Ever since I was little, the written word has had a way of speaking directly to me. Sometimes I prefer old dead people in written form to living people (wow,that makes me sound so very social). I guess that is what makes one a true book nerd.
I had that experience again this week, through the written words of an aging shepherd, Peter. I love that God allows us the privilege to essentially sit down and have coffee with the saints who went before us and were inspired to write God’s Word. I didn’t come into this week expecting an encounter with an elderly proverbial sheep herder, yet I was changed by such an encounter with one through studying 1 Peter.
You see, I have just been weary. Weary of the beautiful monotony that is motherhood; weary of planning and preparing for and scheduling children’s lessons week after week, both at home and at church; weary of having to feed my family three meals a day; weary of laundry and dish washing and sweeping. Just weary.
As the Lord would have it, I am finishing up my study of 1 Peter, a letter written to a tired and weary group of Christians from an aging leader. I am in chapter 5, the end of his letter, where he is personally and intimately begging the leaders of the tired flock to keep on leading, to keep on shepherding.
What struck me so deeply was that Peter was not a natural shepherd. He wasn’t raised dreaming about or even watching shepherding. He was raised a fishermen. He was a man accustomed to the sea, used to getting into a boat and leaving behind the hustle and bustle of the crowds for the vastness of the ocean. Yet He had multiple life-changing years following and learning from Jesus. And Jesus has a way of stepping in and completely changing our plans for our lives. Sitting by the water he knew so well, after brunch with the newly resurrected Jesus, Peter’s life plans were forever changed. Jesus commissioned him, saying “Peter, if you love me, feed my sheep. Peter, if you love me, tend to my flock.”
Such it was that the fisherman became a shepherd of God’s people, a calling He poured himself into for the rest of his life. And that’s where I found myself in his letter. Peter, the aging shepherd of God’s people, having spent his life tending to a flock of sheep writing to the future leaders of that flock. Peter knew full well the beautiful mess he was calling the leaders to keep giving themselves to. He knew that sheep are stubborn, dirty, and often down-right dumb creatures. He knew it was an all-encompassing, exhausting, no-frills calling.
He also knew that it was a beautiful calling. He knew what it was like to invest himself into sheep and care for them and watch them mature and thrive. He was getting sentimental in his old age, seeing from the bigger perspective that comes from knowing your time on earth is growing shorter. He was inching closer and closer to eternal rest, to wearing the unfading crown of glory that he mentions in verse 4. With those things in sight, he has such needed perspective to offer to the young and tired shepherds, those struggling to adjust to the work of a shepherd.
So he begs them, entreats them, invites them, as only experience can, to keep on keeping on in the hard work of shepherding souls. He reminds them that this role is not to be done out of “ought,” but “may.” He reminds them that there is an over shepherd who helps in this role, who equips and listens and wants to bear the burdens with them. He also reminds them that there will be a day when all the toil, all the tiredness, all the busyness, all the “interruptions” are over. The day is coming when all the work will be shown clearly to be worth it.
So close to receiving the crown of glory himself that he can almost feel it, Peter tells them to press on in the daily crosses. In light of the coming reward and glory, the crosses seem small to Peter. In light of where he is, Peter sees the beautiful mess of shepherding a calling worthy of one’s entire life.
I needed to hear that from Peter this week. I needed to be reminded that giving myself to the flock God has placed among me and in my care is a worthy calling. I needed that glimpse at the unfading crown and eternal rest coming to compel me into another week of shepherding.
As C.S. Lewis says, “The cross comes before the crown, and tomorrow is a Monday morning.” So I must go now, I have sheep to be with and feed and bathe!