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Begin Again: A Journey of Restoration and Renewal Awaits You
by Max Lucado
Learn More | Meet Max Lucado
Trust Your Shepherd
—Psalm 23:3 NKJV
Imagine yourself in a jungle. A dense jungle. A dark jungle. Your friends convinced you it was time for a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and here you are. You paid the fare. You crossed the ocean. You hired the guide and joined the group. And you ventured where you had never ventured before—into the thick, strange world of the jungle.
Sound interesting? Let’s take it a step farther. Imagine that you are in the jungle, lost and alone. You paused to lace your boot, and when you looked up, no one was near. You took a chance and went to the right; now you’re wondering if the others went to the left. (Or did you go left and they go right?)
Whatever, you are alone. And you have been alone for, well, you don’t know how long it has been. Your watch was attached to your pack, and your pack is on the shoulder of the nice guy from New Jersey who volunteered to hold it while you tied your boots. You didn’t intend for him to walk off with it. But he did. And here you are, stuck in the middle of nowhere.
You have a problem. First, you were not made for this place. Drop you into the center of avenues and buildings, and you could sniff your way home. But here in sky-blocking foliage? Here in trail-hiding thickets? You are out of your element. You weren’t made for this jungle.
What’s worse, you aren’t equipped. You have no machete. No knife. No matches. No flares. No food. And now you are trapped—and you haven’t a clue how to get out.
Sound like fun to you? Me neither. Before moving on let’s pause and ask how you would feel. Given such circumstances, what emotions would surface? With what thoughts would you wrestle?
Fear? Of course you would.
Anxiety? To say the least.
Anger? I could understand that. (You’d like to get your hands on those folks who convinced you to take this trip.)
But most of all what about hopelessness? No idea where to turn. No hunch what to do. Who could blame you for sitting on a log (better check for snakes first), burying your face in your hands, and thinking, I’ll never get out of here? You have no direction, no equipment, no hope.Can you freeze-frame that emotion for a moment? Can you sense for just a second how it feels to be out of your element? Out of solutions? Out of ideas and energy? Can you imagine just for a moment how it feels to be out of hope?
If you can, you can relate to many people in this world.
For many people life is—well, life is a jungle. Not a jungle of trees and beasts. Would that it were so simple. Would that our jungles could be cut with a machete or our adversaries trapped in a cage. But our jungles are composed of the thicker thickets of contagious diseases, broken hearts, and empty wallets. Our forests are framed with hospital walls and divorce courts. We don’t hear the screeching of birds or the roaring of lions, but we do hear the complaints of politicians and the demands of bosses. Our predators are our creditors, and the brush that surrounds us is the uncertainty that terrifies us.
It’s a jungle out there.
And for some, even for many, hope is in short supply. Hopelessness is an odd bag. Unlike the others it isn’t full. It is empty, and its emptiness creates the burden. Unzip the top and examine all the pockets. Turn it upside down and shake it hard. The bag of hopelessness is painfully empty.
Not a very pretty picture, is it? Let’s see if we can brighten it up. We’ve imagined the emotions of being lost. Do you think we can do the same with being rescued? What would it take to restore your hope? What would you need to reenergize your journey?
Though the answers are abundant, three come quickly to mind.
The first would be a person. Not just any person. You don’t need someone equally confused. You need someone who knows the way out. Someone you can trust.
And from him you need some vision. You need someone to lift your spirits. You need someone to look you in the face and say, “This isn’t the end. Don’t give up. You can begin again. There is a better place than this. And I’ll lead you there.”
And perhaps most important you need direction. If you have only a person but no renewed vision, all you have is company. If he has a vision but no direction, you have a dreamer for company. But if you have a person with direction—who can take you from this place to the right place—ah, then you have one who can restore your hope.
Or, to use David’s words, “He restores my soul” (Ps. 23:3 NKJV).
Our Shepherd majors in restoring hope to the soul. Whether you are a lamb lost on a craggy ledge or a city slicker alone in a deep jungle, everything changes when your rescuer appears.
Your loneliness diminishes because you have fellowship.
Your despair decreases because you have vision.
Your confusion begins to lift because you have direction.
Please note: you haven’t left the jungle. The trees still eclipse the sky, and the thorns still cut the skin. Animals lurk and rodents scurry. The jungle is still a jungle. It hasn’t changed, but you have. You have changed because your hope has been restored. And you have hope because you have met someone who can lead you out.
Your Shepherd knows that you were not made for this place. He knows you are not equipped for this place. So he has come to guide you out.
He is the perfect one to do so.
He has the right vision. He reminds you that “you are like foreigners and strangers in this world” (1 Peter 2:11 NCV). And he urges you to lift your eyes from the jungle around you to see the heaven above you. “Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ. . . . See things from his perspective” (Col. 3:2 THE MESSAGE).
David said it this way: “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber. . . . The LORD watches over you . . . the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life” (Ps. 121:1–3, 5–7).
God, your rescuer, has the right vision. He also has the right direction. He made the boldest claim in the history of humanity when he declared, “I am the way” (John 14:6). People wondered if the claim was accurate. He answered their questions by cutting a path through the underbrush of sin and death . . . and escaping alive. He’s the only One who ever did. And he is the only One who can help you and me do the same.
He has the right vision: he has seen the homeland. He has the right directions: he has cut the path. But most of all he is the right person, because he is our God. Who knows the jungle better than the One who made it? And who knows the pitfalls of the path better than the One who has walked it?
The story is told of a man on an African safari deep in the jungle. The guide ahead of him had a machete and was whacking away the tall weeds and thick underbrush. The traveler, weary and hot, asked in frustration, “Where are we? Do you know where you are taking me? Where is the path?” The seasoned guide stopped and looked back at the man and replied, “I am the path.”
We ask the same questions, don’t we? We ask God, “Where are you taking me? Where is the path?” And he, like the guide, doesn’t tell us. Oh, he may give us a hint or two, but that’s all. If he did, would we understand? Would we comprehend our location? No, like the traveler, we are unacquainted with this jungle. So rather than give us an answer, Jesus gives us a far greater gift. He gives us himself.
Does he remove the jungle? No, the vegetation is still thick.
Does he purge the predators? No, danger still lurks.
Jesus doesn’t give hope by changing the jungle; he restores our hope by giving us himself. And he has promised to stay until the very end. “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
We need that reminder. We all need that reminder. For all of us need hope.
Perhaps you don’t need it right now. Your jungle has become a meadow and your journey a delight. If such is the case, congratulations. But remember, we do not know what tomorrow holds. We do not know where this road will lead. You may be one turn from a cemetery, from a virus, from an empty house. You may be a bend in the road from a jungle.
And though you don’t need your hope restored today, you may tomorrow. And you need to know to whom to turn.
Or perhaps you do need hope today. You know you were not made for this place. You know you are not equipped. You want someone to lead you out.
If so, put your trust in the Shepherd. He knows the path that leads to your new beginning. And he’s just waiting for you to join him.
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