In our human lives, growing up involves the gradual shift from dependence to independence. But the reverse is true for us as we grow spiritually.
(john kleinig, grace upon grace, 34)
The perennial problem for the Christian is thinking subconsciously to oneself: “How can I become a more independent sheep today?” This is only natural. That’s how your job works. You ask questions until you’re good enough at your job that you don’t have to burden others with your questions. Competence and independence are linked. When you learnt to ride a bike, you succeeded when your mum or dad let go.
Your relationship with God is exactly the opposite. As with the brilliant quote that I began with from John Kleinig, we are to grow in dependence on God. We are to rely less on our ability and more on Him. That means that ‘spiritual success’ looks very different than regular success.
Spiritual success is to earnestly say to yourself “I cannot do this.” It is an emptying. It looks the opposite of regular success. It is the man sitting in an empty apartment crying out to God after his wife cheats on him. It is the mother who prays to love her son who has betrayed her. It is the pastor deathly afraid of public speaking walking up to the pulpit on Sunday morning. It is faith without sight. I hate to even use the word ‘success’ because there is no correlation with worldly gain. It is to recognise what you truly are: unfit for task. A sheep that can’t be independent.
And this Psalm teaches us the joy of dependence. The joy of being a sheep is that you don’t have to get caught up in your own sheepliness. A sheep is in no way prepared to strike out on its own to find good land to settle in. It can’t fight off predators. It certainly can’t pass through the valley of the shadow of death. It would be a stupid sheep to try.
The sheep need only to say “I am a sheep, and You are the Shepherd”. That is spiritual ‘success’. Dependence. Stop trying to be an independent sheep and trot behind the Shepherd. How? The same way a sheep hears a regular shepherd. Hear him speak. Hear the Father speak His Son to you in the power of the Spirit, and God will teach you dependence.
The Lord is my shepherd;psalm xxiii (nkjv)
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord