Feed Me with Food Convenient for Me (2)
Dennis S. Parrack, Bognor Regis, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Although it is switching the picture-form somewhat, Paul inquires of the Corinthians, 'Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?', 1 Cor. 9. 7. If you are engaged in spiritual battle, and leading and teaching God's people is certainly that, God himself will provide the wherewithal for you not only to remain in the field but to emerge victorious.
Privileges and Responsibilities
Activities carried out on behalf of God amongst his people are indeed a privilege but they also entail responsibility. To the Ephesian elders Paul says, 'Take heed therefore unto yourselves'. If shepherds and teachers don't do that they will be in no fit state to obey the next phrase, 'and to all the flock'. Why is this flock, which the Lord Jesus referred to as a 'little flock', Luke 12. 32, so important? Because it is 'the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers'; you have a divine appointment. To do what? To feed (shepherd) the church of God', all of them, at whatever stage of development they are. How concerned is God for this church for which you as an elder, a pastor, a teacher have been given responsibilities? How highly does he value it? Highly enough for Paul to say, 'which he hath purchased with his own blood', Acts 20. 28. The Lord Jesus has ensured that every necessary provision has been made, not only for our initial conversion but for the ongoing growth and development of those whom He has purchased at such cost, see e.g. 1 Pet. 1. 18-20.
Crowns of Glory
We are advised not to attempt to undertake the work of shepherding for the wrong reasons, see e.g. 1 Pet. 5. 2, which includes 'not for filthy lucre'. There is though something far, far better than that promised to those who 'feed the flock of God' and are 'example to the flock'. 'When the chief shepherd shall appear', denoting that shepherds, eiders, teachers, are under-shepherds, 'ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away', 1 Pet. 5. 2-4. However diligent, dedicated or sincere we may be we could never earn such a crown; it is, and can only be, offered by grace. That is perhaps why we can read that during the worship of the twenty-four elders, they 'cast their crowns before the throne saying, Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power', Rev. 4. 10-11. Thou art worthy, not us, so we give the crowns to the One to whom they should rightly go.
Although we ought not to try to formulate church doctrine from Old Testament imagery and pictures by themselves, they do provide many very helpful illustrations of New Testament truths, and so it is in this case. In talking of David, Asaph can recall that 'He (God) chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds'. That was where he learned the lessons of shepherding. From defending his sheep from the lion and the bear, see 1 Sam. 17. 34-36, David moved on to defend God's people against Goliath, with the same instruments that he used to protect and direct the sheep, see 1 Sam. 17-50. But, as with pastors and teachers today, there was an awful lot of mundane work to do with and for his father's flock. Lions and bears were not rampant non-stop, but the needs of the sheep were. It was 'from following the ewes great with young', those of the flock least able to move quickly and easily to forage for themselves that 'He (God) brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance'. Aspiring teachers and shepherds should pay attention to the words of the Lord Jesus, 'He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much', Luke 16. 10. What you are being asked to do now may not seem much, but do it well and you will find greater things to do. Not greater in the sense of more impressive, more glorious, but bigger things, things which demand more effort, attention and experience. There needs to be a right heart and a God-given ability to be an effective spiritual shepherd and the ability is more often developed over a period of time. That is how it was with David. 'So lie fed them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skilfullness of his hands', Psa. 78. 70-72.
The Perfect Example
Having seen what was said about David in this context, what about, as the hymn writer puts it, 'Great David's greater Son'? Isaiah says of him, 'He shall feed his flock like a shepherd', but he carries on to amplify that shepherd care, and shows that it is displayed on a scale sufficient to cover all contingencies of maturity and need. 'He shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, he shall gently lead those that are with young', Isa. 40. 11. Do you, as a shepherd, want a good example in that particular service to which you have been called? Look no further, for in the person of the Lord Jesus you have, as always, the perfect pattern. The surest way, in practical terms, that you can pastor God's people is to submissively and gratefully accept and respond to His shepherd-care for you and then to emulate that care in your looking after and providing for the all-round needs of your charges.
But, some pastors or teachers may say, we do our best but never get any response, never see much result for our exertions. Samuel probably felt like that about God's people, and not infrequently. But how did he react to such situations? 'Fear not, ye have done all this wickedness, yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart'. No recriminations, but no sweeping of the cause of the trouble under the carpet either; just straightforward and immediately understandable advice. But even the best advice is easy to give, much less easy to follow. So Samuel continues, 'Moreover as for me' I've spoken about you as God's people, now what about me as your leader, your carer? 'God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you'. That shows something of the serious responsibility resting on those acting as leaders, teachers and shepherds. Remember the words from Hebrews, 'They (i.e. them that have the rule over you) watch for your souls as they must give account', Heb. 13. 17. You do not want do you, as pastors, to be faced with the question, 'Where is the flock that was given thee, thy beautiful flock?', Jer. 13. 20. Well, Samuel didn't only pray, essential though that was and is, he could continue, 'But I will teach you the good and the right way', 1 Sam. 12. 20-23. It was fine to tell them not to turn aside but they needed to know exactly where they were to go, and Samuel would teach them that.
In David, Samuel, and pre-eminently, the Lord Jesus, we are given outstanding examples of shepherds and shepherding for us to follow. But remember the range of needs, the capability levels of perception and response, and ensure that the prayer to God by his people, 'Feed me with food convenient for me' can be answered by Him through you.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Dennis Parrack is a valued and regular contributor to Precious Seed and to other U.K. assembly magazines. After spending most of his working life in Cambridge he did two masters’ degrees, one researching Müller‘s Homes of Bristol.