Follow where He Leads

O God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd of your people: Grant that, when we hear his voice, we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I have the really fun tendency to be a worst-case scenario kind of thinker. Even in the face of the most exciting things, it does not take me long to find reasons to worry or pinpoint potential flaws. So when I read this week’s collect and pray that I might “follow where he leads,” it’s no surprise that my default response is to think about how this path will probably be hard. After all, look at the disciples, who were imprisoned and killed! Look at the rich young ruler who was told to give up everything! From the outside looking in, it seems like dangers and hardships abound when one follows Jesus. 
But the collect starts by reminding us that Jesus is not a deity who makes impossible demands of his people from on high, distant and removed from the realities of worry and hardship. He is the Good Shepherd. I don’t know a ton about shepherds, but I do know that their job requires them to be with their sheep—walking the same terrain, battling the same elements, fending off the same enemies. The day-to-day life of the shepherd is intimately tied to that of the sheep. Indeed, the sheep cannot follow the shepherd if the shepherd doesn’t go there first! To me, that is a beautiful image of guidance and leadership that we get from Jesus’s role as our Good Shepherd. 
And Scripture offers a far fuller picture of where this Good Shepherd leads than do my gloom-and-doom, worst-case scenario assumptions. Jesus doesn’t hide the ball—he promises his followers, his sheep, that they will have hardship. But elsewhere we see that this hardship isn’t the full story. Take Psalm 23, which, like our collect, begins by identifying the Lord as shepherd. It describes the journey of one who is under the Good Shepherd’s care. The psalm doesn’t say that this journey is without hardship; part of this journey is through “the darkest valley,” or the “shadow of death.” But the psalm also tells us that the paths the Good Shepherd carves out for us are paths of righteousness, and that along these paths are places of incredible rest and refreshment – green pastures and quiet waters. It tells us that even in the midst of adversity we face along the journey, Jesus still provides—he sets a table for us. And where does the journey ultimately lead? Psalm 23 ends with the confident assurance: “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Or as one of my favorite hymns puts it: “No more a stranger, nor a guest, but like a child at home.” No matter how dark the darkest valley is, no matter how fierce the enemies are, the journey leads us home.  
So as I pray that I would hear Jesus’s voice, that I would know it as that of the Good Shepherd, and that I would have the grace to follow where he leads, I am challenged to remember the full story. Yes, following the Good Shepherd does not mean the path we walk will always be easy. Simply being human is enough to have guaranteed hardship and pain at some point in life, whether or not one is following Jesus. But Psalm 23 reminds us that the paths where the Good Shepherd leads bring rest, refreshment, provision, and protection for the sheep who follow him home. 

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