“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:27-31 ESV
This bible passage has been on my heart this week. As I have dwelt on this section of bible verse I have contemplated my own journey with this passage. When I was younger I was taught the importance of knowing the written word of God. How knowing this would help me know the Father and as a result his will. I immersed myself in the bible. Did bible studies, bible school, followed the teachings of my Pastors, the church procedures and programs. Before I knew it I was well versed in the bible, the rules of the church, full of pride in my ability to follow the letter and abide by the good Christian rules. I worked hard to impress in the hope that I would be given approval and also positions of leadership. I would preach based on what I was taught, I taught the things I was taught. I ran everything I believed I was hearing by the leadership; as they were the ones who truly heard from God. The leadership became the word of truth and also my source of God’s truth and approval. While my outward appearance changed (and my pride grew), what didn’t change is my troubled heart. I knew of God, but I didn’t really know him. I loved God in the way I knew how to, but had no idea of how much he loved me. I was bound and didn’t know how to be free.
As a Pastors daughter I am well aware of the trouble of people coming into church parading as having the truth and leading others astray. I understand why the church has this process of ‘knowledge obtainment and leadership discernment’. While I may understand the reason behind it, the fruit of it isn’t pretty. While it keeps a sense of safety and order in the church, what it doesn’t do is allow people to know the voice of God for themselves. We are like babies still wanting milk, needing to be spoon-fed the source of truth from the leaders. Some of us may have progressed to be teenagers in our faith. Perhaps we are struggling with the leadership and challenge it’s controlling behaviour. Maybe we are walking our own prideful path of righteousness that we have worked out in our own strength. Others of us may be troubled by the wounds the church inflicted upon us. We did everything the church asked, but we were punished for falling short. In despair we have walked away from God. This way of knowing of God has created an unhealthy codependency and has bound us, rather than set us free. The price of being a people who only knows of God has been high. Not knowing the Shepherd means being alone in the struggle, where God’s intimate love seems absent. The evidence of his salvation and power isn’t present. His truth seems to have no power. He is invisible, a void who can’t hear us? A powerless nothing.
What if God isn’t powerless? What if he isn’t distant? What if he is present and still that beautiful loving Father he says he is? What if the separation between us and God isn’t God’s distance? What if the wall of separation are things like lies, pride, self-reliance, and fear, what does that make of our struggle? What if this struggle isn’t about God’s powerlessness, but rather, about us facing our own powerlessness, our lack of control and need of him. Maybe our greatest challenge right now is for us to step beyond our own strength, be okay with our vulnerability and fragility. Perhaps our battle to find strength has revealed the fragility of the things we had as our strength. Maybe the messiness of now has revealed our wounds and bitterness; the broken state of our soul. What if our undoing is actually our making? What if our fall means that we finally find ourselves in the palm of God’s loving hand? What if this pain actually brings us to a place of discovering the true eternal depth of God’s love? I know it did for me.
This passage doesn’t talk about people who know about God, it talks about a people who know God and are known by him. It speaks of a people who walk in the Fear of God and his righteousness. It speaks of an intimacy that is deep, fragile and scary. An intimacy where nothing is hidden, where there is only God-control, absolute trust in him. It is a stepping beyond the known, out of the old; the safe. It involves rejection like Jesus was rejected. It involves crazy faith. Making choices that don’t make sense, other then you felt his deep intimate love compel you to. It involves a cost to self and stepping into a love that’s so deep it changes you and everything around you.
Progressing beyond surface level Christianity requires a depth of maturity that isn’t about outward appearance. It requires a vulnerability, an awareness of our brokenness and need of God. It means stepping away from seeking approval. Understanding we are already approved of. It means being aware of our fragility and ability to make mistakes. Stepping out of shame, into humility; being willing to be challenged by the condition of our broken heart. Stepping into the power of repentance and dependence upon God. Taking a plunge into a oneness with God like we never have known before. Stepping out of fear, into the powerful Holy Spirit filled faith that we are designed to walk in. It entails knowing God’s love beyond it’s surface level. True love challenges us to change, to move beyond our pride and to grow into deeper things of God’s heart. God’s heart doesn’t follow law, a list of rules and it definitely doesn’t stay in safe zones. In fact it follows a path that is full of unknowns. It can’t be mapped out through our personal strength, but can be found in the place of humility, vulnerability and openness to seeing more of God.
We need to discern the difference between man’s voice, the enemies voice, our voice and God’s voice. We can’t be babies, rebellious teenagers, nor we can we afford to be held back by bitterness. I tell you now it takes more than knowing the bible, praying like clock-work and following good Christian rules. We need to arise out of our pits. To step out of self-works, bitterness, and our own strength, and move on God’s Holy Spirit thermals. We need this passage to be truth and alive in us, to hear him and know him. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”