting is going without food for a set period of time.  Sometimes people fast if they have a medical procedure—like a colonoscopy or an annual checkup where they do blood work.  But the kind of fast Jesus is talking about is a religious fast.  It is a fast done out of devotion to God.
And I need to be clear, a religious fast is not a way to lose weight or et ready for the doctor…

We know Jesus fasted for at least two reasons.  First of all, Jesus was an obedient Jew who followed the Jewish Law prescribed in the Old Testament.  And the Law commands all Jews to fast at least once a year for the religious holiday Yom Kippor—the Day of Atonement. 
So we know Jesus would have observed this annual fast for the Day of Atonement.
But the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell how Jesus—at the very beginning of His ministry—went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days.  40 days is an extreme fast that Jesus was able to complete as a miracle.  It’s not something that we should attempt to duplicate.

During the fast, Jesus was tempted by the Devil to turn rocks into bread.  Jesus’ reply reveals one of the reasons Christians fast.  Jesus told the Devil in Matthew 4:4, “People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

If done with the right attitude, fasting can remind us of our utter dependence on God.  We need God even more than we need food.  You may think,
“I already know that.  I don’t need to go without food to realize it.”  That may be true.  But, it is one thing to know something in your head intellectually.  It is another thing to know it in reality—to have your stomach grumbling and every physical fiber of your hungry body screaming: “Give me food to eat!” and to remain spiritually disciplined to say, “No.  I’m not eating today because I need God more than I need food.”  When we fast, it can change the spiritual chemistry of our physical body.  It’s something that goes deeper than your conscious thought—something that reaches down into your unconsciousness.  When you fast, your hunger becomes a form of continuous prayer.  Every groan of your stomach is a cry to God for spiritual sustenance.

Although typically, fasting means going without food, there are other ways to fast as well.  You can give up something else besides food that is very important to you.  Such as:  going without coffee, not watching TV, abstaining from social media, not listening to music, or spending time alone without any social interaction.  The point is to give up something that is as important to you as food (and that could be different for each different people depending on your personality).

When should you fast?
Jesus said, “When you fast…”  So when should you fast?  (Or when could you fast?)  First of all, I should say Christians have freedom.  We are not slaves to laws and rules and traditions.  God grants us grace.  So if and when we fast, it is for our benefit and not to fulfill some obligation.  But fasting can be a great spiritual benefit.  

You can fast anytime.  There is no hard and fast rules about it.  I have found that consistency is better than extremity.  What I mean is it is better to fast a little bit regularly and consistently than it is to do one big, long extreme fast.  It's kind of like physical exercise.  It is better to exercise 30 minutes a day, every day for a year than it is to exercise for 12 hours only once a month.  Consistency is the key to exercise and fasting.

But if you are looking for some ideas about when you can fast, I will share a few.  Jews today fasted once a year on the Day of Atonement, the holiday they call Yom Kippur.  Yom Kippur is celebrated in September or October and it would be a great time for you to fast as you meditate on God's forgiveness and the atonement that comes through Christ.

Christians have two seasons when fasting is very appropriate.  The season of Lent (the 40 days prior to Easter) is an excellent time for a fast as we prepare to celebrate the ressurection of Christ.  Another season when fasting is very appropriate is the season of Advent, as we prepare to celebrate Christmas and prepare for the Second coming of Christ.

Fasting can be very helpful before you make a big decision or start something new.  Jesus fasted before He started His public ministry.  If it was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for you.  Fasting can help clear your mind, align you with the Holy Spirit, and give you clarity as your start a new job, move to a new home, or make a big life decision.  

You can also fast on behalf of others.  People have become accustomed to saying and hearing, “I’ll pray for you.” What if you said instead in some very important situations, “I’ll be fasting for you while I’m praying.”  Now that tells someone, you are really committed to seeking divine help for them.

In closing, I want to remind you of the warnings Jesus gave about fasting.  He said in Matthew 6:16 , “And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting.”

So Jesus gave at least 3 warnings.  Don’t try to impress people.  If you do, that's the only benefit your fast will bring (and what a cheap reward that is).  Second, don’t look miserable as you fast.  That's just a way to get sympathy from people or try to impress them.  So, don't do that.  Do your fast in private.  Don't even let others know you're doing it.  That way, God in heaven (who see what you do in secret) will reward you.

Monday, March 23, 2020

I AM the Good Shepherd

For 2,000 years, people have speculated about Jesus--who he was and why he became so important and influential in our world.  If we really want to know who Jesus was, maybe we should consider what he said about himself and why he came.  That's what I'm doing in this series.

We are studying the seven "I AM" statements of Jesus from the Gospel of John where Jesus told everyone who he is and why he came.  So far, we have seen that Jesus is:
I am the Bread of Life – Jesus is the only thing that satisfies the deep hunger in our souls.
I am the Light of the World – Jesus reveals the truth and lights our way out of darkness.
I am the Gate – Jesus is the way into the protective safety of God’s presence.
And I also want to remind you that when Jesus said, I AM, he used those words intentionally. Way back in Exodus, God told Moses His name from the burning bush, "I Am." Exodus 20:15, "This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations."  So everytime Jesus said I am... he was giving us a clue that he is God.

Today, I want to look at Jesus’ 4th I AM statement from John 10:11-16. 

John 10:11-16
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. 12 A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. 13 The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

A Shepherd Knows His Sheep
Jesus was a brilliant communicator.  He knew exactly how to get his message across in ways people would understand and always remember.  Shepherds and sheep were as common a sight in Jesus' time as cars and the internet are in ours.  I am not a shepherd, but I did own some Nigerian dwarf goats for a few years.  These were dairy goats; and yes, I did milk them. (Well, I milked one of them—Miranda.)  Miranda was the matriarch of the flock.  She was the first female goat I bought.  In order to get milk, you have to breed your goats.  After they have their babies (kids, in the case of goats), the mother produces milk.  Then, you have to milk the goat at the same time every morning and every evening.  You can't skip, because the animal will start to produces less milk.  So I got pretty close to my goats, and especially Miranda.  I was with her every day twice a day.  I was also watching over her throughout her pregnancy.  I was with her, cheering her on as she delivered her kids.  And let me tell you, there is nothing cuter or more hilarious than flock of playful baby goats!  So you sort of get attached to these animals and you really care about them when you spend so much time with them.

Milking a goat is not really that hard.  It only takes about 15 minutes, twice a day.  What makes it hard is the consistency of it.  You have to do it every day, twice a day and you can't skip--not for anything.  So if it is cold out, you have to milk the goat.  If it is raining, you have to milk the goat.  If it is snowing and 0 degrees outside, you have to milk the goat (ask me how I know).  And if you every go out of town--even for just a day--someone has to milk the goat.  Try finding someone in our day and age to milk a goat for you.  I was lucky to have a few friends who helped from time to time and an amazing pet sitter who actually knew how to do it (now that's going above and beyond).  And my wife, bless her heart, was terrible at it and hated it, but she still loved me enough to try a few times.  

Once, I was out of town and my wife had Miranda up on the milking stand and Miranda was being stubborn.  Miranda was acting like, "Hey! Who are you?  You're not the right person!  Why are you bothering me?  Leave me alone!"  And she was stomping and kicking and not letting Kelly milk her.  So Kelly calls me on the cell phone and says, "Will you talk to Miranda?  She's not letting me milk her." So I started talking to Miranda over the phone and she started bahing like she always did when I was at home with her.  It was hillarious!  But she knew my voice.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd
Jesus is the good shepherd.  He knows everything about his sheep.  He's been with us during the good times and the bad times, in the big moments and the little ones.  He was there when we were born, when we were learning to walk, going to school, graduating, getting married, getting divorced or whatever.  Jesus is bonded to us and cares deeply about us because he's been investing in our lives from the very beginning.

Now, there are others in our life that say they care about us, and sometimes they really do--at least to a degree.  But in one way or another, all these others are just "hired hands" (as Jesus says).  Think about the people who tell you they care about you.  There is the government.  They say they care.  And to a degree, it's true.  Their job is to keep our society running smoothly if possible (it's in their best interest if everyone is happy and mostly taken care of, that justice prevails and laws are made and followed and we're all safe).  And in a crisis like we're currently in with COVID 19, they are working hard to try to help.  However, officials have their own families and their own personal interest that are more important to them than we are.  And they will help as long as they can and they're able and it's in their own best interest, but there's a limit.  They're not going to sacrifice their life or their families for us.  And most aren't going to sacrifice their financial well-being for us.  They're hired hands.  And if a big enough wolf comes to attack us, their going to run away.

Or maybe the hired hand in your life was a romantic relationship.  Someone told you they loved you more than life itself and you thought they would always be there for you.  But now you look around and they're gone.  It hurts so bad when you find out the love of your life was only a hired hand.  We try to assure that people won't leave "in sickness or in health" through marriage vows.  We sign a marriage licence and make promises before God in a marriage ceremony to says we won't ever leave; but even this sometimes doesn't work and through divorce we find out our spouse was only a "hired hand" who abandoned us when the "wolf" came.

What other “hired hands” have let you down in this life when the "wolf" came to attack?  

Jesus is not like the hired hands.  He is the Good Shepherd.  He will never abandon you.  He will fight for you and protect you and provide for you.  He will even give his life for you if that's what it takes.

The Wolf in the illustration can be any evil or trouble that comes.  But ultimately, the Wolf is the Devil who comes to destroy you because of your sin.  The wolf is hungry and he hates you and he hates it when you draw closer to God.  And the wolf is scary and viscous with claws and fangs.  And alone we're defenseless against Satan.  Think about it, in Jesus' story, we're the sheep!  Sheep are domesticated animals with almost no defensive weapons.  They're best hope is to flock together (and that's only in hopes that the wolf will eat someone else and not me).  And sheep are so dumb, they usually scattered when the wolf attacks which only makes them even more vulnerable.  Sheep need a courageous, caring, and capable shepherd to protect them.  And that's what Jesus is. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He will not abandon us. He fights off the Wolf (the Devil) whenever the Wolf attacks--even if it costs his life.

Jesus Died for You
The Gospels tell us Jesus loves you so much He sacrificed his life to save you.  You see, everyone is corrupted by sin and sin leads to death.  Romans 3:23 tells us, "For all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard."  And Romans 6:23 says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord."  And over 500 years before Jesus was born, the prophet Isaiah foretold Jesus' purpose as the Good Shepherd--Isaiah 53:6, "All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him [Jesus] the sins of us all."

No one had the power to kill Jesus, but Jesus knew someone had to die to pay the penalty for our sin.  And though Jesus was the only person who ever lived who was perfect in every way and didn't deserve to die, Jesus sacrificed His life for you and me.  He allowed himself to be arrested, tortured, and crucified.  His death atones for our sin.  He literally laid down his life to save ours for all eternity.

Are You One of Jesus’ Sheep?
Are you one of the Good Shepherd's sheep?  This is a really important question for you to answer! Everyone wants to go to heaven. Nobody wants to go to hell.  And everyone wants to assume they will go to heaven when this life is over.  But I have to tell you the Truth, if Jesus is not your Good Shepherd in this life, it’s illogical to think He will be your Good Shepherd in the Afterlife.  And it's not out of spite.  It's just that you would never be happy living with and obeying Jesus for eternity if you don't want to do it for the few years you live on this earth in this life.  And so, in the end, God will grant you your wish.  Either He  will want to live in harmony with Him forever, or He let you have your way and live without Him for all eternity (which is really the definition of hell).  Which one will you be?  Do you want to be in the Good Shepherd's flock or not?  And how do you know?

Well, Jesus told us.  He said His sheep know and follow Jesus voice.  Do you know and are you you listening to His voice.  We listen to and get to know His voice through prayer, reading Scripture, and listening to people God appoints to speak to us for Him.  But the most important of these are prayer and Scripture.  Are you praying and reading the Bible and listening to God speak to you through them and the people He's appointed to preach His Word?
Jesus says His sheep will follow Him.  We do this by obeying what He says.  And so much of what Jesus said was about how we love others and serve and share our witness about what Jesus is doing for us.  Are you following Jesus in obedience to His Word?

Jesus Has Other Sheep Too
Jesus says something very interesting in verse 16 that's very relevant for us today. John 10:16, "I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd." There are still sheep that belong to Jesus out in the dangerous world. They are lost and vulnerable and Jesus, the Good Shepherd wants to gather them in. And Jesus gave us a mission to gather them in.

What are you doing to bring in Jesus’ other sheep? With so many worshiping online right now during the coronavirus pandemic, it's never been easier to invite people to come worship Jesus with you.  All you have to do is send them a message on Facebook and you can literally invite people from all over the world!  And it's easy for them to come.  They don't have to be nervous about visiting a church building where there will be people they don't know and worrying what it will be like and if they will be judged or unwelcome.  They can log into the worship experience from the comfort of their own home in the pajamas if they want to!  Are you inviting these sheep to come hear the Good News about Jesus?

Are you being a witness for Jesus yourself?  That doesn't have to be intimidating.  You don't have to have everything figured out to be a witness.  You don't have to teach a Bible lesson or preach a sermon.  You don't even have to know all the answers.  You just have to be willing to say how Jesus has made a difference in your own life.  Are you being a witness for the Good Shepherd?

So, as we close, I want to give a two-fold invitation:
First, I want to invite you, if you to become one of Jesus’ sheep. All you need to do to make this happen is pray to Jesus and say something like, "Jesus, forgive me for my sin.  I want to follow you from now on.  Save me and help me. Amen."

And second,  I want to invite you to follow Jesus’ command to “Go into all the world and make disciples…” There is no better time than this and you’ve never been more equipped to literally go into all the world and make disciples.  Invite someone to worship Jesus with you.  And tell people how Jesus is making a difference in your life.