The Cure for a Joyless Soul
Dr. Jim Denison
After my recent travails with my new electric trimmer and the two power cords I cut, one of our members sent me this story. It seems a pastor was out riding his bicycle when he saw a young boy with a lawn mower for sale. “How much do you want for the mower?” he asked. “I just want enough money to buy a bicycle,” the little boy answered. After considering for a moment, the pastor asked, “Will you take my bike in trade for it?”
After examining the bike, the boy made the trade. The preacher took the mower and pulled on the rope a few times with no response. He called the boy over and said, “I can’t get this mower to start.” The boy said, “That’s because you have to cuss at it to get it started.” The pastor replied, “I’m a minister, and I can’t cuss. It’s been so long since I’ve been saved that I don’t even remember how to cuss.”
The little boy looked at him happily and said, “You just keep pulling on that rope. It’ll come back to you.” We’ve all owned a mower like that one, I fear.
When Johann Sebastian Bach returned from a concert tour to discover that his wife and two of their children had died, he wrote in his diary, “Dear Lord, may my joy not leave me.”
Filmmaker Ingmar Bergman described a period in his life when his health was bad and his spirits low. He confessed to a friend, “I’m about to lose my joy. I can feel it physically. I’m running out. I’m just drying up, inside.” Bergman said he wanted to rediscover what Bach had called his joy.
Maybe you need to discover or rediscover your joy today, the “abundant life” Jesus said his followers would experience. A deep sense of well-being and purpose which transcends your circumstances. The feeling that all is well with your soul, no matter how things are with your life. A trusted friend told me this week, “Everybody’s hurting, or about to.” Despite it all, how can we find “life to the full” today?
Admit you need a shepherd
According to our text, we are sheep. Forty-four times, the Bible describes us that way. In fact, did you know that “sheep” is the most common metaphor for human beings in all of Scripture?
This is not a compliment. Sheep are beautiful animals to view from a distance, but among the dumbest animals on earth.
Have you ever seen a sheep in a circus? Can they be trained for anything?
Sheep are totally defenseless against every predator. Ever seen a sign on someone’s fence, “Warning: vicious sheep inside”? Sheep must be guarded and led every day. The shepherd must live with them and watch them constantly or they’ll wander into trouble. God is not trying to increase our self-esteem when he calls us sheep.
Well, surely this isn’t true of us all. Surely some of us are smarter and more self-sufficient than sheep. But listen to Isaiah 53:6: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” God thinks we’re all sheep, every one of us.
None of us wants to admit that fact. But we can never have a shepherd until we admit that we need one, that we are sheep.
We cannot find the abundant life until we admit that we don’t have it. We cannot experience the joy of Jesus until we admit that we need the joy of Jesus.
Self-sufficiency is the enemy of joy. Self-reliance is the enemy of “life to the full.” Imagine a sheep taking on a wolf by himself, or wandering through the wilderness by himself. You’re picturing most of the people you know. And maybe yourself as well. We think we’re shepherds, but we’re not—we’re sheep.
To find the joy of Jesus, begin by admitting that you need the joy of Jesus. Admit that you’re a sheep, in need of a shepherd.
Find the “gate for the sheep”
Now we come to Jesus’ fourth “I am,” the fourth time he uses God’s personal and holy name for himself: “I am the good shepherd” (v. 11). “Good” is emphatic in the Greek. The word meant to be lovely, attractive, not just moral but beautiful and desirable. How could he make this claim for himself?
Because “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep” (v. 7). “I am” is emphatic. “The” gate uses the definite article—he’s the only one.
Sheep in the countryside stayed at night in sheep-folds, walls enclosing a space. There was no door of any kind. When the sheep were in for the night, the shepherd would lay down across the opening. No predators or thieves could get in, and no sheep could get out, without crossing over his body. He was literally their only door.
Scripture consistently makes this claim for the Lord Jesus. He said of himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Paul said, “Through him we have access to the Father” (Ephesians 2:18). The writer of Hebrews said, “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body” (Hebrews 10:19-20).
Now Jesus is the gate for the sheep, the doorway to the Father. Think of him as the heavenly doorman, opening the way for us to come into the Father’s mansion.
How did he provide this door? He came to die for his sheep: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (v. 11).
That’s how much he loves us. Jesus is the shepherd who would leave the 99 to find the one lost sheep (Matthew 18:13). He’s come to find you, today.