I can only presume that there is no right format for conveying my experiences as I go through the Spiritual Exercises. What I am settling on for now is the following:
Journal entry: a record of my time in prayer
Observations: what impacted me during that prayer time, written from the perspective of that night
Comments: reflections on the whole process, generally in hind sight, written from the perspective of the date of the post
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Journal entry; Preparation, week 1, day 2
Scripture passage: John 10:1-21
Jesus knows all his sheep by name. I am not a stranger to him. I do not need to introduce myself to him. The sheep do not often know where the shepherd is going. They just know his voice and know that they are to follow. They are certain that the shepherd has their best interests in mind.
Jesus is both the Door and the Good Shepherd. He is described as Good because he lays his life down for the sheep. In an agricultural sense, you cannot be a good shepherd unless you are willing to pay any price for the sake of the sheep. The shepherd owns the sheep. The hireling only works on the farm and does not care nearly as much for the sheep as the owner.
There are three people:
The Good Shepherd – the owner; there is no limit to how far this person will go to take care of the sheep; personal sacrifice is not a factor in deciding how to take care of the sheep; the owner will always be there; the good shepherd is not coerced into laying down his life for the sheep; he does so voluntarily.
The hireling – gets paid for what he does, or only does what he is paid for; there is a limit to what this person will do; the pay or reward are the big factors when it comes to decision-making; the hireling is afraid of the thief; the hireling may leave at any time; there is no long term commitment to the sheep
The thief – takes what is not his; cares not about reward or being paid because he will simply take what he wants; the welfare of the sheep do not figure into his decision-making
Why, on the basis of these sayings, were some wondering if Jesus was sane?
Thieves and hirelings may not be distinguishable from the Good Shepherd since all are working with the sheep and their activities overlap. The work of the hireling overlaps with that of the Good Shepherd to a significant degree. The work of the thief also overlaps with the activities of both. What distinguishes the good from the false shepherd is not the outward activities (although there will be some differences, here) but the inward interests, concerns, motivations, and values.
What greater reproach could be hurled at Christ than to charge him with insanity? Jesus was claiming to be THE Good Shepherd, whereas the Jews had many rabbis. Who did Jesus think he was, anyway?
1. Jesus knows all his sheep by name. I am not a stranger to him. I do not need to introduce myself to him. I know where this is going. The Exercises are going to bring me face to face with Jesus and I will have to come to terms with who he is and what that means in my life. In the meantime, he is dealing with me gently, which is so characteristic of him. Given that there are billions of people on the face of the earth, it is easy to get the idea that I am simply part of a large crowd, anonymous and unimportant. I cannot express the depth of what it means that Jesus Christ, creator of all those billions, knows my name. If he knows my name, then his knowledge of me is not casual. Even so, I realize on this night that I have never believed that Jesus is interested in me, as distinguished from a billion other people, and I do not understand how it could be otherwise. I hear God speak to this need. I sense that it is crucial.
2. Thieves and hirelings may not be distinguishable from the Good Shepherd since all are working with the sheep and their activities overlap. Tonight, I do not really know what this means in practical terms, but am confident that, in time, I will. I let it go for now.
3. The hireling only works on the farm and does not care nearly as much for the sheep as the owner. This passage (v13), in my experience, is usually applied to pastors, who are implored to “lay down their lives for the flock.” I reject this view, partly because there is no reason to conclude that Jesus had pastors in mind, but mainly because it would be a red herring for me tonight. I recognize the ploy of the enemy who would want me to see Scripture as applied to someone else rather than me. Even more subtle is the suggestion from the enemy that this passage applies to me, but in that future time when (in my imagination) I am in a position of providing pastoral care for His sheep. (The cleverly devious nature of this suggestion would require a post all its own to explain.) I reject it immediately. What I hear from God is that Jesus cares about me more than anyone else every could. I will struggle with this for many months. Right now, I get it, but I don’t. I get it in my mind, but not in any practical way. It is only day 2 and God has identified another major issue.
I want to come back tomorrow.
The journal entry above was made on July 25, 2011. There is clearly much more to the passage in the gospel of John than what I recorded at the time. It is important to reiterate that the notes reflect what happened during a time of prayer. I did not record the results of a Bible study or a word study. I did not consult commentaries to get at the underlying and expanded meanings. None of this was necessary because “the Spirit will guide you into all truth.” It was a time of prayer, a meeting with the Holy Spirit in which “deep calls to deep.” It was a time during which God was speaking to me. He was speaking to me personally. (He knows my name.) He spoke to me what I needed to hear on that day, about issues that run deep in my life. He did not speak words to me that I would need some day in the future. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. He leads. I follow. I do not know necessarily where I am going. He knows where I am going. I follow. He will get me to where I need to be in due time. God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure, and in His own good time. Even on day 2 of a 9-12 month process, I trusted that He would do exactly this.