No Fear, Nor Dismay - One Aspect of a Shepherd's Task
When reading Scripture as part of times for prayer, thoughts jump out at me, sometimes energetically, and other times subtly. That slow, simmering thing happened this morning, and I share it with you. I was reading Jeremiah 23 and the whole chapter gave me pause, but especially v.3-4:
"Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD" (Jeremiah 23:3-4).
In the Hebrew Scriptures, the concept of shepherds is normally a title given to civil leaders - judges, magistrates and priests. It might include prophets as well. The idea is that the leaders of God's people often guide their charges in ways that are similar to shepherds herding and caring for their sheep. Therefore, it's fitting for us to think of elders and pastors of congregations as shepherds.
In this passage, the shepherds have been fleecing the people, dividing them, and neglecting them (23:1-2). Some of the shepherds (prophets and priests specifically) have lived in self-centered ways: adulterous, godless, and deceptive. They have promoted and protected those who are evil, and used God's word in despicable ways, while presenting their own plans as divine (23:9-40).
But in 23:3-4, God promises to provide shepherds who will genuinely care for them, restoring them to God's sheepfold. And in that health-giving environment God's people will (1) become fruitful and multiply; (2) be without fear or dismay; (3) and be accounted for.
What stuck out to me is that the shepherds will be a reason why God's sheep are unafraid and undismayed (23:4). Let that soak in a moment. God's shepherds, in some way, are the reason God's sheep will "have no fear, nor be dismayed." Why is that?
Animals sense when the humans around them are fearful, angry, agitated, etc. I remember learning to ride horses as a kid, and the cowboy hammering into us, "These horses can smell fear. You kids, be calm, talk calmly to them, even when they get a bit spunky. Don't be afraid, they'll smell it and feel it, and do strange things!" The rider can spook her horse with fear, and shepherds can spook their flock in the same way. But these shepherds will be a means of fostering security and sound-mindedness that helps their charges to "have no fear, nor be dismayed."
And that's one of the traits emphasized by Paul to two pastors-leaders-shepherds: Timothy and Titus. For example, in 2 Timothy, Paul encourages with "For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control" (2 Timothy 1:6-7). The leaders of God's people are the conduit of calmness when social storms are raging. They keep their heads about them and foster this mindset among God's cherished flock. When God's leaders become agitated or agitators, God's people become unsettled, uneasy, restive and restless. When we're afraid, they can "smell it" and "feel it" and it spreads.
One aspect of our callings as elders and pastors of God's people, is that we are not to be alarmists, running around with our hair on fire. We lead the way to thoughtfully and soberly examine and respond to situations and events. In fact, Paul's direction to Titus touches on this: "Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us" (2:7-8). When Paul directs "sound speech" that Greek word for "sound" is where we get hygienic. We are directed to speak in ways that promote health: healthy words, health fostering words, even health giving words.
Recently I was meeting with fellow ministers from other denominations, Baptist, independent Presbyterian, Methodist, etc. We meet monthly to pray for each other and encourage one another. On this particular day, one of the ministers came in all flummoxed over the election, panicky in the worst sort of way (seriously, the worst sort of "doom-and-gloom-end-of-the-world" sort of way). As we prepared to pray, I pointed out Paul's directive to Titus, even writing it on the whiteboard. We then spent time praying for one another that we would be known as models of good works for our people, teaching with integrity, and speakers who spread health and healthiness. As we finished, that minister looked up and started correcting himself, reciting the reality that God is unaffected by the elections, and God's kingdom will come, and will not be thwarted. He, and all of us, left that time with joy and a greater assurance of God's enthronement.
And so, as the shepherds God has promised for his flock, one important aspect of our calling is to be those who help our people "have no fear, nor be dismayed." We lead the way. Below is the prayer I prayed this morning for myself, for the pastors and elders I know, and for those in my Presbytery:
For all of us whom you have made shepherds over your fold, please may it be that under our care and tending, your flock - especially that flock you have entrusted to us - will (1) be fruitful and multiply, (2) not be afraid, nor dismayed, and (3) have none who are MIA (Missing in action). Oh, great shepherd, hear my prayer, and let my cry come unto you! Amen.