Shepherds weep, but they also sleep.
I am wrapping up a study of 1 Peter, a letter written by an aging Peter to a scattered flock of Asian believers undergoing intense persecution under the emperor Nero. Throughout the entire letter, an attentive reader can hear echoes of Peter’s own three year experiences with Christ.
Even the motive to write such a tender, thoughtful letter must have stemmed from that indelible, delectable breakfast of fish Peter shared with the risen Christ by Sea of Galilee. There, over a charcoal-fired breakfast Peter, who had thrice denied Christ beside a charcoal fire, Peter was thrice forgiven and thrice called. Three times Christ commissioned Peter to live the rest of his life as a shepherd to God’s people. Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Feed my sheep. (John 21).
Many years later, a matured Peter writes a gentle plea to tired and suffering believers, nourishing them on the truths of the gospel, protecting them from the Adversary, and stirring up their hope for the subsequent glories to follow such stubborn seasons of trial. Peter, the shepherd, leaned into his call until the day he was crucified upside down.
In the conclusion of his first letter, Peter addresses the elders who were similarly charged with the all-encompassing task of shepherding the flock of God placed under their care.
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them- not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve, not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:2-3).
Shepherding souls can be heavy, hearty work. Peter shared from deep wells experience, as did Paul when he gave his last charge to the Ephesian elders whom he had discipled and trained.
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock…So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears (Acts 20:28-29 &31).
Though they had very different flocks, Peter and Paul both share similar words to fellow soul shepherds. Both talk of the heavy weight and increasing anxiety, even the tender tears, of caring for souls. Both give sober warnings to be watchful of our own souls and the condition of our flock in light of the fierce reality of an Enemy.
But in the midst of all the charges and warnings, Peter offers a pressure release in the mention of the Chief Shepherd. Oh how that simple title changes everything!
And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade…Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:4 &7).
In the midst of feeding and tending wounds and night watches for wolves, the shepherds themselves are shepherded. The Chief Shepherd carries the weight, bears the responsibility, informs and enables the service. He does not sit in a cozy office chair looking at performance reports; rather, He is actively and intimately involved in His flocks and under-shepherds day-to-day and night-by-night operations.
Yes, shepherds weep. But they can also sleep, trusting in the character of the Chief Shepherd. And beyond that, they look forward to the day when He himself will restore, confirm, strengthen and establish them. The Chief Shepherd, who wore a plaited crown of pain for His sheep, will one day place an unfading crown of glory on their heads.
The shepherds need shepherding;
Alone I am not up to the task.
Lead us to graze in your presence,
In your sovereign grace to bask.
Though another mere sheep I am,
Yet I shall closely follow your lead.
I’ll guide them where you guide me,
Together your Word we shall heed.
Forgive me for forgetting Your Spirit
Who qualifies and equips the called.
I must run on in trusting obedience,
For far too long, in fear, I’ve stalled.
Keep them from looking at me,
As I’m a crooked pointer at best.
Through me, back to the Father,
May they spy Him and be blessed.
Wrap me up tightly in your shadow,
Encompass me with your strength,
That I may declare your vast love,
Height, breadth, width and length.