The Christian life is not hard.
I realize that might come as a shock to some people, but it’s true nevertheless. When we live it the way God intended, the Christian life is wonderfully simple. It is, as Jesus said in Matthew 11:30, easy and light.
We don’t have to exhaust ourselves figuring out solutions to the problems we’re facing. We don’t have to struggle to make ends meet. We don’t have to wonder and worry about the future.
All we have to do is follow our Good Shepherd. All we have to do is go where He leads, say what He tells us to say, and do what He shows us to do, and He takes care of the rest. He makes us lie down in green pastures so we don’t want for anything. He leads us beside still waters so we’re constantly rested and refreshed. He keeps us on the right road so we’re never lost, confused or afraid.
Does that sound to you like a hard life?
It certainly doesn’t to me. What it sounds like is the kind of life described by the 23rd Psalm. A life so wonderful that every day our cup runneth over with the goodness and mercy of The LORD!
“Well, Brother Copeland,” someone might say, “we have to have some wisdom about these things. We have to remember that Psalm 23 is talking about the life we’ll have after we leave this earth. It’s talking about what we’ll have someday in heaven.”
No, it’s not. If it were it wouldn’t say things like, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,” and “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies” (verses 4-5).
Heaven doesn’t have any shadowy valleys. Our enemies aren’t up there hanging around God’s tables. The shadows and enemies are here on earth.
That’s the reason we need Jesus here with us. This world is a perilous place! We don’t have what it takes to navigate it alone. We need Him to lead us through all the dangers, crises and shortages the devil creates so that we can come through them all abundantly BLESSED.
“Will Jesus really do that for us?” you ask.
Absolutely! He assured us of it time and again. As He said in John 10: “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep…and they shall hear my voice” (verses 10, 14-16).
Notice in those verses Jesus didn’t say He’d be our Shepherd someday in the sweet by and by. He said, “I am” your Shepherd. Present tense. Right here and right now.
He also said He’s a good Shepherd—a Shepherd who is so personally interested and involved with His flock that He “calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out” (verse 3). A Shepherd who “goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice” (verse 4).
Sheep won’t follow a mean shepherd. They can’t be driven like a bunch of cattle. They have to be led by someone they’re willing to follow—and, praise God!—that’s the kind of Shepherd we have. He’ll never try to drive us. He’ll never force us to do anything.
He’s very kind and gentle. He’s full of love, mercy and grace. He’s constantly calling out to us and saying, “Come on, Kenneth, come on, Susie, come on, precious ones, the green pastures are over here. Follow Me and I’ll lead you into them.”
Sadly, however, much of the time Jesus’ sheep are too busy bleating about their troubles to hear Him. Every once in a while they might pay enough attention to think, Is someone calling me? But then they go right back to saying, “Baa! Baa! I’m so thirsty! I’m so hungry!”
I know because I did it myself. I wasted years of my life either ignoring, or flat out running away from, my Good Shepherd. As a result, I made life much harder than it needed to be.
But Jesus, in His great love and mercy, never gave up on me. He kept on speaking day after day. He kept on leading and encouraging me to follow until I finally committed my life to Him and said the words that changed everything: “Yes, LORD. I hear You and from this time forward I will obey Your voice. Whatever You say, I will do. I am Yours, Sir, to command.”
Don’t Try to Figure It Out
“Brother Copeland, I think it’s great that you made such a quality commitment to The LORD. But to be honest, I’m afraid to do that. There’s no telling what He might ask of me. He might send me someplace like China or Africa, and I don’t want to go there. Even if I did, I don’t know how I’d manage to do it.”
That’s the beauty of having The LORD as your Shepherd. You don’t have to worry about those things. If He wants you to go to China, He’ll lead you there by putting within you a desire to go. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). He’ll also supply you with all the power, wisdom and resources you need to make the trip. (See Matthew 6:33.)
You don’t have to figure out how everything is going to come together. Figuring things out is not your job. Your job is just to listen to Him and obey, trusting Him to go ahead of you and prepare the way.
That’s what the Israelites should have done when God first tried to lead them into the Promised Land. They should have just listened to Him and trusted Him to take care of them. But, as you probably know from reading the story, they didn’t. They decided instead to listen to the doubters who said: “[This]…is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof; and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great stature. And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight” (Numbers 13:32-33).
When the Israelites heard those words, they panicked. They couldn’t figure how grasshoppers could defeat giants. So instead of going into the land and enjoying the green pastures and still waters God had prepared for them there, they trudged around in the wilderness crying and weeping for 40 years.
Now that’s what I call a hard life! And here’s the kicker: It was totally based on a lie. As it turned out, the giants in the Promised Land didn’t look at the Israelites like grasshoppers at all. On the contrary, they saw them as mighty conquerors with an invincible God, and they were desperately afraid of them.
The next generation of Israelites found this out. When they went into the Promised Land, one of the residents confided that the entire population of the place had been quaking with fear for the past four decades. “I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us,” she said, “and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites…whom ye utterly destroyed. And as soon as we had heard these things, our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you” (Joshua 2:9-11).
Can’t you just imagine the Israelites slapping their foreheads and saying, “What a waste of 40 years! We could have come into this land as children if our parents had only known this. The giants would have surrendered to us immediately!”
The Tougher the Place, the Bigger the Miracles
It always pays to follow the Good Shepherd. It doesn’t matter what the situation looks like. The best place to be is where He’s leading you to go, because He’s already gone before you and prepared things.
So don’t pay any attention to the doubts and the lies of the devil. When he tells you about all the giants in your promised land, just shut him down. Say, “God has spoken to me and I’m on my way. The victory is already mine. God is already working for me over there. He’s sent angels ahead of me. He’s prepared the place. He’s prepared abundant provision for me, and He’s authorized and empowered me. I’m not expecting a hard time. I’m expecting the time of my life!”
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not suggesting you can just float through life without facing any challenges. I’m saying that if you follow the Good Shepherd and put your faith in Him, you don’t have to worry about the challenges. You can conquer every one of them with gusto, because God will do through you, and for you, exceeding abundantly above what you can ask or think, according to the power that works in you (Ephesians 3:20).
“But don’t we sometimes have to suffer for Jesus?” you might ask.
Yes, but to me that kind of suffering is like what I experienced as a high-school football player. When I got out on the field at game time I would play so hard I hurt all over. My head hurt. My hair hurt. My eyebrows hurt. But I enjoyed every minute of it.
I wasn’t suffering. I was playing a game.
I feel the same way about playing for Jesus. I love being on His team. I’m always inquiring of Him, asking, “Where do You want me to go, Sir? What do You want me to say? What do You want me to do? Here I am, send me!”
I’m not hoping He’ll send me somewhere easy, either. I’m hoping He’ll give me an assignment that takes some guts. Granted, I didn’t develop that attitude overnight, and neither will you. But if you stick with Jesus and keep feeding on His WORD, there will come a time when you know that the tougher the place is where He sends you, the bigger the miracles will be when you get there.
Two Thumbs Up
Many years ago, one of our ministry Partners experienced this truth in a most remarkable way when she followed the Good Shepherd right into the toughest place you can imagine: in a face-to-face confrontation with a serial killer.
The day she crossed paths with him, he was running from the police and he needed a car. So he stole hers—with her in it. At the time, he’d already murdered 21 women and he didn’t think killing her would be a problem for him. He figured if he wanted to he’d just do it.
He soon realized, however, this woman was unusual. She was no easy mark. She didn’t cry and quiver with fear at his threats. Instead she looked him straight in the eye and said the words The LORD dropped in her heart: “You’re not going to kill me because I love you.”
He could hardly believe his ears. “Lady, shut up!” he said. “You don’t know who I am.”
“I don’t care who you are,” she replied. “I love you and I’m going to tell you about Jesus.”
“I don’t want to hear about Jesus. I just want you to be quiet!” he told her.
She agreed on one condition: She wanted to continue listening to the tape she’d been playing in the car that morning, which happened to be a recording of me preaching a message about the love of God. After the tape had played a while, he suddenly stopped the car and looked at her. “Who said that?” he asked. “Who is in here with us?”
“There’s no one here but you and me,” she assured him.
“Yes, there is, because I just heard someone call me by name. I heard a man say, ‘This is your last chance. I love you. You can receive Me today and be saved.’”
On the side of a country road, he accepted Jesus’ invitation that day. He prayed the prayer of salvation with his heaven-sent hostage and was born again. Then he turned himself in to the police and she went home unharmed.
A week later, I got a call from the Bexar County Jail in San Antonio, Texas, asking if I would come and baptize him in water. I agreed with joy. When I arrived, I was escorted into a room full of policemen who watched the baptism with their hands on their guns.
In the months that followed, he was tried for his crimes, found guilty and sentenced to death. He refused any kind of appeal. Although some tried to talk him into it, he wasn’t open to the idea. “No, I want to go home to be with Jesus,” he said, “and I want to go the first chance I get.”
I was there with him the day they carried out his sentence. He preached the gospel to everyone in the execution chamber. Just before they took him in, I asked him to give me a signal. “Right before they pull the switch, let me know if God’s grace really is sufficient, OK?” A few minutes later, just before they pulled the switch, with a smile on his face that stretched from ear to ear, he put both thumbs up. More than enough!
Although he has been in heaven for many years now, if he were here he’d be the first to tell you, the Christian life isn’t hard. What’s hard is running away from the Shepherd who loves you. When you’re following Jesus, wherever He leads you, His yoke is easy and His burden is light.