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How do we let Jesus tend to our Hurts?
The passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “Traveling Light,” published in 2001 by W. Publishing Group.
Dis changes everything. With dis, “obey” becomes “disobey.” “Respect” is changed to “disrespect.” “Regard” is suddenly “disregard.” What was an “ability” becomes a “disability.” “Engage” is now “disengage,” and “grace” is transformed into “disgrace.” All because of dis.
We’d be hard pressed to find a more potent trio of letters. And we’d be hard pressed to find a better example of their power than the word appointment.
Most of us like appointments. Even the organizationally inept like appointments. Appointments create a sense of predictability in an unpredictable world. Down deep we know we control the future as much as a caboose controls the train, yet our Day-Timers give us the illusion that we do.
A disappointment reminds us that we don’t. A disappointment is a missed appointment. What we hoped would happen, didn’t. We wanted health; we got disease. We wanted retirement; we got reassignment. Divorce instead of family. Dismissal instead of promotion. Now what? What do we do with our disappointments?
We could do what Miss Haversham did. Remember her in Charles Dickens’s Great Expectation? Jilted by her fiancé just prior to the wedding, her appointment became a missed appointment and a disappointment. How did she respond? Not too well. She closed all the blinds in the house, stopped every clock, left the wedding cake on the table to gather cobwebs, and continued to wear her wedding dress until it hung in yellow decay around her shrunken form. Her wounded heart consumed her life.
We can follow the same course.
Or we can follow the example of the apostle Paul. His goal was to be a missionary in Spain. Rather than send Paul to Spain, however, God sent him to prison. Sitting in a Roman jail, Paul could have made the same choice as Miss Haversham, but he didn’t. Instead he said, “As long as I’m here, I might as well write a few letters.” Hence your Bible has the Epistles to Philemon, the Philippians, the Colossians, and the Ephesians.1 No doubt Paul would have done a great work in Spain. But would it have compared with the work of those four letters?
You’ve sat where Paul sat. I know you have. You were hotter than a two-dollar pistol on the trail to Spain or college or marriage or independence . . . but then came the layoff or the pregnancy or the sick parent. And you ended up in prison. So long, Spain. Hello, Rome. So long, appointment. Hello, disappointment. Hello, pain.
How did you handle it? Better asked, how are you handling it? Could you use some help? I’ve got just what you need. Six words in the fifth verse of the Twenty-third Psalm: “You anoint my head with oil.”
Don’t see the connection? What does a verse on oil have to do with the hurts that come from the disappointments of life?
A little livestock lesson might help. In ancient Israel shepherds used oil for three purposes: to repel insects, to prevent conflicts, and to heal wounds.
Bugs bug people, but they can kill sheep. Flies, mosquitoes, and gnats can turn the summer into a time of torture for the livestock. Consider nose flies, for example. If they succeed in depositing their eggs into the soft membrane of the sheep’s nose, the eggs become wormlike larvae, which drive the sheep insane. One shepherd explains: “For relief from this agonizing annoyance sheep will deliberately beat their heads against trees, rocks, posts, or brush. . . . In extreme cases of intense infestation a sheep may even kill itself in a frenzied endeavor to gain respite from the aggravation.”2
When a swarm of nose flies appears, sheep panic. They run. They hide. They toss their heads up and down for hours. They forget to eat. They aren’t able to sleep. Ewes stop milking, and lambs stop growing. The entire flock can be disrupted, even destroyed by the presence of a few flies.
For this reason, the shepherd anoints the sheep. He covers their heads with an oil-like repellent. The fragrance keeps the insects at bay and the flock at peace.
At peace, that is, until mating season. Most of the year, sheep are calm, passive animals. But during mating season, everything changes. The rams put the “ram” in rambunctious. They strut around the pasture and flex their necks, trying to win the attention of the new gal on the block. When a ram catches her eye, he tosses his head back and says, ‘I want ewe, baby.” About that time her boyfriend shows up and tells her to go someplace safe. “Ewe better move, sweetie. This could get ugly.” The two rams lower their heads and POW! An old-fashioned head butt breaks out.
To prevent injury, the shepherd anoints the rams. He smears a slippery, greasy substance over the nose and head. This lubricant causes them to glance off rather than crash into each other.
They still tend to get hurt, however. And these wounds are the third reason the shepherd anoints the sheep.
Most of the wounds the shepherd treats are simply the result of living in a pasture. Thorns prick or rocks cut or a sheep rubs its head too hard against a tree. Sheep get hurt. As a result, the shepherd regularly, often daily, inspects the sheep, searching for cuts and abrasions. He doesn’t want the cut to worsen. He doesn’t want today’s wound to become tomorrow’s infection.
Neither does God. Just like sheep, we have wounds, but ours are wounds of the heart that come from disappointment after disappointment. If we’re not careful, these wounds lead to bitterness. And so just like sheep, we need to be treated. “He made us, and we belong to him; we are his people, the sheep he tends” (Psalms 100:3 NCV).
Sheep aren’t the only ones who need preventive care, and sheep aren’t the only ones who need a healing touch. We also get irritated with each other, butt heads, and then get wounded. Many of our disappointments in life begin as irritations. The large portion of our problems are not lion-sized attacks, but rather the day-to-day swarm of frustrations and mishaps and heartaches. You don’t get invited to the dinner party. You don’t make the team. You don’t get the scholarship. Your boss doesn’t notice your hard work. Your husband doesn’t notice your new dress. Your neighbor doesn’t notice the mess in his yard. You find yourself more irritable, more gloomy, more. . . well, more hurt.
Like the sheep, you don’t sleep well, you don’t eat well. You may even hit your head against a tree a few times.
Or you may hit your head against a person. It’s amazing how hardheaded we can be with each other. Some of our deepest hurts come from butting heads with people.
Like the sheep, the rest of our wounds come just from living in the pasture. The pasture of the sheep, however, is much more appealing. The sheep have to face wounds from thorns and thistles. We have to face aging, loss, and illness. Some of us face betrayal and injustice. Live long enough in this world, and most of us will face deep, deep hurts of some kind or another.
So we, like the sheep, get wounded. And we, like the sheep, have a shepherd. Remember the words we read? ‘We belong to him; we are his people, the sheep he tends” (Psalms 100:3 NCV). He will do for you what the shepherd does for the sheep. He will tend to you.
If the Gospels teach us anything, they teach us that Jesus is a Good Shepherd. “I am the good shepherd,” Jesus announces. “The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep” (John 10:11 NCV).
Didn’t Jesus spread the oil of prevention on his disciples? He prayed for them. He equipped them before he sent them out. He revealed to them the secrets of the parables. He interrupted their arguments and calmed their fears. Because he was a good shepherd, he protected them against disappointments.
Not only did Jesus prevent wounds, he healed them. He touched the eyes of the blind man. He touched the disease of the leper. He touched the body of the dead girl. Jesus tends to his sheep. He touched the searching heart of Nicodemus. He touched the open heart of Zacchaeus. He touched the broken heart of Mary Magdalene. He touched the confused heart of Cleopas. And he touched the stubborn heart of Paul and the repentant heart of Peter. Jesus tends to his sheep. And he will tend to you.
If you will let him. How? How do you let him? The steps are so simple.
First, go to him. David would trust his wounds to no other person but God. He said, “You anoint my head with oil.” Not, “your prophets,” “your teachers,” or “your counselors.” Others may guide us to God. Others may help us understand God. But no one does the work of God, for only God can heal. God “heals the brokenhearted” (Psalms 147:3 NCV).
Have you taken your disappointments to God? You’ve shared them with your neighbor, your relatives, your friends. But have you taken them to God? James says, ‘Anyone who is having troubles should pray” (James 5:13 NCV).
Before you go anywhere else with your disappointments, go to God.
Maybe you don’t want to trouble God with your hurts. After all, he’s got famines and pestilence and wars; he won’t care about my little struggles, you think. Why don’t you let him decide that? He cared enough about a wedding to provide the wine. He cared enough about Peter’s tax payment to give him a coin. He cared enough about the woman at the well to give her answers. “He cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7 NCV).
Your first step is to go to the right person. Go to God. Your second step is to assume the right posture. Bow before God.
In order to be anointed, the sheep must stand still, lower their heads, and let the shepherd do his work. Peter urges us to “be humble under God’s powerful hand so he will lift you up when the right time comes” (1 Peter 5:6 NCV).
When we come to God, we make requests; we don’t make demands. We come with high hopes and a humble heart. We state what we want, but we pray for what is right. And if God gives us the prison of Rome instead of the mission of Spain, we accept it because we know “God will always give what is right to his people who cry to him night and day, and he will not be slow to answer them” (Luke 18:7 NCV).
We go to him. We bow before him, and we trust in him.
The sheep doesn’t understand why the oil repels the flies. The sheep doesn’t understand how the oil heals the wounds. In fact, all the sheep knows is that something happens in the presence of the shepherd. And that’s all we need to know as well. “LORD, I give myself to you; my God, I trust you” (Psalms 25:1-2 NCV).
Worth a try don’t you think? (125-130)
1. “Paul was in prison several times: Philippi (Acts 16:23); Jerusalem (Acts 23:18); Caesarea (Acts 23:33; 24:27; 25:14); and Rome (Acts 28:16, 20, 30)” Robert B. Hughes and J. Carl Laney, New Bible Companion (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990), 681.
2. Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing, 1970; reprint, in Philip Keller: The Inspirational Writings, New York: Inspirational Press, 1993), 99 (page citation is to the reprint edition).
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