As a third-grader, I stood in line to return the basketball I had checked out for recess. Suddenly, Roberta grabbed the ball and ran. I took off after her, and when I’d almost reached her, I took an angry swing at her back.
I missed and crashed into the asphalt face first, shattering my top two front permanent teeth. Within a few days, the dentist had covered my broken teeth with temporary silver caps, explaining that permanent white ones would come later after my jaw had finished growing.
I quickly learned not to smile to avoid the jeers of my peers. But even more damaging was my conclusion about God. He allowed this to happen. He doesn’t love me and can’t be trusted.
About that same time, our Sunday school class memorized Psalm 23. As I repeated, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” I wondered, Aren’t I supposed to want Him as my Shepherd? In later years, I realized that verse meant that God would not allow my needs to go unmet. But in my immature thinking at the time, it made sense not to want a Shepherd who allowed bad things to happen.
It’s been almost 45 years since I became a Christian at age 18, but there are still times when my old distrust of God diminishes my ability to experience the abundant life He promises in John 10:10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (NIV).
Some Christians claim this abundant life for themselves, thinking it means prosperity and problem-free living. But the context of John 10 lets us know that fullness is the outcome of following Jesus as verse 3 states: “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out (NIV).” When we trust that kind of a leader, we obey Him. Obedience spawns holiness and, as a result, we produce the fruit of the Spirit. Even in the midst of disaster, trials and troubles, the full life of being loving, kind, patient, joyful, gentle and all the other aspects of abiding can be ours.
Jesus identifies in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 what blessedness is: being poor in spirit, mourning, meekness, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, all things that don’t line up with a trouble-free life. The Apostle Paul added to the list with his example of being content regardless of circumstances (Philippians 4:11). Clearly, the full, abundant life is not dependent upon good circumstances but is a heart issue of responding to God in trust and love.
In contrast, the thief—Satan—aims to steal, kill and destroy. From the outset, Satan’s goal of destroying the perfection that Adam and Eve enjoyed was accomplished by an evil whisper that, “God is holding out on you. He doesn’t want your best. He isn’t really good.” When Adam and Eve believed those lies, their peace, joy, love and gentleness were destroyed. The full life they’d enjoyed was overtaken by blame-casting, selfishness and distrust of each other and God.
Whom to believe—the Good Shepherd or the lies of Satan—is the challenge you and I face each day. One of the most difficult periods of my life tested my confidence in God being good. My mother-in-law, Audrey, moved in with us because she suffered from a kind of dementia that could cause paranoia, delusions and hallucinations. I’d always longed for her approval, and now I was even more desperate to gain her acknowledgment of my sacrifice. When I fixed her bran cereal for breakfast, she accused me of filling the cereal with rocks and trying to kill her. In the beginning I didn’t choose the abundant life of trust in a Good Shepherd. I reacted in anger and apathy.
But during the 2 1/2 years Audrey lived with us, Satan’s hold diminished. I lived increasingly in the Spirit’s fullness by giving her loving care. The three ways that Jesus describes Himself in John 10 empowered me to trust God’s goodness.
In verse 11, Jesus says He surrenders His own life for the sheep. When Audrey could not give me the love I craved, I prayed, “Jesus, You love me with an everlasting love that is far beyond what Audrey could ever give me. I can be patient with her because I know she can’t provide what I need.”
In verse 12, Jesus says He doesn’t desert the flock when it is threatened by the wolf as a hired man would. When I felt alone in my home with a disoriented woman, I experienced abundance because Jesus had not left me without help. I prayed, “Lord, empower me to abide in peace. You designed this challenge for me so that I can sense Your presence even more strongly.”
In verse 14, Jesus says He knows and recognizes His own. When Audrey’s rejection could have made me feel insignificant, I committed the situation to the Lord, saying, “I choose fullness by being gentle and humble, with no demand to be acknowledged by her. It is enough that You acknowledge my service to You.”
We all face daily opportunities to choose fullness. And my teeth have continued to be one of those opportunities. After my jaw had matured, white caps replaced my silver caps, but eventually three teeth were pulled because they abscessed. Decades after that, surgery for two dental implants went awry and I was without my top three front teeth for several weeks. Scheduled to speak at a women’s retreat, I began praying for God’s guidance. His answer? “Speak without your teeth.”
And I did. I was amazed. As a little girl I wouldn’t smile, and I didn’t trust God as my Good Shepherd. Now I could walk in abundance of trust in God, knowing He wouldn’t lead me anywhere except down a path for my good.
Counselor and author Robert Kelleman wrote, “Faith is primal trust in the full reliability of God’s good heart in the middle of life’s messes.” That’s the source of living a full life. ©2011 Kathy Collard Miller
Kathy Collard Miller (kathycollardmiller.blogspot.com) is a frequent women’s conference speaker who lives in Southern California and is the author of 49 books.