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The Chief Shepherd And His Undershepherds—Part 1
This is the second main section of our seminar on Apostles and Shepherds, and this second main section I have entitled “The Chief Shepherd And His Undershepherds” and the main theme of this section will be shepherds.
I want to begin with a very important introduction. Please don’t have the attitude the introduction doesn’t matter. Let’s get to what’s really important because in some ways the introduction is probably more important than what follows. I want to make a distinction in the things which the Bible presents to us between absolutes and variables. And I’ve offered a definition of each. I think that this is not a new idea. I think for instance, in the writings of John Wesley he spoke about things indifferent, that is what I call variables, and he distinguished them from the things that were absolutes. And I think other preachers of that period observed the same distinctions. So I’m not suggesting that I’m an innovator in this.
Let’s look at the definitions of the two. Absolutes are things which Scripture says absolutely we must or must not do. It leaves us no options. Variables are things about which Scriptures does not give specific commands, but which are left to our decision. However, if variables would violate absolutes, they are not permissible. In case you don’t understand that I’ll give you an example. In Romans chapter 14 Paul is saying that the type of food people eat is essentially a variable. Some people eat only vegetables. Some people believe they can eat everything. He says, “Don’t get hung up on these questions. He said you are free as your conscience releases you to eat whatever you feel you’ve a right to eat. But,” he says, “if by eating something you’re free to eat you cause problems for a weaker brother then you’re not free to eat it.”
You see the absolute is love. The variable is what you do or do not eat. And you are not free to indulge in a variable if it goes against an absolute. So he says here in Romans 14, verses 14 and 15,
I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died.
So what you eat is a variable, but love is an absolute. You’re free to eat within the limits of your conscience anything that you feel is legitimate, but you’re not free to do it if by doing that you offend against love for a brother. So there we have a clear example of a variable and an absolute. But remember if a variable would conflict with an absolute then you have to say no to it.
Now let’s go on with the next section. Most of the absolutes in Scripture are in the realm of the heart and conduct, and I’ve given a list. I think anybody who is familiar with the New Testament would agree that these are probably most of the major absolutes of the New Testament. The list is faith, love, holiness, humility, meekness, purity, prayerfulness, respect for marriage and family, and so on. Now when I made the list first before I went through in my outline, I started with love and I left out faith. I said to myself, “Love is more important than faith.” The Bible says that. “The greatest of these three is love.” But I felt the Holy Spirit gently pointed out to me that faith is the key to all the rest. That’s why I put it first. See, Paul says, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision availeth anything, but faith which worketh by love.”
Lots of people say, “Well, love is what really matters.” That’s perfectly true, but without faith you cannot attain to that love. Faith is the key to love, to holiness, to humility, to meekness, to purity, and so on. Now I trust that you would basically agree with me that those are the thing which are primarily and most consistently emphasized in the New Testament. If we bypass these absolutes and focus on variables we miss the purposes of God. No matter how excellent our variables may be, if we are not primarily aiming at faith, love, holiness, purity, meekness, we’re really wasting our time and other peoples with us.
Now if we make absolutes out of variables we infringe on God’s sovereignty and we impose unscriptural limitation on God’s servants. That’s a loaded sentence. I hope you see it. We are not free to make absolutes out of what God says are variables. And if we do we’re offending in two directions: first against the Lord and secondly against the Lord’s servants, because God is extremely jealous of His sovereignty. He never lets anybody abrogate His sovereignty. That’s why you’ll find time and time again when a religious makes up their mind that God is going to do a thing a certain way and it’s not an absolute, He’s very careful to do it another way simply because He wants us to understand we cannot infringe on His sovereignty.
Secondly if we make absolutes out of variables we impose unscriptural limitations on God’s servants, because some of God’s servants are called to do things in a different way. If we rule that out we’re either going to separate ourselves from them or we’re going to bring them into bondage. Either way we’re hindering the work of God.
My next comment I think you’ll agree is basically true. Historically the Church has tended to divide over the variables and ignore the absolutes. I think if you look at church history you’ll find most of the divisions in the church were not over love, or holiness, or purity. They were over variables, and time after time some section of the church has made an absolute out of a variable and said, “This is the way you’ve got to do it. If you don’t do it this way you’re not right.” And basically I think that’s the chief source of division in the Christian Church. Most groups tend to have their set of rules. Well, it’s all right to have a set of rules. Basically no group can function without a set of rules. Like a football team or a fire brigade—you’ve got to have some rules otherwise you can’t function. But when you make those rules absolutes for other people, that’s where you’re creating problems. And I would say, with my experience of the Christian Church, I’ve been from group to group to group all of which had made absolutes out of variables. And they all have their little lists of absolutes which are really variables and they cannot fellowship with people that have a different list.
The one basic word for that is carnality. Carnality is what divides the Body of Christ. If you analyze the New Testament I believe you’ll see every sort of division is ultimately traced to carnality. And legalism is a form of carnality. We tend to think of carnality as sexual immorality and drunkeness and so on. That’s a very incomplete view of carnality. I think the two primary forms of carnality are fear and unbelief. And those are the two that head the procession into the Lake of Fire—the fearful, the unbelieving, then the abominable, the sorcerers, the immoral and the liars, but the first two in the procession are the fearful and the unbelieving. Fear and unbelief are the expressions of carnality.
Now I’ve got one more generality which is how do we make correct decisions about variables? There are plenty of variables we have to decide about. God hasn’t laid down an absolute pattern for every aspect of life. He’s left us the responsibility to make a large number of decisions. How do we decide about the variables? I suggest there are two basic principles. The first is we need the leading of the Holy Spirit. We shouldn’t make those decisions without first seeking the Holy Spirit. Secondly our decisions are to be judged by their fruits. That’s very simple but it’s usually overlooked. Have we done the right thing? Let’s look at the results. But you see people who are enslaved by concepts don’t look at results. This is the concept, we’ve done it, the thing may blow up in our face or fall apart, but we’ve done the right thing. See, once your mind is enslaved with a concept, you just can’t see reality.
So how do we decide about variables? First seek the mind of the Lord and if it’s the Holy Spirit it will work. The Holy Spirit has never initiated anything that doesn’t work. If it isn’t working we were probably wrong about what we thought was the leading of the Lord.
All right now we’re coming to our main theme—Shepherd, Shepherding. Just a brief statement about the use of the word shepherd and shepherding. In both Hebrew and Greek shepherd is both a noun and a verb. When the King James translation was made they didn’t have a verb for to shepherd. So they used the verb to feedor something else and that has concealed for many people the actual meaning of the word used. You’ll find the modern translations have made shepherdinga verb, which it is in the original languages.
Now if you take the verb and the noun together they occur in the Old Testament about one hundred sixty times and in the New Testament about thirty times, that’s nearly two hundred times. It is a major concept of Scripture. In addition to the natural use with sheep these concepts are applied to God who’s called a Shepherd, to Jesus who is theGood Shepherd, and to human leaders both secular and spiritual. The Kings of Israel were more than once referred to as shepherds.
The basic meanings of the word are to rule, to lead, and to feed.And one principle is maintained really throughout Scripture which is that sheep without a shepherd are scattered. We’ll just look at those Scriptures quickly. First Kings 22:17. This is a vision that Micaiah the son of Imlah had when Ahab wanted to go out battle against Jabesh Gilead, and he wanted to persuade Jehoshaphat, the King of Judah, to go with him. And rather reluctantly he consulted Micaiah and said should we go or not. But he told King Jehoshaphat, “I know he’s not going to say anything good about me. He never does.” Actually there wasn’t much good to say about Ahab. That’s the truth of the matter. So First Kings 22:17, so they said, “Shall we go?” And this is his answer.
Then he said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. And the LORD said, “These have no master. Let each return to his house in peace.”
The master, who was the shepherd, was the king and he was killed in the battle. So after that the forces of Israel withdrew. But you see there the king is referred there as a shepherd and the principle is brought out sheep without a shepherd are always scattered.We can look in Ezekiel 34 verses 5 and 6. This chapter is a very strong rebuke of the shepherds of Israel from the Lord. We’ll turn back to this chapter later for another passage.
“So they [that’s God’s people Israel] were scattered because there was no shepherd; and they became food for all the beasts of the field when they were scattered.
“My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and on every high hill; yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them.”
Why were they scattered? Because there were no shepherds. It doesn’t mean there were no priests. There were plenty of priests. It doesn’t mean there were no religious figures, but there weren’t any shepherds. Matthew 9:36. This is how Jesus saw the multitudes in His day.
But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.
Always sheep having no shepherd are scattered. And then in Matthew 26:31. Jesus applies to Himself a prophecy from Zechariah as He’s about to go to His judgment and crucifixion.
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night, for it is written:
“‘I will strike the Shepherd,
And the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’”
You notice everywhere there is no shepherd the word scattered is applied to the sheep. It’s a theme that runs through the whole of Scripture.
All right. Now I want to speak specifically about shepherds in the New Testament. And I want to say which I think is absolutely obvious—I hope all of what I’m going to say is so obvious that you’ll wonder why it was necessary to say it. But on the other hand I do believe it is necessary to say it. Shepherds, in the New Testament, are presented on two levels. First the divine and second the human.
Now I believe on the basis of my experience that it is absolutely essential to begin with the divine. If in our thinking we bypass the divine and begin on the human level there is no way to work back to the divine. But if we begin on the divine level we can easily work down to the human. I believe an error that has been prevalent is focusing on the human and almost ignoring the divine. If you have to ignore anything, ignore the human.
Let’s look at the picture of the divine shepherd. We all know who He is, and I make statement here that I invite you to check but it’s a very important one. In the New Testament, except in similes or parables, the word “shepherd” is used in the singular only of Jesus. I think that is a fact with very far reaching implications. And I’ll point out to you in a little while that human shepherds are always referred to in the plural without a single exception. I think the Scripture by that emphasis separates out Jesus and makes Him absolutely unique.
Now we come to a very simple basic fact which all those simple minded people in less spiritual churches have grasped long ago, but we’ve become so spiritual we’ve lost sight of it. And that is that every committed Christian has a Divine Shepherd. Okay? He does not need to go round looking for a shepherd. In fact, it’s a very unnatural picture to see a sheep looking for a shepherd. It never happens.
Now this Divine Shepherd offers us total security. And I only need to turn perhaps to the most familiar Psalm in the Book of Psalms—Psalm 23 and the first verse.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
I prefer to say lackbecause in modern English want has a somewhat different association. The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not lack.In Hebrew as I’ve pointed out many times there are only four words to that statement. Adoni—the Lord, R___ - my shepherd, lo—not, ech__________ - shall I lack.I don’t how four words could ever say more than those four words. They really say everything you need to know. On the basis of his personal relationship to the Lord as his shepherd, David said, “All my needs will be met. There will never be a need in my that will arise to which I have no answer.” Simply on the basis of one unique relationship—The LORD is my shepherd.
Notice it’s present. It’s not past. It’s not future. It’s here and it’s now and notice it’s personal. He’s myshepherd.Psalm 80 calls the Lord thou shepherd of Israel.David could have said He’s our shepherd, but he didn’t. He said, “He’s myshepherd.” There’s all the difference in the world between being able to say myand our.
This was brought home to me when I was first in contact with these strange people that I met that eventually were the source of my salvation. This little lady who was definitely not highly educated, was praying in front of me and she was addressing the Lord Jesus. And she said, “MyLord and mySavior,” and I knew instantly she’d something I couldn’t say. I’d been brought up as an Anglican, I knew the prayer book. I could say ourLord and ourSavior, but I couldn’t say myLord and mySavior. And this is the, this is one of the essential aspects of this it’s got to be my. Ourdoes not cover it. The Lord is myshepherd, Ishall not lack.
There is total security on one condition. Do you know what the condition is? Your commitment. Your security is proportional to your commitment. If you are totally committed you have total security. If there’s any area of your life which is not committed, in that area you do not have total security. If you haven’t committed your children to the Lord you can be very anxious about that. If you haven’t committed your finance to the Lord, you can be worrying about that. If you haven’t committed your health to the Lord you can be worrying about that. But that which is truly committed is no source of worry to you. This is beautifully exemplified in the statement of Paul when he wrote his last letter to Timothy from the jail expecting execution pretty shortly. Second Timothy chapter 1 verse 12.
For this reason I also suffer these things; [what reason? Because he was preaching the gospel.] nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed
Let me pause there and point two things. First of all he didn’t say “I know whatI have believed.” That would have been very different. He wasn’t relying on a doctrine. He was relying on a person. Secondly he didn’t say, “what I believe…” He said “what I have believed or whom I have believed.” It was settled. There was no issue about his believing. That had been settled long ago. How was it settled? He goes on to say,
For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded [or convinced] that he is able to keep what I have committed to Him against that Day.
What was the source of his security? Commitment. He had committed everything. He was worrying about nothing. If you’re worried, if I’m worried, it’s a sure indication of incomplete commitment. The Lord will take care of everything that’s committed to Him. He’s like the bank. You can deposit anything, but if you don’t deposit in the bank the bank is not responsibility.
Now I want to suggest to you that the only source of personal security is this relationship. And I find countless insecure Christians and many of them are leaders. And I would say the greatest hindrance to effective leadership is insecurity. And then such people tend to turn to human relationships for security. And if you relate with human persons in order to get security, you have a false relationship. Sooner or later it will crack. You know what I’ve discovered? I’ve had people who came to me and related to me because they needed me. You know what I discovered? When they no longer needed me the relationship terminated. Need is not a basis for a relationship.
Think about Paul. I once heard a sermon I’ve never forgotten. If I could reproduce it I would. It was preached in 1958 in Kenya by a Swedish American who’s now with the Lord. His text was Demas Hath Forsaken Me.And he proceeded to give all the reasons why it was very logical for Demas to forsake Paul. One of them was he’s left Trophimus sick in Miletus. He couldn’t even pray his own fellow-worker back to health, you know. And he showed in the eyes of most people, not just the world but the Christians, Paul was a failure. Some of his closest friends had forsaken him. He said, “all those who are in Asia have turned against me,” the place where he had the greatest ministry of his life.
Let me ask you this, if Paul had been relying on human relationships for security at that point in his life, do you think he would have been secure? I wouldn’t. I hope what I’m saying is realistic. I think it. I get nervous when I feel people reaching out to me for security in a relationship with me. All right? And rather a lot of people tend to do it. You know why? Because basically I am a secure person. That doesn’t mean I don’t have my moments of insecurity, but basically I’m a secure person—partly my character and partly my commitment. I’ve always said, “If people don’t like me, that’s not my problem. It’s theirs.” I don’t hold it against them. Now that isn’t all good. There’s a little of the old man in that.
All right let’s look at the Scriptures now about the reality that every Christian, every committed Christian has a Divine Shepherd. Let’s turn to the familiar passage in John 10. These really are such familiar verses that it’s not necessary to dwell on them. John 10 verse 11, Jesus is speaking.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
Grammatically the use of the word thethere indicates he’s unique. You could translate that word good, you could translate it noble. “I am the noble shepherd…” Verse 14,
“I am the good shepherd: and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.”
[And then verses 27 and 28] “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.
“And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. [And I like to read the next verse too.]
“My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.”
There’s an alternative reading which became very real to me at a certain time in my life. It isn’t given in this text. You’ll find it in the NIV and I think it’s probably the better reading.
That which My Father has given me is greater than all.
That’s the final decisive factor in the universe is what the Father has given. There was a time when I felt that I was entitled to something I wasn’t getting. And I had to decide whether I’d fight for it or trust the Lord for it. And rather reluctantly and with much agony, I decided to trust the Lord for it. And that was the Scripture. “That which my Father has given me is greater than all.” There’s no one ultimately that can keep from you what the Father has given. Relax. John the Baptist said a man can receive nothing unless it’s given him from heaven. I used to argue about that. I said, “I see lots of people getting things that obviously weren’t given them from heaven.” And the Lord seemed to say to me “You didn’t notice the word receive.” People can grab, but they can only receive what’s given from heaven.” And what you grab you lose. What you receive you’ll keep.
Now, and this is very important. Speaking about Jesus, the Good Shepherd. His ministry is unique and cannot be duplicated by any human shepherd. Okay? So don’t waste time trying. Let me point out to you three unique factors and they’re only a small proportion. First of all we don’t really need to turn there because you’re so familiar with it.
He restoreth my soul.
I doubt whether there’s any human shepherd here this morning that would be so presumptuous to say I can do the job as well as Jesus. When I need my soul restored I’m grateful for human comfort, encouragement and ministry. But the one I trust to do it is Jesus. John 10:27—we’re right there.
My sheep hear My voice, and I know them…
I suggest to you that there’s a way in which Jesus knows His sheep that no one else even remotely approaches. You can live with your wife for twenty years and there’s a lot of things you still don’t know about her. The closest companion of your life has areas in her or in him which you’ve never even guessed about. But Jesus knows all about them. I want to read Psalm 139 because that’s a picture of the Lord’s knowledge by contrast with the knowledge that we might have of one another. Just the first six verses.
O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off. [What human shepherd could say that?]
You comprehend [or winnow] my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. [One translation says “You know it before I speak it.”]
You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
That’s the knowledge that the Lord has. No human knowledge remotely approaches that. I’m sure those of you in that kind of ministry have been shocked many times to discover something about a person you’d known well and suddenly some totally new aspect of his character or her character emerges. You thought how could I have known that person so long and never known that? Because you’re human, that’s why.
John 10:28, Jesus says “I give them eternal life…” I don’t think He has any rivals in that respect. He is the only one who gives eternal life. I think that’s so obvious we don’t need to dwell on it. But you see sometimes happens with God’s people, we get so involved with the variables that we forget the absolutes.
Now let’s look at the duties of human shepherds which are interesting and very, very important. I’m going to read from the NIV because it so happens that was the translation I took this section from. I think it’s somewhat vivid. In Ezekiel 34 verses 3 and 4. Again this is the reproof the human shepherds.
You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do to take care of the flock [That’s the comprehensive word—take care of the flock. Then it’s broken down in the next verse into a number of specific duties.]
You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.
What are the specific duties—to strengthen the weak, to heal the sick, to bind up the injured, to bring back the strays and to search for the lost. The lost do not search for the shepherd. The shepherd searches for the lost. Those are tremendously important tasks. I don’t want to belittle them in any way. But they’re not equal to the ministry of the Chief Shepherd.
Now we’re going on with further statements which are important. In the life of any believer it is the soul prerogative of Jesus either to exercise His ministry as shepherd directly, or to delegate some of this responsibility to human under-shepherds. If He chooses to do it directly He’s perfectly capable of doing it. And if He does delegate some of His responsibility I would say He never delegates it all, because there are things that human shepherds cannot do that only He can do.
Now it is not apparent that all the main characters in the New Testament had specific humanshepherds, and I’ve underlined the word human, because I want to emphasize that. Now I’m going to look at just two or three cases and I’m not going to read the Scriptures because it would mean reading a whole chapter. I trust you are all familiar with Acts chapter 10. Peter going to the home of Cornelius, then baptizing him and his household. I’ve written this in capitals but that doesn’t sufficiently bring out how totally radical that was. If you are not familiar with the Jewish people you can never comprehend how totally contrary to everything in their concepts, their understanding of God, their background, their culture. This was totally contrary to all accepted tradition and practice. Did Peter consult anybody about it? Nobody. He could have gone to Jerusalem and said, Cornelius—sent a message to Cornelius, “I’ve got to go and consult my whoever it was. When I’ve check with him I’ll come if he gives me permission.” The fact of the matter is he plain did not do it. And subsequently if you read Acts chapter 11, none of his fellow apostles told him he should have done it. So there is a pattern of apostolic practice. You can meditate on it for yourself. But it seems to me that it’s somewhat inconsistent to quote the words of Peter and ignore what he did.
Secondly, Paul, after his conversion did not go to the first apostles in Jerusalem, but he went to Arabia where he received direct revelation from Christ. And he’s very emphatic about this. We’ll turn to Galatians for a moment, chapter 1 verse 11 and following. Galatians 1:11,
But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. [I’ve often said that no man would ever have dreamt up the gospel. Absolutely.]
For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, [notice that—nor was I taught it] but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.
And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace,
to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood,
nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
I think he was particularly emphatic that he did not go to the already recognized apostles for instruction or discipling. Then he says,
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days.
But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.
It seems to me absolutely clear that Paul had a shepherd. His shepherd was Jesus. And I think you’d have to write another chapter to the book of Acts to provide him with a human shepherd. In fact he would have had to have been a miracle man, a kind of paratrooper to keep up with Paul. Listen friends. Suppose Paul had been instructed that he had to have a human shepherd with whom he checked on everything he did. He would never have accomplished what he did. So it’s not an unimportant issue.
Then I suggest you can look at the ministry of Philip too. We won’t bother to turn to Acts chapter 8, but I think you’ll observe that Philip was prompted and directed directly by the Lord or by an angel. And even though he was with the apostles Peter and John, it wasn’t they who directed him on the Road to Gaza.
All right. Now we’re going on with the application of this. If we insist that all believers must have personal human shepherds we are making an absolute out of a variable. And I say it’s a rather uncertain variable. The best I can say of it is I could accept it as a variable. I’d have to take a little while to digest it, but I could do it.
If a human shepherd seeks to fill the place of the Lord in a believer’s life, it will lead to double frustration.—both for shepherd and for sheep. I think it’s more frustrating for a conscientious shepherd than it is for the sheep. Because when you’ve taken on to do the job of Jesus, you’ve taken on quite a job. And no matter how conscientious and earnest you are you’re not going to achieve the standard. And it’s certainly intensely frustrating for the sheep to try and get out of a human being what only Jesus can supply.
All right. Now I’m going to share my personal testimony which I’ve really written out briefly. All I need to do is go through with it. I spent my first five years as a Christian in the British Army on active service. You see I didn’t know any better than to get saved in the army. And the people who preached to me didn’t know any better than to get me saved. Had they paused to consider whether I would have a shepherd they would never have done it, because there was no way I could have a shepherd in the British Army. I had a Padre, but he didn’t know the Lord any more than he knew …
Well in those five years from 1941 to 1946 I made the following major personal decisions and I’ve listed them. I gave away my money such as I had, some inheritance, some that was bequeathed to me by my Grandfather. I gave up my University career against the pleading of the University authorities. They said come back and we’ll give you whatever you want. I renounced my rights to return to my own country. The Army was obligated to take me back to Britain at their expense and I refused it and I didn’t have the money to go back at my own expense.
I set the claims of God’s call before those of my family. We have to be careful how we look at this, but I had a maternal grandfather who was one of the closest people to me in my family who loved me and I loved him. He’d come under, he’d been inflicted with cancer about three and a half years before I came out of the Army and they said he had six months to live and I prayed for him. And I wrote to him and I said you’re not going to die. I’ve prayed for you and he lived another three and a half years. But just the time I came out of the Army he really was at death’s door, and there was no one in the world he would have rather seen than me. And I was fully ready to go and the Lord showed me very clearly, “I’ve called you. You can step into your calling now, or miss it forever. But there will never be another opportunity.” That was one of the clearest, plainest dealings of God in my life. You remember what Jesus said? “Let the dead bury their dead. Come and follow Me.”
I entered into a very unconventional marriage. Those of you who knew my first wife got so used to her and me being married that you probably didn’t realize how unconventional it was. But it was an extremely unconventional marriage. The difference in our age was remarkable. She was from a different culture, a different background. And what’s more when I got her I got eight girls at the same time. Now not everybody takes that on.
And finally I stepped out in faith into full-time ministry without any commitment of support from anybody. So there are seven major decisions I made. Looking back—they said hindsight is better than foresight. I would say every one of them was a right decision. And I made them because I had a shepherd and His name was Jesus and is Jesus. Now I certainly am not boasting about that. And I certainly made my full share of mistakes. But had I been dependent on a human shepherd I would have been a paralyzed person, and I would certainly have missed the whole purpose of God for my life.
Now you can say, “Brother Prince is an exception.” Okay. Maybe I am, I don’t know. But at least I’m me and I’ve got a right to be me. I mean I ought to be a better version of me than I am, but God made me the way I am and He took a long time doing it too.
Now what I want to warn you against is very carefully is any kind of pride or arrogance. Don’t take the attitude, “Okay, I don’t need help from anybody. I can make my own way.” If you have that attitude you’ll fall because pride goes before destruction. Okay. I’m saying the thing that really matters is to be led by the Lord and led by the Holy Spirit. Whatever way it may be, but the Lord only leads a certain kind of people. He rules out the proud and the arrogant. He does not lead them. Look in Psalm 25 for a moment, verses 8–12.
Good and upright is the LORD;
Therefore He teaches sinners in the way. [Nobody but the Lord would bother to do it.]
The humble He guides in justice,
The humble He teaches His way. [You see that?}
All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth,
To such as keep His covenant and His testimonies.
For Your name’s sake, O LORD,
Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.
Who is the man that fears the LORD?
Him shall He teach in the way He chooses.
Notice there are three requirements. He guides the humble, those who keep His covenant, and those who fear the Lord. So if you want to be led by the Lord the most important thing for you to cultivate is humility. There is absolutely no grounds for arrogance in a person who says, “Well, I’m going to trust the Lord.” However, the fact that a person is looking to the Lord directly for His guidance in a certain situation is not the only possible ground that a person might proud.
You see, I learned in Africa pride doesn’t have to have a good reason. Pride is spiritual. For instance I think of two men. One probably was born in a mud hut, but he got himself educated. It was a tremendous struggle. He went right through University and got his degree. What was he proud of? His degree.
I picture another man such as I’ve seen many times. He wore nothing but a leopard skin. And he’d never darkened the doors of any educational institution. What was he proud of? His leopard skin. That’s right. And if you’d had a good leopard skin you could have wished to have one like that. Believe me it was something to be proud of in a sense.
So you see one was proud of his education, the other was proud of his leopard skin. Pride doesn’t have to have a reason. A person can be proud and say, “Well, I got my leading from the Lord. I didn’t have to consult anybody. But another person could be no less proud by saying, “Well, I consult my shepherd about everything. I’m in the right system. You others, you’d better look out.” What’s the problem in both cases? It’s the same, it’s pride. Believe me friends, there’s no system that will eradicate pride. If there was any system that would deal with the old carnal nature, I’d be all for it. But there is no system that will do that.
I read the testimony of Jesuit priest who joined the Jesuit movement because he had a problem with pride and he was a very systematic disciplined man. He said, “The first month I’ll deal with pride, and then I’ll deal with the others.” Thirty years later he was still struggling with pride. There is no system that will deal with the faults of the carnal nature, okay. There’s only one thing that will do it. You know what that is? The cross.