by Susan Samson

Have you ever had a piece of dark colored food stuck between your front teeth for all the world to see? Typically you find out about it in one of two ways. Either, you look in the mirror at some point and see it or another person points it out. And, for me, both are painful discoveries. If I find it myself, I am immediately embarrassed that I walked around all day with food in my teeth for all to see. On the other hand, if somebody points it out, I’m still embarrassed. So would I rather walk around all day without somebody pointing it out or do I want to be told? The truth is, in my flesh, and in my pride, I don’t want to be told. I don’t want to be told there is something wrong with me. I want to be perfect. I don’t want to be told I need to change. And sadly in addition, I’m quick to tell my husband when there’s food in his teeth! But if he tells me, OUCH!

So I’m sitting here looking at the cover of our Orientation booklet. It says “Thistlebend Discipleship Study Orientation.” I am reminded of the questions Laurie asked us to ask ourselves: “What does it mean to be a disciple?” and “What does discipleship mean to Jesus?”

Luke 9:23 records Jesus’ words, “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” As I struggled and cried this morning over my utter inability to love another, the Lord sweetly brought to mind about picking up my cross and following Him, and I remembered in that moment that Jesus gladly carried His cross for me. Some of the lyrics to “How Great Thou Art” speak so beautifully of this truth:

And when I think that God, His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin

Then sings my soul
My Saviour, God, to Thee
How great Thou art
How great Thou art

The word pictures from the lecture this week were so very helpful – Master and servant and Potter and clay. But this morning as I think about discipleship and all that has been going on in my life this week, another comes to mind. Shepherd and sheep. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…” (Isaiah 53:6).

Some time ago, Laurie recommended a book to us called A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller. I was drawn to the book this morning in my heartache. Mr. Keller is a modern day shepherd and the book is filled with his observations of his sheep and his role and the comparison to Jesus as our Great Shepherd and who we are as His people.

He writes:

Turning to “my own way” simply means doing what I want. It implies that I feel free to assert my own wishes and carry out my own ideas. And this I do in spite of every warning. We read in Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” In contrast to which Christ the Good Shepherd comes and gently says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). The difficult point is that most of us don’t want to come. We don’t want to follow. We don’t want to be led in paths of righteousness…Amid all this chaos and confusion Christ the Good Shepherd comes and says, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). But most of us, even as Christians, simply don’t want to do this. We don’t want to deny ourselves, give up our right to make our own decisions–we don’t want to follow; we don’t want to be led.

We don’t want to be told we have food in our teeth. We need each other. We are sheep prone to wander. The Lord designed us to be dependent on Him and on one another. We are each a part of the body of Christ. We are meant to live in community and to help one another. What we do and the choices we make and even the thoughts we think affect others.

It is hard. It’s painful. Putting our flesh to death, confessing our pride and arrogance and need is hard. Turning from our old, independent, and self-ruling ways is impossible — apart from the grace of God! And He knows this. He gives us the gifts of His Word, His Spirit, and His body of believers to provide for His sheep.

He is the potter and we are the clay. And we are all still a beautiful work in progress. He is both the Author of our faith and the Finisher! “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6). Thanking the Lord for His love, goodness and grace this morning!

My Fellow Sojourners,

As we wrap us this prayer study, you have been on my heart, and as I was praying for you, the Lord laid something very precious and powerful on my heart to share with you. It is very important and I pray you would take the time to read this message in its entirety because I believe the Lord wants to use it to encourage and exhort you.

My first message to you is simply but so sincerely…Thank You. Thank you for loving Jesus and being willing to follow Him in this journey toward intentional prayer. I know it has not been easy, and the temptation to grumble and complain and give up has been real and intense. But you kept crying out to Him, acknowledging your weakness, and relying on His Spirit for your strength. And I pray that in this battle you have sensed the Lord and His presence as never before.

The Lord has used all of you…every single one of you to refresh my heart and renew my spirit. The very first night of our study as we all knelt on the floor in a basement to pray, I was overwhelmed by God’s Goodness and Grace…His Power and Majesty. It was reflected so powerfully in that moment as the collective sound of your thanksgiving, praises, confessions, and intercessions were poured out as incense to the Lord. It was absolutely beautiful in every way, and I had this sense that it was a glimpse of the glory of worship in heaven. John describes it this way in Revelation 5:8b-10:

…the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”

And as I read this passage this afternoon I sensed the Lord saying that within this anthem of praise to Christ Our Mighty Savior is also a call to you, my dear friends and fellow soldiers. He has ransomed people from every tribe, language, people, and nation, and He is asking you to join Him in carrying that message to the ends of the earth. No matter your vocation, professional training, or current station in life, He has a call and purpose for you to play in this mission….in fact, the very place He has you even know is purposeful and intentional.

He has gifted you all uniquely with different passions, skills, and talents…and it is awesome! The challenge is that the world will lure you in to using these gifts for personal gain. He is asking instead that you would surrender them to His use for His purposes and not your own. I have personally found that this is a daily surrender, a commitment to follow Jesus, share His love, and be obedient in every decision. I use to see this as burdensome but have found instead it is life-giving because it requires an ongoing moment-by-moment conversation with Our Father.

There is actually nothing sweeter than the ongoing development of this dependence on Him. Remember what He says in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Yoke your heart to His and you will find rest for your soul. 

Our time with Him at the start of every day provides the fuel and the framework for our discussions with Him in prayer throughout our day. Both are important, and I pray that even though this study is ending you would continue to humble yourself and bow before Him in Praise and Thanksgiving each morning, recalling that you are joining the choir in heaven who sing with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev. 5:12-13)

The grace He has given each of you is uncommon. Your love for Him and your simple desire to submit to Him and follow are so beautiful and amazing. I am so, so blessed to be on this journey with you.

This post has been contributed to
the Thistlebend blog anonymously.