The Searching Heart of God

by Andy Wood on August 3, 2010

in Exploring the Possibilities, Five LV Laws, Hoarders, LV Alter-egos, LV Cycle, Principle of Eternity

How’s this for a welcome to a pastor’s study? 

NOTICE

The Pastor of Calvary Church Receives Sinners and Eats With Them.

Any Questions?

Now there’s a guy who’s either long on courage or short on brains!  But he knows his New Testament.  And if he does it in the right spirit, he also understands something about the searching heart of God.  

In answer to the question hanging on the pastor’s door, Jesus once told a story.  A story about a shepherd, the Ninety-nine, and the One. 

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent (Luke 15:4-7).

In all we do in Kingdom life, we live in a constant tension between the Ninety-nine and the One. 

The Ninety-nine are the faithful; the One wanders away. 

The Ninety-nine give the money and pay the bills; the One costs more than he could ever repay. 

The Ninety-nine do the work; the One needs some of the work that the Ninety-nine are supposed to do. 

The Ninety-nine gather faithfully; the One hardly ever shows up. 

The Ninety-nine is the only reason we have survived this long; the One is the only reason we ever were here in the first place.

The Ninety-nine need food, rest, and comfort.  They also need exercise, although they rarely like to hear that.  If the role of the shepherd is seen only through the eyes of their needs, then the shepherd’s job is to feed and comfort the Ninety-nine.  If their own purpose is seen only through the eyes of the Ninety-nine, then all they need to do is stay gathered together and let the shepherd know when they’re hungry or uncomfortable.

The One is different.  Much different.  He requires a lot of individual time.  He requires pursuit.  He’s often a drain of time, energy, and resources.  He often comes into the fold with a lot of baggage – with the foul odor of a life lived out in an ugly, sinful world.  One look at the One, and you can tell, this guy wasn’t raised in the fold.

What if the Ninety-nine weren’t sheep, but instead were typical church members?  What if the shepherd left them and their needs alone for a while to go find the One?  How do you think they would have responded? 

Hmmm.

Is there any wonder that some pastors and some churches spend most of a lifetime living with the Ninety-nine? 

Enjoying that food. 

Taking in that rest. 

Staying as comfortable as possible. 

Pastors and churches can survive for years like that.  But they can’t thrive.  They won’t prosper.  And while God will meet the Ninety-nine when they gather in the fold, his heart will be with the One who isn’t there.

We don’t understand God at all if we don’t understand His passionate, relentless love for a lost world or a wandering believer.  In the story, the shepherd left the Ninety-nine to rescue the One.  Not a very efficient business principle.  But a very effective description of the Father’s heart.  God is like that shepherd – more concerned for one who is in danger than ninety-nine who are safe.  This passage raises several questions: 

1.  What has to happen to get the lost sheep back (The Mission)

2.  What does this teach us about the heart of the Shepherd (The Messenger)?

3.  What does this suggest to those who are in the fold about their priorities (The Message)?

The Mission

The shepherd’s mission is much like ours.  If we’re going to make an eternal difference in the lives of people, we need to be open-eyed about what it will take to make it happen, and courageous enough to risk rejection by the One, and criticism by the Ninety-nine.

In order to accomplish the mission, the shepherd had to leave the Ninety-nine in open pasture and go where the lost sheep was.  He left them in a place of safety, where their needs were met.  But he did leave them. 

So must you. 

Let’s face it – most Christians prefer to hang out with other Christians.  We tend to share similar values and life experiences.  If you’re not careful, you’ll wind up insulated from the very people Jesus died for, living in a “Christian ghetto.”  The religious elite criticized Jesus for the people He hung out with in order to bring them to an understanding of God’s love.  Have you received any criticism lately for the people you’re hanging out with?

The shepherd had to treat the lost sheep relationally.  In the story, he put it on his shoulders.  He “mixed it up” with the sheep.  He hoisted him, held him, hauled him, healed him if necessary.  No doubt about it – at the end of the day, this shepherd smelled like sheep!  So must we – not in terms of our character, but in terms of our understanding of the people we’re sent to reach.

The shepherd also had to carry the sheep back to the fold.  In essence, he had to do for the sheep what the sheep should have been willing to do on his own, but couldn’t. 

All my life, I’ve heard church people say about the One, “If they want to come, they know where the church is.”  Which is precisely why many of them don’t come.  They assume that God’s as disinterested in them as we are.

The Messenger

What does this teach about the heart of the Shepherd? 

To begin with, unbelievers are worth God’s undivided attention – even at the risk of being criticized or misunderstood. 

Also, that God approaches us on the basis of relationship – not as a piece of property.  The shepherd could have viewed a lost sheep as a cost of doing business, or as an unnecessary risk to the Ninety-nine.  Instead, he went looking for a sheep with whom he sought a relationship. 

We aren’t “things” to God.  We aren’t assets or liabilities.  He sees us as those for whom he is willing to lay down his life.

One more thing.  God values repentance far, far more than we value it or see His value in it. 

Look at it as a mathematical equation.  One repentant sheep creates more rejoicing in heaven than ninety-nine who don’t need repentance. 

We judge people on the depths of their sin or the heights of their performance.  God rejoices over the direction of our lives – especially changed direction.  And that kind of rejoicing over repentance couldn’t happen without a corresponding pain – deep, deep pain – over someone who is lost or wandering.  Never underestimate what an individual’s lost or wayward condition does to the heart of God.

The Message

What does this suggest to those of us who are a part of the Ninety-nine? 

For starters, don’t minimize your own sin, or neglect the opportunities to grow through repentance yourself.  That brings similar joy to Heaven.  My Daughter Carrie has taught me a lot about that.  She talks about a “sweetness that comes from true repentance.”  Sometimes, she says, self-righteous church people rob the One of the sweetness that comes from repentance.  Read this carefully:  You are never closer to the searching heart of God than you are when you immerse yourself in the sweetness of celebration over one failure turning his or her heart toward God.

Remember, too, that there are never “enough” sheep in the fold.  The closest way to discover and align ourselves with the Shepherd’s heart is to join him in his mission to seek and to save that which was lost.

The Ninety-nine.  That’s the reason we gather every Sunday. 

The One.  That’s the reason we scatter throughout the week. 

The Shepherd.  His heart still leads the Ninety-nine out to seek and save the One. 

You gonna follow, or what?

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Pam Switzer August 24, 2010 at 8:02 pm

So…. what if you are one of the ninety-nine who has prayed for, talked with, and invited the One to God for many, many years and feel like you are getting nowhere? Feel like you are where you started? Feel like they could care less and are getting closer and closer to eternity without ever seeing them again? Admittedly, very discouraged, although I know it’s in God’s plan, probably teaching me more of a lesson, than the One.
Thanks for such insightful words. Hope you are well!!

Jamesella Proctor February 28, 2016 at 10:01 pm

Dr. Wood,
This article is inspiring and motivating. It has made everything you are teaching about leadership so understandable to me. Thank you. Jamesella

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