the shepherd season

It’s April. These were January’s thoughts.

But, well, I didn’t write them in January, and that doesn’t mean I don’t need to process them.

Can you make New Year’s Resolutions in April? Are there resolution rules?

They’re not really New Year’s resolutions per se. Just resolutions. Resolutions made loosely, because I’m sinful and prone to wander and deeply aware that no amount of resolve will make me “all better.”

And soon it will be my 29th birthday. So maybe instead of 2014 resolutions, they’re 29 resolutions.

See, I’ve been pondering Moses. I like Moses. God spoke to him “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Exodus 33:11) Moses gives us a picture of Jesus while also pointing to a desperate need for Jesus.

So, Moses. D.A. Carson on Exodus 2:11-25:

IN THE MOST CRUCIAL EVENTS IN REDEMPTIVE HISTORY, God takes considerable pains to ensure that no one can properly conclude that these events have been brought about by human resolve or wit. They have been brought about by God himself – on his timing, according to his plan, by his means, for his glory – yet in interaction with his people. All of this falls out of Exodus 2:11-25.

The account is brief. It does not tell us how Moses’ mother managed to instill in him a profound sense of identity with his own people before he was brought up in the royal household. Perhaps he enjoyed ongoing contact with his birth mother; perhaps as a young man he delved into his past, and thoroughly investigated the status and subjugation of his own people. We are introduced to Moses when he has already so identified with the enslaved Israelites that he is prepared to murder a brutal Egyptian slave overlord. When he discovers that the murder he committed has become public knowledge, he must flee for his life.

Yet one cannot help reflecting on the place of this episode in the plotline that leads to Moses’ leadership of the Exodus some decades later. By God’s own judicial action, many Egyptians would then die. So why doesn’t God use Moses now, while he is still a young man, full of zeal and eagerness to serve and emancipate his people?

It simply isn’t God’s way. God wants Moses to learn meekness and humility, to rely on God’s powerful and spectacular intervention, to await God’s timing. He acts in such a way that no one will be able to say that the real hero is Moses, the great visionary. By the time he is eighty, Moses does not want to serve in this way, he is no longer an idealistic, fiery visionary. He is an old man whom God almost cajoles (Ex. 3) and even threatens (Ex. 4:14) into obedience. There is therefore no hero but God, and no glory for anyone other than God.

The italicized words describe what Jordan and I have {affectionately} termed, “the Shepherd Season.”

The Shepherd Season is that time in your life when you don’t get to follow your dreams–
when you aren’t doing something you feel particularly good at–
when your doing a lot of dying and it doesn’t always feel like living–
a time perhaps characterized by diaper changes and undereye circles–
the time when you have to put your head down and do the grunt-work–
where it seems more than ever that God is humbling you and shaping your character.

The shepherd season doesn’t necessarily lend itself to the promise of moving onto bigger and better things, despite what my generation hopes. We are not promised that if we put in the hard work now we will soon be given the life of our dreams. That’s not what I’m saying. Instead, I’m saying that the “in-between” times are actually the times. There is no in-between.

I’m not waiting, I’m living.

If I look at this season as merely a transition, I will miss what God wants to do in my heart now.

Moses grew up as a prince in Egypt, where being a shepherd was considered detestable (Gen. 46:34). And yet there he found himself, day after day wandering after sheep in the wilderness. I wonder how long it took for the resentment to subside. I wonder {if or} when he stopped beating himself up or analyzing where he took a wrong turn. I wonder when humility took root in his heart. I bet he didn’t notice. I’m guessing he didn’t have some supernatural encounter where he realized he was suddenly humble and meek and ready to be used by God. It was just the process of time, the unnoticed work of God in His heart.

That’s sanctification, I think. Not major benchmarks, but faithfulness taking root, day by day, as we remind ourselves of the truth of who we are in Christ and submit to the Spirit’s work in our hearts. Through diaper changes and dirty dishes. Through boring jobs and forgotten dreams. Through mistakes and failures and less than impressive passing moments.

Through the ordinary.

Paul writes to the Thessalonian believers, urging them to continue in brotherly love, saying, “aspire to live quietly and to mind your own affairs” (4:11). My commentary explains, “Be zealous for the honor that comes not through self-assertion or an ostentatious show of personal greatness, but through humble, industrious, and unimpeachable behavior.”

Humble, industrious, unimpeachable behavior.

Kind of makes me think of that gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious (1 Peter 3:4).

Kind of makes me think of the Prince who, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:6-8)

Jesus is not simply my example, His record of obedience is mine because I am hidden in Him (Colossians 3:3).

Neither is Moses simply my example, but rather the prophet preceding The Prophet who would intercede for His people once and for all (Deut. 18:15, John 5).

But Moses is also evidence that God is at work in the mess.

And that Prince and Prophet taught that whoever saves His life will lose it, but whoever loses His life for His sake will find it. (Mark 8:35)

I think losing our lives for His sake sometimes looks like the Shepherd Season. It looks like God using all things in ways that we often don’t see or understand (Romans 8:28). It looks like walking in the good works He’s prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10).

It looks like an ordinary life, fueled by grace, because we know that even if we have not what we desire, we have more than we deserve. (I know this is a quote by someone but I’m not sure who. A puritan? Anyone?)

It might look like more than that. But for me, for this season, right now, I think it looks like being a shepherd in the wilderness.

It looks like embracing the ordinary and the hard and the permanent feeling of exhaustion.
It looks like giving up the word overwhelmed.
It looks like embracing new things, and giving some up.
It looks like spending more time serving and learning and praying.
I hope it looks like growing, in discipline and obedience, in faithfulness, in gratitude and contentment, in dependence.

It doesn’t look like mustering up enough resolve to be good enough so God will like me. Quite the opposite, actually.

I think the reason the Shepherd Season is hard for me is because I’m so used to striving. It’s my default mode: to try and try, harder and harder. To try to prove I’m good enough. I’m looking up at God like a little girl holding up her latest spelling test, begging him to notice: Am I doing a good job??

And I wonder, how can he think I’m doing a good job when it’s all dirty diapers and dirty dishes? Surely I should be doing something more meaningful, more world-changing?

No, this is to counter my efforts to be good enough.

It’s declaring unflinching trust in the God who has appointed every dirty diaper and every dirty dish.
It’s resting in the completed work of His beloved Son knowing that, united to Him, I too am a child with whom He is well-pleased.
It’s recognizing that He is God and I am not.
It’s believing that He will make good on His promise to conform me to the image of His Son.
It’s learning that life works best when it’s according to His will.
And that if I have Christ, I have all I need.

It’s preaching the truth to my weak heart and failing flesh–that God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Ps. 73:26)

It’s that time in my life when I don’t get to follow my dreams–
when I’m not doing something I feel particularly good at–
when I’m doing a lot of dying and it doesn’t always feel like living–

I pray it will become a time sweet and cherished because it’s that time when I get to learn more than ever that His power is made perfect in my weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9)