Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?
Luke 15:4 NIV
Oh, the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God Oh, it chases me down, fights ‘til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine 1
Following some recent life changes, I was reflecting on the parable of the lost sheep and found myself not just conversing with, but challenged by, the Shepherd: ‘Would you rather be the one or the ninety- nine?’
Perhaps I’m feeling sorry for myself, but the truth is I feel like the ninety-nine these days and not the ‘one’; just part of the big group of sheep left together, while the shepherd heads off to find the important, chosen one. Lord I know I’m saved, but I often still feel so broken, rejected and unworthy, and as a result still struggle to understand both your magnitude and therefore interest, in my seemingly insignificant world. And let’s be honest, surely if you were so interested, why the mess, the damage and the never-ending repair works! Or is that just my mind’s perception, the lie, that resists restoration, that often sees death, the flesh or constant pain as daily realities to encounter and integrate into the balance of living as me. Father, how do I juggle this repelling mixture of holy yet sinful, replacing your beauty for the ashes of life’s bonfires strewn across my past? Does the beauty cover the ashes or the ashes become beautiful, Because the bonfires, though they are burning remnants, are still my remnants.
Lord, I’m sorry but at times I long to feel the ‘one’ again, not the ninety-nine! As the song says, I want to be pursued by your reckless love! Is that so selfish, so wrong Lord that I want your focus, your attention and favour, because frankly nothing else works, comforts, removes the pain or transforms the ash. Is it so wrong to long for more than the ninety-nine? Apparently, I can never grasp just how beyond all things you are, so majestic and yet willing to come and search for that one sheep. Lord, I cannot process whether that shows the extent of my brokenness, your greatness or both? Either way, I know I want, no I need, to feel like the ‘one’ again, the treasured little lamb, the most glorious and valuable of possessions in the creator’s own hands. Somehow the ninety-nine, the flock feels safe, but Lord I don’t want safe, I want you! Lord I don’t want to be just be existing in mediocrity in the face of magnificence or ordinary in extraordinary hands. Lord, the bonfires are still burning, the ashes still awaiting transforming; Lord, I still long for your presence, your rod and your staff.
Oh, my child, yes I have found you and herded you into the ninety-nine. Hemmed you in safe from the sting and deathly claw of the enemy’s reach. But the walls that surround my flock are not physical but spiritual, gates with hope and fulfilment. Do not mistake the ninety-nine for captivity but for freedom. But turning ashes into beauty costs, you still need my protection and my salvation from yourself and the sinful nature which ever prowls and constricts, notwithstanding the healing of the brokenness of yesterday, the pains of living and not dying… and then guidance through tomorrow which, if it were to last for all eternity in this state, would be hell indeed. So yes, you are saved and yet still being saved from a world you inhabit as mine… you are both the ‘one’ and the ‘ninety-nine’ the one sheep alone will never make a flock.
Lord, it’s so hard, it’s as if you save me into the flock and then ask me to put myself back in the thicket again. Lord, when it hurts so much and causes so much suffering, why when it all seems so sick before your very eyes, why ask me to stay in such a world which seems so broken and utterly despising of you?
Why? For the same reason I did. To seek and find the lost, the ‘one’ to keep adding to the ninety-nine. I want you to look around from the safety of the flock and look beyond yourself. But don’t see the one you used to be… instead see and hear the ones still crying in the wilderness, caught in brambles along the way waiting for the shepherd’s arms. Do not envy their time with me… I am forever yours; a saviour is one who saves and cannot become your un-saviour. I bowed my head in death to lift yours in life. I became the ‘one’. I took the pain and utter rejection by all, to find you, to extinguish the bonfires and turn the ash into beauty, your refinement too at times will feel as death but trust me, in dying you are rising with me.
My greatness reflects in my flock, wonderfully made in my image, loved, protected, free and alive, and yet so often I find you huddled, surviving the pressures, the days, fighting to be this or that never just being content and safe in the ninety-nine. Why do you fight against the restraints of love, which bind you in life, not death? I see you almost longing to be saved again, allowing the thicket to enclose you so that I may save you again… and yet you seem to forget how lonely and hurt you felt, how tired and bruised aching for me, crying out to be found- and when I heard your voice and I found you because I knew you. The ninety-nine are but a collection of saved ‘ones’. Those who are mine have the ear, the heart and touch of the Shepherd at any moment of any day…they do not need to run after my love and acceptance. My child see what lies within you, and that ‘I am’ the gate, it allows access not confinement. I am the ‘one’ your inner being longs for, once as saviour now as refiner.
Jesus, I long for your holiness to the point it aches; ‘Lord don’t save me if you are going to leave me in this filthy state’. I submit to your shepherding, be my guide, but moreover be my rest, my stillness in this battle for the many lost along the highway. Lord, avert my eyes from my ownness, unto you. Thank you for saving me and showing me the value of each sheep is as special as another, each life is as beautiful and perfect as you made them to be. Lord, dare I ask you to use me, in my state of restoration to follow you, to come and go with you and find the other lost ‘ones’ still crying in the night.
1 Asbury, Culver, Jackson, (2017) ‘Reckless Love’ © 2017 Bethel Music Publishing