How would our lives be different if we lingered in prayer over other people’s longings,...Read More
This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way that I have love you. There is no greater love than to lay down ones life for ones friends. John 15:12-13
I am going to be transparent, vulnerable, and real from the start. I agreed to write this section of being a good shepherd and then my mind took off on a thousand different tangents. At first, my thoughts came out rich in scripture, like spoken from a pulpit. Then they shifted to a “how to” list or even better a David Letterman’s Top Ten Signs you know you are a good shepherd – but neither of these quite hit the mark. I kept coming back to conversations with friends and family who see me as shepherd and think I do a pretty darn good job of it. That being said, I am simply going to share a little bit about my life and the places where God put me in the position to be a good shepherd.
Addicted. Thief. Bad father. Bad Son. Divorced. Bankrupt. Broken. Hopeless.
If there was a Commandment for it – I broke it, ran around it, or smashed it in public.
That was me.
More. Again. Forever.
On December 18, 2015 I found myself in a cold, dark, damp, and incredibly smelly prison cell. I was there for crimes I had committed while doing whatever I wanted and needed to feed my addiction. I was far from my family, my friends, myself and mostly from God – if I thought He was even there. Funny thing is this – I learned that God often shows up in times that we least expect Him or even recognize Him – let alone want Him. For me it was not lightning bolts and bells and whistles when He showed up. It was a little gray-haired prison chaplain named Dusty who started talking about his life before and after he met Jesus. He was talking and I was hearing my life come out of his mouth. I was hooked from that point. I did not know much about this Jesus guy, but I knew I wanted what Dusty had and that mean learning about Jesus and doing what He said to do. Now, I am not saying I was immediately promoted to being a shepherd but I do believe that Jesus sent Dusty to open my eyes and finally see that there may just be a better way to live than how I had been living up until that prison cell.
So, I started reading the Bible and went to Chapel and Bible Studies three and four times a week. I was hooked. Six months into my prison sentence I told God that I was all in. I would go anywhere, say anything, and do anything He wanted me to do if He would just keep walking with me. Ironically, this conversation took place on the prison walk coming back from chow. What better way to really meet Jesus than walking with Him?
Since that day, God has put me in positions to shepherd people. First, it was in my treatment program in prison. Then it was as a school tutor for other prisoners to get their High School Diplomas. After prison it was working at Cornerstone, Drug Court, and finally in opening Hope House Ministry. Honestly, I did not think I was a shepherd – I just thought I was loving people who had similar journeys as me. I had read all the stories of Jesus and God being good shepherds and I just did not think that was me. Come to find out, being a shepherd is fulfilling the last part of that verse up there – laying down one’s life for one’s friends. That, to me, is what a good shepherd does. He puts others first. He loves BIG. He knows that God cannot do His work on people until there is a safe place for that to happen. Simply put, a good shepherd loves others well and creates the atmosphere for Jesus to walk in and change the hearts of men.
As you read at the start, I had my doubts that I was even a shepherd, let alone a good one. I have zero theological training, have very little command of the scripture, and have only known Jesus since 2015. So, my doubts and fears kept me from seeing that the work I was already doing was what made me a good shepherd. I started sharing my life. ALL OF IT. The good, the bad, the ugly – at Churches, schools, on social media, large venues, small venues, in front of a thousand people and as few as ten at a prayer breakfast. The more I shared the more people trusted my voice. I think that is one of the keys to being a good shepherd – you have to be a trusted voice. It is the old adage of “I cannot take you anywhere if I have not been where you have been.” Trust me, for those is addiction – we do not trust anyone initially if they have not been where we have been. So, I overcame that fear and doubt by simply being me. Broken. Hurt. Addicted – yet getting better – one day at time. I always say that I recover out loud, so you do not have to suffer in silence. I think my voice and my story give others hope. If they discover some hope, then I can create the space for Jesus to walk in – the Original Shepherd. Then, all bets are off because real change can happen in that relationship.
Looking back from prison to every day since, I now can see that God had this planned out way before then. He kept prodding me to get help prior to my prison sentence and putting people in my path to guide me toward recovery. The sad part is, like most of the people who I work with now, I ignored every opportunity of getting help. That process has helped me in that I can relate to people struggling in their own addiction. I know the signs, the ups, the downs, and all the in between. Because “I have been there and done that,” people look at me and trust me and my voice. I know now that God did that, and He uses me to reach people that need His help. I think the main reason that people trust my voice is that I share my story and that same story of addiction, hopelessness, and pain gives me credibility to people who desperately want out of their own brokenness but don’t know how.
What God started in me is now being poured into other men and women who are seeking help and it is an honor to be trusted by them. I love being a “shepherd” but most of all I just like loving people well and giving them the space to heal, to fail, and to get back up. That to me is a true shepherd.
Relying on my team of mentors who shepherd me daily, and spending time in daily devotions has help me tremendously in overcoming my own obstacles, challenges, and spiritual warfare. Additionally, I am always trying to live out the 11thstep of AA which is maintaining a conscious contact with God throughout my day. I have often found it funny that I went to prison shackled and came out more free than I had ever been. I praise God for the freedom and for the challenge of being a good shepherd for the people He calls me to serve.
I am far from perfect, but I think I am making some pretty good progress in helping others find the freedom that Jesus promises.
So, as I wrote this, I did come up with that Top Ten List of being a good shepherd and here they are . . .
As always. . . if you’re struggling it’s okay help is only a prayer away.
1) What are you doing daily to take care of yourself? List 5 things that are important for your self-care and who will you allow to hold you accountable to that self-care?
2) Looking back why did you even start walking with people and maybe even think of a time when you saw Jesus along that walk. Reflect on that moment when today’s walk is just too much.
3) In the struggle what verse can encourage you, strengthen you, and help you push on – just for today?
4) Looking back over your life can you remember a time that you held space for someone’s life, struggle, or hurt?
5) If you were to think of yourself as a shepherd what verse would guide you in holding that space in a friend’s life, struggle, or hurt?
6) If you haven’t held that space for someone what’s keeping you from being a good shepherd? Who can you ask to help you? What might be a good first step for you?