Phillip Keller has been a shepherd, pastor, and held an assortment of other jobs. The favorite of which for me has been shepherd. I originally ran across him when I read his book: A Shepherd Looks At The 23rd Psalm. I love the style with which he writes and love the way he explains the culture of sheep ranchers. The book became part of an idea I had to help people understand the portraits of Christ in the bible by introducing them to the culture from which each portrait came. Most of the United States is no longer an agrarian economy, so much of the language and metaphors used by Jesus and other writers in scripture have lost the power of description in our day. Phillip Keller helps restore the beauty and depth of the portrait of Jesus Christ as “The Good Shepherd.”
Unfortunately, somewhere along the line, I lost the book, so I had to order another paperback by Keller: The Shepherd Trilogy. The book contains two other works also by Keller: ShepA Shepherd Looks At the Good Shepherd and A Shepherd Looks at the Lamb of God. I am almost finished with the second book and ran across a beautiful passage. I have always been interested in how God interacts with individuals. I grew up in a faith tradition characterized by rules. I have spent the past 7 years, redefining many of the concepts I heard growing up and God has been infusing the redefinitions with grace and love. So when I read the following passage, I was struck with how it encompassed the process of being a follower, friend, and lover of God:
“We are not, as people of His pasture, merely the recipients of good gifts which He dispenses to us in random fashion from afar. To think this way is to be terribly impoverished in our lives.
For much of my early Christian life I laboured under this delusion. To me God was a distant deity. If perchance I needed extra strength or wisdom or patience to face some perplexing problem, He who resided off in the immensity of space somewhere could be appealed to for help and support in my dilemma. If my conduct was commendable He would condescend to comply with my requests. If all went well He might just drop down a bit of wisdom or strength or patience to meet my need for the moment.
To imagine or assume that this is abundant life, or abundant living, is a caricature of the true Christian life. Yet multitudes of God’s people struggle along this way. Their lives are impotent and impoverished because of it.
The simple truth is that the abundant, dynamic life of God can be ours continuously. It is not something handed out in neat little packages as we pray for it sporadically.
A man or woman has the life of God to the extent that he or she has God. We have the peace of God to the extent that we experience the presence of Christ. We enjoy the joy of the Lord to the degree we are indwelt by the very Spirit of God. We express the love of God to the measure we allow ourselves to be indwelt by God Himself.
God is not ‘way out there somewhere.’ He is here! He not only resides within anyone who will receive Him, but equally important is the fact that He completely enfolds and surrounds us with His presence. He is the essence of both our inner life and outer life. ‘O God, You are here! O Christ, You have come that I might have abundant life. O gracious Spirit, You are as invisible as the wind yet as real as the air that surrounds me, which I inhale to energize my body! You are within and without.’
‘It is in You, O my God, that I live and move and have my being. You are the environment from which my total life is derived. You are the energy and dynamic of my whole being. Every good and every perfect bestowal is derived from You. The vitality of my spirit, the energy of my emotions, the drive of my disposition, the powerful potential of my mind, the vigour of my body; in fact, every facet of my total, abundant life is a reflection of Your life, O Lord, being lived out in me and through me.’
To become aware of this is to become charged mightily with the abundant life of God, in Christ, by His Spirit. This is to experience being ‘in Christ,’ and ‘Christ in me.’ This is to know God. This is to enjoy eternal life, the life of the eternal One being expressd through my person. This is, as Paul put it, ‘knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection.’
This life of God, given so freely to us in and undiminished supply from an inexhatstible source, is not intended to end in us. We are not an end in ourselves. The abundant outpouring of God’s life to His people is intended to be an overflowing, out-giving, ongoing disposal of His benefits to others around us. More than this, it is designed to bring pleasure, delight, and blessing back to our Lord Himself. It is not just a case of His blessings being bestowed on us, but also our abundant lives in return being a blessing to Him.
The full and complete awareness of this concept of abundant Christian living can come to us only as we grasp the nature and character of God, our Father. The scriptures reveal Him to be love. By that is meant not a selfish, self-indulgent, sentimental love, but its opposite.
The love of God spoken of so extensively is total selflessness. It is God, in Christ, sharing Himself with us unhesitatingly. It is He giving Himself in glad, wholehearted abandonment to us. It is God pouring Himself out for His people. It is God losing Himself in our little lives that we might know the abundance of His life. It is God giving Himself to us without measure in overflowing abundance so that in turn His life spills out from ours to go running over our weary old world in streams of refreshing.
The life of God comes to us in many ways. So majestic and marvellous are they that this little book cannot begin to list or catalogue them all. The life of God given to men is the same life that energizes the entire cosmos. It sustains the universe. It is the essence of being.The best a mere mortal can to is to go quietly to some place, still, alone, there to meditate before the spendour of our God.
I sense something of His glory in the wonders of the world He made: the flaming sunrises and sunsets that still the soul; the awesome grandeur of mighty mountain ranges and sweeping plains; the restless roar of ocean waves and winds and tides; the fragrance of forests or the green glory of rich grasslands; the austere stillness and rugged solitude of gaunt deserts; the delicate beauty of flowers, trees, and shrubs; the incredible diversity of insects, birds, and mammals; the beauty of sun and cloud, snow and rain.
All of these contribute something to the total environment which supports and sustains me. Each in its own way contributes to the well-being of my person. They energize and feed my body. They stimulate and quicken my soul. They enrich my spirit. They make me what I am…a man sensitive, receptive, and alive to the world around me— my Father’s world— His provision for my well-being, joy, and abundant life. He has come. He has made it all possible. He has put it at my disposal for full and enriched living.
All that is sublime, beautiful, dignified, noble and grand has this as its source. The finest in our literature, music, arts, science, and social intercourse has its base in the generous giving of our Lord. All that contributes to our physical health, energy, and acumen as individuals is grounded in the good gifts and undiminished life of God poured out to us upon the planet.
And yet in His magnanimous and magnificent generosity He does not just leave it at that. God has deliberately chosen to articulate Himself in terms I can comprehend. He has spoken. His word has been received, recorded, and reproduced in human writing. He has not withheld His will or wishes from us earthlings in mystical obscurity. It is possible to know precisely what He is like. He has articulated Himself in meticulous terms understandable to man. He has given us clear and concise self-revelations as to His gracious character, impeccable conduct, and friendly conversation. We know who it is with whom we have to do. He does not deal with us according to our foibles and failings, but in amazing mercy and gracious kindness, as our Father.
As though all of this is not enough, He has gone even further in coming to us as God in man. He, the living God in Christ, has come among us, wholly identified with us in our human condition and human dilemma. He has not spared Himself. He was born among us, lived among us, worked among us, served among us, taught among us, died among us, rose among us, and ascended among us to reclaim and repossess His place of prominence.
All of this He did willingly and gladly to deliver us from the plight of our own peril upon the planet. He came to set us free from the folly and foibles of our own perverseness and pride. He gave His life to redeem us from our slavery to sin and selfish self-interests and Satan. He gave Himself to seek and to save us who were lost. He came to call us to Himself. He came to gather us into His family to enfold us in His flock. He gave Himself to make us His own, the recipients of His own abundant, abounding life.
To those few, and they are relatively few, who have responded to His overtures, He still comes, even today, and gives Himself to us by His gracious Spirit. He is with us. He is our counsellor. He is our companion. He is our ‘alongside one.’ He is our comforter. He is our closest friend. He is here in rich and wondrous intimacy.
‘I am come that you might have life, My life, and that you might have it in overflowing abundance.’ These are still His words to us today.
Being Christian is so much more than rules which bring argument and frustration. It is living in the manner we were designed. Living in relationship with God. And we enter it by believing it is possible and openning our minds, emotions, and lives to the God that is there.