My pastor recently gave a message describing how Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Being different than a hired keeper who might run away in the face of danger, the flock belonged to the shepherd who would stay and defend them. He had a genuine loving concern for what belonged to him. Jesus is that loving protector and caretaker for His flock. Jesus, the good shepherd’s purpose, is to give life and protect from destruction. And although this next imagery may make those of us animal lovers shudder, it helps to confirm that sometimes love is shown in ways we don’t always like. A shepherd would often break the leg(s) of his sheep to prevent them from running off into danger. He would then carry that sheep over his shoulders down the path each day until its injuries healed. While being held, the sheep grew to love and rely on the shepherd like never before.
Oddly enough, I believe Jesus did this very thing to me.
Five years. I had been living in this small town in Western Kentucky for five years and had yet to make any meaningful relationships. I not only avoided bonding with the people; I also lacked a REAL one on one relationship with God. I was, what I like to call, a “baby Christian” who had a history of anger and atheism, with little to no guidance and the life choices to prove it. I had always been very independent and didn’t really care about having friends because I didn’t trust people.
Feeling convicted about not being a part of a church family, my husband and I began visiting some in the area and knew we had been led to the one we now call home. After just a few weeks of attending, the Lord brought several women into my life that completely changed my heart. My relationship with them grew stronger and stronger as I began to experience what can come from real love and encouragement.
One Sunday morning, one of those women invited me to a Run for God class. I wish I could illustrate the facial expression I made. You see, my words say one thing, but my face speaks from the heart. I laughed and said, “The only time I run is if something is chasing me.” With persistence from my friend and growing pant size, I conceded. The way I understood it was that it was basically a couch to 5K training program with a devotional. Little did I know that God was putting something into motion that would altogether transform my life.
I showed up for class each Saturday morning, bright and early (also outside of my character). With each devotional and time spent running with God, it finally clicked. I can run because I am doing it for God. I can make real friends because I am doing it for God. What would happen if I did everything in life, FOR GOD?
Ten weeks into the class, we all registered for a 5K in our town that promoted to suicide awareness. As my first race ever, I had zero expectations for my outcome. I just wanted to finish. As they were calling out awards for age groups, they called my name as the third place winner. It took me by surprise, but it didn’t take long for my pride and competitiveness to kick into overdrive. I was already plotting the demise of the two women who beat me for first and second place. Just as the Lord revealed what life could be like when you do it all for Him, He let me know very quickly what can happen when you begin to do it for yourself.
The very next day, I fell down a flight of stairs and broke my foot. I would not be able to complete the 5K for our Run for God group. Even though I was discouraged, I continued to go to class. While others ran, I sat. I sat and encouraged them as they struggled through the long runs. I SAT and read the Word. I SAT and prayed. I SAT, growing closer to God every day.
While still in what I called “the dreaded boot,” I sat and cheered as all of my new friends ran past me to complete their race. My heart was full. God had set me on a different track. A race towards Him and onto the path He had planned for me.
We quickly started a second class, and I was asked to help instruct. Still unable to run, I knew God meant for me to focus on the “God” portion of Run for God. To show others that training to run successfully mirrors training ourselves to walk successfully with Christ. It takes work, commitment, sacrifice, discipline, and occasionally a boot.
Learning to put God first and dedicate all I do to Him, the ability to stand before a group and teach due to the confidence I gained through the Spirit, the forever friendships that I have made, are just a glimpse into how God transformed me…. all through a broken foot.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”