A few years ago God placed a calling on my life and gave me a seemingly impossible assignment for the lost sheep in my city.    Like for Moses, God promises to go before us and lead us down the path of His “assignments” for us, yet I guess I didn’t know God intimately enough to keep my impatience from getting in the way of his beckoning.   Instead, I forged my own path in the woods, thinking I was doing the work for God and living up to my calling.  Those self-created paths were driven by fear, pride, insecurity, approval-seeking, and kept ending in dead-ends.  The paths produced much challenge and pain as I tried to push the overgrown branches away to give space for me.

In those days, I thought my hands were held tightly at the base of the cross, with my face humbly in the dirt.  But later I realized my hands were actually grasping not the cross, but the gravel and dirt around the cross.  I was using my calling and the various tasks I assigned to myself as my saviors, going full-steam ahead on the tasks I had created, and  refusing to grasp the cross where Jesus wanted me to deal head-on with my pain and my sin.

When I first embarked on my “assignment,” a friend of mine said “I don’t really care what God does with the outcome of this work, because God will do what God will do.  But what I’m really excited to see is what God is going to do in you.”  That statement angered me because I didn’t want what I was doing to be all about me.  It was about them, the people that God wanted to save and help.  The lost sheep.

Now, years later, I think I am finally starting to get it.  My friend was right.  That lost sheep was actually me.  And when path after path led nowhere, it felt like the forest was on fire, and I had nowhere else to go, I finally, in desperation, clutched my fingers around the cross.  That is where the Lord touched me, revealed things in me, and started the healing process.

And now when God beckons me to seek out that lost sheep and love them, I can do so from a place of knowing.  Of knowing what it is like to taste suffering, to wander, to strive, to ignore, to fall into idolatry, and then to cling so tightly I am left with splinters in my hands.

As a previous (and often current) lost sheep myself, I have realized that loving the lost sheep and allowing Jesus the rightful place as our shepherd is what the world needs.  In our neighborhoods, workplaces, and even churches, people are crying out for someone to sit in the suffering with them, and rejoice in the redemption story together.

So let me ask you – what are you really clinging to?   Are you allowing God to show you the way or are you forging your own path in the woods in order to do a great thing for God?   Do your hands hold the marks of splinters or the marks of dead-end plans of your own?

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