I remember as a teenager hearing a sermon in youth group that stuck with me. The basic message was this: It doesn't matter how far you run from God, He is always right there. All you have to do is call His name. The vast distance you feel, so far away that you can barely imagine He exists, will be covered in an instant.
Honestly, it kind of creeped me out. The great "eye in the sky", always hovering over me, no matter what. What if I didn't want God to be right there with me? It's not my favorite time to look back on, that year when I silently decided that God wasn't real. Or maybe it's more accurate to say it was the year that I decided I wanted God to leave me alone. His protection seemed like just another way to squash my fun plans, and I was tired of walking a tight rope of other people's expectations of the pastor's daughter. I didn't tell a soul. I didn't want to be responsible for leading anyone else astray, if in fact I had gone astray. I only wanted my freedom - to do what I wanted when I wanted.
God was a gentleman during that time. He gave me the space I craved, all the while answering my parents' prayers that I not be allowed to go too far. It turned out that I wasn't nearly as adventurous as I thought I might be - fearful that I'd make a life-altering mistake and ruin my future. Even in my rebellion, I recognized the wisdom of Christian principles and pretty much stuck to them. I suppose anxiety isn't all bad.
Luke 15:4-6 tells us about how God handles rebellious kids like me.
4 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. 6 When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’
Why did the one sheep get lost? Jesus doesn’t bother to explain. This parable that He's telling to the hypocritical religious leaders in an effort to explain why He's hanging out with "known sinners" doesn't address what led the sheep away. The sheep, who represent Christ's followers, are supposed to follow the Shepherd (Christ). But one of them gets lost. Was that one sheep too slow or too distracted? Was that sheep sure that it didn't need the protection of the Shepherd? Did it fall into a crevice in a rock and get stuck?
Jesus doesn't explain because it isn't important. Whether the sheep was rebellious, lazy, distracted, or injured - it doesn't matter. The sheep was lost. Period. He tells them how the shepherd handles the situation. This is the nature of God – He may have 99 other compliant, energetic, focused, healthy sheep, but every one is precious to Him. He will go after the one who is lost. He will search. If that shepherd has to crawl down in a crevice to pull out a sheep whose stuck, he will do it.
God understands that sometimes we can't do anything to reach out to Him. There are times when someone gets so stuck, so impossibly injured, that there's nothing but death except for the rescue of the Savior. He sent Jesus - not because humanity called out for a Savior, because we didn't even know what we needed to save us. He didn't wait for us to call out to Him for rescue, but He sent His son to earth to be the redemption we need.
God didn't wait for me to acknowledge that I needed Him. He had already forgiven me and rescued me before I knew to ask. Jesus died on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice. This is why we don't have to offer our own blood to be forgiven, this is why we don't have to sacrifice animals any longer. Jesus' blood was shed for us to offer us the great relief we need. His blood was spilled on the cross, through the beating and the crown of thorns, for our healing and forgiveness.
The forgiveness is once and for all time. We are set free. My teenage mistake was to believe that God's protection was enslaving me, when it was actually setting me free.
This is the God we serve – the perfect, heavenly Father who sees us at our worst and rushes in to help us. He doesn’t say, you got yourself into this mess. You can get yourself out. He goes looking for the one who is lost, willing to crawl into whatever hole or prisoner’s cell and pull us out. He doesn't wait. He rescues.
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