Perhaps that hymn (119 - “There is rest”) doesn’t apply to this Convention when it speaks about entering the fold and so forth, but here at this place we can enter into more fully than ever before, the riches and promises of God’s Kingdom.
My thoughts have been in Psalm 119, the longest psalm in the Bible. Who wrote it? I don’t know. The writer was a real child of God, a real servant of God. When we read the different chapters in the psalm, we come to the conclusion that this man knew God, knew the statutes and ways of God.
Verse 165 says, “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.” It was not a theory in his mind. He had proved that there was great peace in serving God. This was a man who knew many things about the Kingdom and word of God. There is no doubt that this man was a servant of God, who followed closely in the footsteps of God.
The very last verse, 176 is an unusual verse. “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.” He had gone astray: past tense. Then present tense: “seek thy servant.” When we think of this most wonderful man who wrote all these verses, at the end he said, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant. .” I have prayed this prayer many a time down through the years. More than once I have gone astray but have prayed, “Seek Thy servant.”
When we talk to this man who wrote the psalm and we would say, “You never left the borders of the Kingdom. You always prayed and sacrificed and did your part to serve God. You never left the Kingdom or this faith or this way of Truth. How can you say then, ‘I have gone astray . . seek Thy servant’?”
He would answer, “Yes, I did go astray. I never took steps outside the Kingdom of Heaven. I remained within the borders of Israel, but many a time, in my thoughts, in my feelings and in my attitude I went astray. Many times in my spirit I went astray and I had to pray to God. I have had some wrong thoughts, some wrong feelings, some wrong desires and had to pray, ‘Please bring me back into the centre, right near the Shepherd. Not physically but in my own being I have gone astray. O Lord, seek Thy servant’.”
We may feel the same today. We have stuck with it through different circumstances and tests and trials in hard and dark days. We are still here, coming to the meetings, taking part in the fellowship, but within ourselves we know we have gone astray many a time in our attitude, in our judgement, in our thinking at the time, towards others. “Lord, seek Thy servant.”
Sheep are wonderful animals. You have millions of them in Australia. They all have this one trait, they just can’t find their way. No animal gets lost so easily as a sheep. Take a dog a hundred miles away. Let him loose and he will find his way. Take a sheep a few hundred yards down the road and it won’t find its way home. For any of us it is so easy to go astray in our spirits, in our thoughts, in our minds; not going astray physically. “Lord, seek Thy servant. Bring me back again to have the mind of Christ in all matters.
There is a similar thought in the Book of Psalms where we read many a time about the harp and different musical instruments including an instrument of ten strings.
Take the harp. It is often tuned. Even a piano needs tuning from time to time. It takes someone with a very good ear for music to get the tuning fork and get the right tone. Leave a harp in the corner for a few days and it has to be tuned again; the strings tightened or loosened. For good harmony there is need for tuning all the different strings.
We have come to Convention to be tuned. Our tuning fork is Jesus. He gives the right reading, the right measured tone for our lives, to have the right attitude in every experience. As we said in Psalm 119, last verse, “Lord, I have got lost in this or that experience. I need Thy help. Seek Thy servant.” I hope, in this Convention, God can seek and find us to bring us right near the Shepherd for future days.
A sheep gets lost so easily. Other animals never get lost. The lions and tigers, even the elephants find their way in the jungle, where there are no tracks, no roads to follow to get where they wish, but a sheep gets lost so easily. It is our tendency, even in this fellowship, to get lost. We need His guidance to bring us back to the centre of the flock. “Seek Thy servant.” A sheep needs a shepherd.
Other animals, even like the cows over in Switzerland where every year they take them up into the Alps for the summer months where the special type of grass grows. They graze on those grasses to produce butter and cheese and such products. But then the snows fall and the cows come down. Every time they come down, there is quite a procession. The herdsmen guide them down the mountainside. Often there is music to accompany them and they take flowers and put them on the horns of the cows. It is a tradition in that part of the world. Usually there is the queen of the herd. She is number one. Even other animals, wild animals, amongst themselves they choose one to be number one; to be the king. They take one of their own to guide them through life.
But with the sheep it is not so. There is no king or queen sheep. Sheep need a shepherd. They need a higher level of intelligence to find their way. A sheep is not able to lead other sheep and that is why sheep need a shepherd. Even David, that gifted man, whose musical attainments were obvious to all, courageous on the battlefield, head and shoulders above everyone else in the country: he had ability; he had strength; he had courage, all that a man could require, humanly speaking, yet he said, “The Lord is my shepherd, I need the Lord. The Lord is my shepherd. I need Him.” We need a higher power to guide us.
Do you know what’s wrong with Australia and New Zealand and Switzerland and every nation upon the face of the earth? So much turmoil, so much distress and chaos and so many upset people. It’s because they take one of their own to be their guide. They elect one of their own to lead the country. Every time there is disillusionment. Things go wrong every time. We need a shepherd. We need God. As the psalmist said, “I have gone astray . . seek me.” I can’t find the way. It’s not in me to find the way. I need Thy power. I need Thy Word, I need Thy Spirit. I need all the strength of Heaven just to find the way, to be amongst the flock; just to realise our dependence upon Him in this place. “Bring me into the centre of Thy will.”
We need a shepherd. There is a very interesting verse in Proverbs 30:21 “For three things the earth is disquieted, and for four which it cannot bear: For a servant when he reigneth . .” To sit on the throne, to guide the affairs of a nation it needs a certain amount of ability, a certain amount of intelligence and schooling to guide the people, but when a slave (in Bible days illiterate) who can’t read or write is on the throne, then the country is troubled; the nation is disquieted. There is trouble on every hand when a servant reigns on the throne.
When this old Esau nature, this one who should be servant to the new nature, when the human is serving the spiritual that is good, but when this servant starts reigning and governing, when the old human nature has the say in our life, there is trouble in our hearts, trouble in our whole being, in our hearts and around us. God must be our guide in all matters. “I have gone astray . . seek Thy servant.”
I have no real verification of this story but it seems, when the first settlers arrived in New Zealand from the British Isles they brought deer, pigs, rabbits and sheep. New Zealand was then a paradise for animals. There were no snakes, no wild animals. Those first settlers let all those animals go free.
The pigs multiplied quickly and the deer multiplied quickly until there were hundreds of thousands of deer in the whole country. Of course the rabbits multiplied with great speed. Of the pigs, deer and rabbits, there were hundreds of thousands within a few short years.
The sheep all perished. No snakes, no wolves, no enemies and yet they perished because they had no shepherd, no one to look after them. They died. It just proved again that a sheep cannot survive without a shepherd. We are glad that we have the Shepherd, seeing our hearts and our need and where we are in our spirits and in our thinking and He is there to bring us back again into the centre of His will. “I have gone astray . . . seek Thy servant.” We need the shepherd so much in our lives.
In my teen years, back in my home country one evening, three teenagers and myself, all professing, all trying to find the Way in heavenly matters, were travelling. We went this evening by car, those three other boys and myself. One of those boys was driving correctly but came around a sharp corner and there were five sheep in the middle of the road. He put on the brake but unfortunately, hit one of the sheep. It was obvious it had to be put out of its misery.
I am a city boy. I made a remark to my friends, “Those stupid sheep, those silly sheep, being on the road, putting dents in the car.” One of my friends, a country boy said, “It’s not the fault of the sheep. It’s the fault of the shepherd. He should have been more careful, when evening came, that all his sheep were in behind a closed gate and not wandering on the road.” If there had been a court case you wouldn’t judge the sheep and put him in prison. It would be the shepherd who would be judged, not the sheep.
Aren’t we so glad we have such a Shepherd who said, “I will pay the price. I will be condemned. I will go to Calvary’s cross and die for the sinners of the world.” He is a true Shepherd who says, “I want to find them and bring them right to the centre, the best place for their souls.” We are glad that we have a Shepherd who cares for our souls. Sheep go astray so easily.
Psalm 73:2 “But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.” It is a psalm of Asaph. This was a man of God, a member of Israel, one who understood the things of God. He knows all about God, the will and way of God and has been a faithful man for many years and he says in this psalm, “My feet were almost gone . .” “I almost tripped over. I have been stumbling. I have had trouble in past days. It has been rough going and I have stumbled many a time, tripped on this and that. My feet were almost gone. I almost lost my footing in the things of God.”
What was to blame? Was it the Way of God? Was it that the Way was so narrow or rough or steep, or was it because of others who weren’t so true or faithful in their place?
No! He was stumbling and tripping over and failing to make any progress in the things of God.
We have the answer in the next verse, verse 3. “For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” He saw the wicked flourishing, lack of discipline in their lives. He couldn’t understand it. How could they live such a life, turn their backs on God and prosper at the same time? He was envious at the foolish. “They’ve got it so good. No self-denial, free to do whatever they wish.” For that reason he began to stumble and that made the going very hard as far as his life was concerned. “O Lord, seek me and bring me back.”
Psalm 73:16 “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end.” He was going into the presence of God; going into the sanctuary, into the place where there was always light. There were seven lamps burning the whole night through, never darkness there. He got the answer in God’s presence. Sometimes we see what others are doing and could be influenced by them.
Psalm 1:1 “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” Don’t sit in the seat of the scornful. It is easy to be scornful, to mock, to criticise, to judge. It is very, very easy. It comes from human nature. The easiest thing to do is to be scornful and to mock others. Don’t sit there. Why not? If you sit there too long you will see things as they see them. You will get the very same way of thinking about things and judge as they do. Who wants to be a scorner?
“I have gone astray like a lost sheep . . . seek Thy servant.” That was the case in Psalm 1 and Psalm 73; people going astray inside the Kingdom; people going astray inside the fellowship, people going astray inside the flock of God. “Lord I’m having trouble. I can’t fathom it out. Why this or that? Why that unfairness?” When that happens pray, “Lord seek me. Give me clear understanding of the things of God. Seek Thy servant again.”
In the Bible there are at least two parables of lost sheep. They are in Luke 15 and Matthew 18. In Luke 15 Jesus was talking with the Pharisees and Sadducees. One sheep got lost and He left the ninety-nine to get the one lost sheep. It was the picture of the publican folk who led a different type of life, down to the gutter level of life and the ninety and nine were just a picture of the Pharisees, religious people of Jesus’ day. I couldn’t understand why the shepherd would leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and seek just one lost sheep. Why would he leave all those sheep behind, ninety and nine, just for one sheep that got lost?
If those ninety-nine sheep were as concerned about that lost sheep they would have gone too. Those ninety-nine sheep should have followed the shepherd to find the lost one. They stayed behind in the wilderness. They didn’t have the hallmark of the true sheep.
I don’t believe, anywhere in the world, is there a people who stand by their preachers like God’s people do. I have been in a number of Conventions and I have heard time and time again in testimonies, how God’s people have appreciated Gospel meetings. Hundreds of times it has been mentioned like, “This year we have appreciated the Gospel meetings in our district.” That is a hallmark of God’s people. No one does more to stand by their preachers or their shepherds than God’s people do. It is a hallmark of a true sheep.
Matthew 18. It seems to be almost the same parable but it is not: a shepherd and a hundred sheep. The subject in this chapter is the spirit of a little child.
He took that little child and put it in the midst of them. That whole chapter is about having the spirit of a little child.
Where did He find the sheep? Up in the mountains. This sheep had strayed from the lowly place and climbed to the mountains and got lost there. It hadn’t stayed on the plain in the fold. This sheep was found in the high place, strayed from the place of humility. The spirit of a little child had been lost. The Master went to find this one who had lost the spirit of a little child.
The shepherd and the sheep, when they leave the sheepfold in the morning, the shepherd calls his sheep to come and the day lies before them. The thing is to go and find grass for the sheep to feed on, a place of shade and water; that is the part of the shepherd every day. The shepherd never asks one of the sheep, or the sheep in general, “Where will we go today?” The shepherd never asks, “What shall we do today? Where shall we feed today?”
In all our plans, if we are young or old or middle aged, be guided by our shepherd and not make our own plans. I can tell you stories about people who took their own way, never asked the Shepherd for His answer on the matter, be it career, be it marriage; there has been sorrow and tragedy. Remember we need the Shepherd and the Shepherd chooses the way and we have to follow the Shepherd.
In John 27 there are three little statements. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” If there is one shepherd and there are a hundred sheep like back in the Bible days, if they were travelling overland, how many in actual fact, physically, are following the shepherd of the whole one hundred? It would be just five or six, just those who can see his heels, the back of his legs or the back of him. They follow the shepherd and all the others, ninety or more of them, follow the sheep. All cannot see the shepherd’s heels. Most are following the sheep in front of them.
But spiritually speaking it can be done. We can all follow the Shepherd. “ . . they follow me.” We must be very, very sure about one matter. “Am I really following the Shepherd, not just following the movement of others, but really following the voice of the Shepherd?” If there be a hundred or a hundred thousand or more, all can hear the voice of the Shepherd and follow the Shepherd.
Abraham heard the voice of the Shepherd. “Leave behind thy father’s house and country and go forth.” The Bible tells us that Lot went with him. Abraham heard the voice of the Shepherd and followed Him to go further. God gave guidance all those years in the land of Caanan and Lot went with him to this point where there were disputes between the herdsmen. Lot made that selfish choice, that fertile land for the future, but didn’t see hidden behind the horizon, disaster and catastrophe. He lost everything in Sodom and Gomorrah.
We never read once that God spoke to Lot. Lot didn’t make any altars. He just followed Abraham. What were the results? He lost everything. He didn’t follow the voice of the Shepherd, he just followed one of the sheep.
“My sheep hear my voice, . . . and they follow me.” I have been impressed at these Conventions in Australia and New Zealand, impressed with my fellow Workers, impressed with you good folk, with the devotion and attitude and spirit and sacrifice of love. There is so much evidence of life and the love of God working in the hearts of His people, but there are a few here and there who find it hard to follow.
They are straggling, on the fringe of things, drawn away by other thoughts, by other opinions, by other doctrines, all sorts of things out there. They are those on the fringe of things, finding it hard to follow.
“My sheep follow me.” Why? Because they “hear my voice.” Some are finding it hard to follow because they are not hearing the voice of the Shepherd, not taking time to get alone with God, not making the effort to pray and hear the voice of the Shepherd.
With Psalm 23 we have to come to the conclusion, what a paradise for the sheep! There is every provision and every promise. It is just a paradise for the sheep; still waters, green pastures, cup overflowing. The sheep who hear the voice of the Shepherd follow. Only those who follow know this wonderful provision. “My sheep hear my voice . . and they follow me.” It’s not hard to follow.
Once, in Switzerland, I parked a little car on the shores of Lake Geneva and a big, old truck came in behind me and stopped. It was a truck from France. The driver didn’t know Switzerland. He asked me, “Can you please tell me where this address is?” I said, “Sure, I know where that is. Some of our good friends live on the same street. You get back into your truck and turn round and turn up to the left, climb the hill, bear to the left and right, come to another street, turn sharp left. There will be street lights, then you will go under a passageway. Go through there and take the second street to the left.”
The look on his face showed that he was perplexed. It got confusing for him. I said, “Look, I will get into my car and I will drive. You follow me.” He found his destination without one wrong turn. What a privilege to follow our shepherd! He knows the way.
John 10:28 “ . . they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” What a guarantee! What a wonderful promise that no power, nobody, is able to pluck them out of My hand. Those are the promises of Jesus, the words of Jesus. Let us realise that we have the choice of being in the flock of God or in the hand of the Shepherd. “No man can pluck them out of my hand.” It is a promise, not for those in the flock but for those in the hand of God.
The flock graze together and there is a certain amount of unity in a flock of sheep, but sometimes a lion can come and grab those sheep and they perish. Even with the best of shepherds one on the fringe can be destroyed by a wild animal. It is better to be those in the hand of the Shepherd, not in the flock of the Shepherd. Sheep in the flock have a certain amount of basic freedom, can go to the right or to the left, or drag behind others in the flock, but the sheep in the hand of the Shepherd, they cannot move.
They are held. They have no liberty. They are captors, held in the hand, but they have the guarantee that no one, nothing “shall pluck them out of my hand.” “No man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.” Are we just in the flock of God, or in the hand of God, to be held tightly our whole life through?
As I said before, I have often had to pray this prayer, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep . . . seek Thy servant.” Like a harp we need to be brought back into harmony; need to be finely tuned.
If we have gone astray then God is here to seek and find us.