As a young girl I heard many sermons on being used as a tool of God, which sounds good on the surface. Many words were spoken to get the flock serving others around us by being this holy tool. There was little talk about God’s grace, but a lot of words brimming with wrath. So not surprisingly, I saw adults acting as a hammer, sometimes an ax, coarse sandpaper. Shepherds were being trained to use the rod and staff to beat their sheep and shame them into submission.
As a young married couple we moved out of state and to a different community of believers. The first sermons were on the topic of grace. I spent a morning crying in the church bathroom, not sure why I was so touched by the sermon but repeating to myself, “I never knew….I never knew.” Fifteen years in church, five years of AWANA, eight years of private Christian school, and I never knew of God’s grace. I thought it was up to me to be that “perfect little tool” to slap people over the head with scripture and set an example of the “perfect little Christian life”. Hiding behind that mask was a lifeless, sin-filled, totally lost sheep who had wandered away from the flock.
Fast forward to today. I’m a mom of two teens and a grade schooler. We home educate and many times I default into trying to be a tool in my children’s lives. My focus can be on outcomes, behaviors, externals. But again, and again I am reminded through scripture reading, times of worship and retreat, walks, gazing at the wonder of nature, that God is our Good Shephard who does not beat his sheep. He uses his rod and staff to gently guide us, protect us, and keep the enemy out of our green pastures. He does not USE his sheep nor does He desire for us to use others.
1 The Lord is my shepherd , I shall not want . 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures ; He leads me beside quiet waters . 3 He restores my soul ; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake . 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death , I fear no evil , for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff , they comfort me 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies ; You have anointed my head with oil ; My cup overflows . 6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life , And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.Psalm 23
When we view our Father as one who wants to USE, we can infer that we are less than human – a thing to obtain an end. Then we start to treat others non-humanly. We look around and see who we can use instead of connecting with hearts, souls, minds. We manipulate. We put up an image of perfect families, systems, programs as an idol in our hearts. And then we become disillusioned when our “perfect little families” idol blows up in our face. People to leave the faith because of this disillusionment. We feel we gave God A, B, C and He owes us X, Y, Z. This is what happens when we build on our terms. But God’s purpose for creating us was relationship. Relationship means communion. Communion means oneness. I am not at oneness when I’m trying to make someone bend to my ideals.
“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly. It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. Whoever is mindful to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it, for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess he builds. We must proclaim, he builds. We must pray to him, and he will build. We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are the times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point are great times for the church are times when it’s pulled down. It is a great comfort which Jesus gives to his church. You confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is not your providence. Do what is given to you, and do it well, and you will have done enough…. Live together in the forgiveness of your sins. Forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.”Dietrich Bonhoeffer
As we start up another year of home education I can see the results of my former scaffolding falling away, which is so good. I don’t want to live as a tool, trying to shape and mold people into my image. Our family can live in the freedom of following our Shephard. He alone guides our hearts. Many times I believe I’m the reminder of how broken we humans are and how amazing and loving Father is with us. And we pray.
Two resources that have been so helpful in understanding our Father as Shephard are:
“Scouting the Divine” by Margaret Feinberg. She is also on Facebook. Here is a video from her summer Bible Study:https://www.facebook.com/margaretfeinberg/videos/1748219118565542/