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A Shepherd’s Mind

Our biblical ancestors were shepherds. The Torah (Old Testament) tells us that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Rachel, and King David all herded goats and sheep.

The greatest of our early Jewish patriarchs chose this profession, a livelihood scorned by surrounding cultures. Years after Joseph’s exile to Egypt and his rise as governor of the king of Egypt, Joseph presented them to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, when his brothers came to him in exile. The question that most interested the king was: “What is your occupation?” “We are shepherds,” they replied to Pharaoh, “like our fathers before us (Genesis 47:3).” Shepherding was not a respected occupation in Egypt, and Pharaoh relegated Joseph’s family to the far-off land of Goshen.

Why did so many of the original leaders of the Jewish people choose to become shepherds? The advantage of shepherding may be found in the shepherd's secluded lifestyle. While engaged with flocks, strolling through the hills and valleys, the shepherd is cut off from the noisy distractions of society, thus enabling ample time for inner reflection.  The shepherd is concerned with the actual physical needs of the flock. A shepherd does not live in an ivory tower, immersed in artificial philosophies detached from life; instead, the shepherd is constantly engaged with the real world, seeking water, shade, and good animal food. The thoughts and musings of the shepherd may be sublime and lofty, but they cannot take the shepherd away from the task at hand.

Unsurprisingly, Jesus describes Himself as the good shepherd in John 10:11-18. He is not unlike the other shepherds before Him - yet different.  Yeshua set out to care for the flock, ensuring safety from the enemy and willing to lay down His life for His sheep. Jesus knows His sheep well, and they know Him. The Father has given Jesus the authority to lay down His life for us and to take it up again. In the Gospels, Yeshua spent time alone with the Father to connect with excellent love.

Staying connected to and contributing to society is crucial for a Christ follower. However, is there any value in seclusion and solitude? Can the desire for solitude be considered a positive trait? Moreover, how do we balance our reclusive behavior with the need to connect with God? In simpler terms, should our goal be to connect with the world or to disconnect from it?

The laws of physics help us understand the world and affirm deep truths about life. We should not deceive ourselves by thinking that God did not create these laws – these are the order of creation. The first law of physics states that an object will maintain its motion unless a force acts on it. But what force can change the trajectory of our thoughts and our spiritual well-being? It is God.

To deepen our connection with God, we must develop a profound awareness of where our mind is focused—because that is where our soul dwells. If our mind is focused on unfulfilled hopes, our soul will dwell on what has been taken from us. If our minds focus on gratitude, our souls will be contented. In our humanity, we quickly become what we focus on.

This is how a problem consumes us instead of letting a solution renew us. A man focused on his failings will always live like a failure. Believing that our failures define us or that our injuries describe us is a lie that God can dismantle.  Practicing silence and isolation is the best way to achieve this connection with God. Such a practice can positively influence our own lives and those around us. However, the purpose of this withdrawal is not just for personal spiritual fulfillment but to ultimately have a righteous testimony of who we are in Jesus.

The aim is not to pursue a personal spiritual journey disconnected from the world. Instead, the objective is quite the opposite—a shepherd's isolation ultimately empowers him to reconnect with and even serve from a divine perspective.  We step into the place with God where we are silent, without petition or conditions. We are in the presence of righteousness, learning to become like Him – Jesus.  In the silence, we can sense His Truth for ourselves and how He sees others.  In the stillness, we can perceive His might - gentle for the handling of man yet potent authority to demand obedience from us and all principalities.

The shepherd's silence is more than just a lack of speech. It's a profound language of silence that arises from the overflow of the soul. This silence serves as a vehicle of deliverance for the Holy Spirit, also known as "ruah hakodesh" in Hebrew. The depths of the soul require this silence to deliver us from our sinful habits and uncover treasures of grace in human frailty. Through this sacred connection, God heals us and makes us whole. His love washes over us and through us - all we need to do is believe that He is willing.

Making time in our daily routine to spend with God can profoundly impact our spiritual health. This time doesn't need to involve formal prayers, studying, or performing religious duties. Instead, it is all about being present in the moment. It could include having a casual conversation with God, deep self-reflection, or simply sitting in quiet contemplation with our Creator.

In this sacred time, we can experience a divine encounter similar to the ones our biblical forefathers had as shepherds and Jesus had with the Father. By spending one hour with God, simply being in His presence, we can gain insight into our purpose in life and how we should conduct ourselves in the world.

When we are too absorbed in experiencing the world without a “shepherd's Mind,” we often make decisions based on our self-centered desire to succeed. If we prioritize actions over connecting with our Abba, we may make choices that negatively impact the world and our spiritual well-being.

We don't need to become shepherds to understand the idea of the "shepherd mind." Taking a little time off from the world and engaging with the spiritual side of life can help us see things from a broader perspective and make better decisions. Focusing on being, not doing, can help us regain spiritual balance and reach a renewed mind. Spending time with our God deepens our eternal eyesight, and we will find a deep appreciation for what matters in life.

By Malchiel S'lah

February 2024

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