One of the most well-known passages in the Bible is Psalm 23, which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (verses 1–3 NKJV).
David, a shepherd, wrote these words. The Bible talks a lot about sheep, actually, and it often mentions the fact that we’re just like sheep ourselves. The Old Testament book of Isaiah tells us, “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all” (53:6 NLT).
The thing with sheep is they need shepherds around them at all times to guide them, guard them and help them. Sheep have no way to defend themselves. They’re not all that fast. They don’t have claws. They need the shepherd to protect them, just like we need the Lord, our Shepherd, to protect us as well.
David goes on to say, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (verse 4 NKJV). Using staffs, shepherds guided sheep and kept them where they were supposed to be.
In the same way, sometimes God has to use a staff, so to speak, to bring us back when we go astray.
But there’s another instrument that shepherds used: a rod. This basically was a club. And shepherds would employ it to let wayward sheep know they’d better get in line, because their lives may depend on it.
Sometimes God will use a staff in our lives, and sometimes he will have to use a rod. Interestingly, the Bible tells us that one of the signs of the end times, the last days, is that people will fall away from the faith.
The Christian life is one of constant growth and transformation in which we’re becoming more like Jesus. But the moment we fail to go forward spiritually is the moment we potentially begin to backslide.
It doesn’t happen overnight. Rather, it’s a series of steps that always leads a person downhill. And know this: we all have the potential to backslide. Like the classic hymn says, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”
The first step in the direction of any backslide is self-confidence. The Bible says, “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18 NLT).
Let’s take the game of tennis, for example. Imagine for a moment that you’re playing – and you’re winning. So maybe you get a little cocky, a little self-assured, and suddenly you start losing. It happens in all things in life. And it certainly can happen in our spiritual lives.
Here’s what we need to know about ourselves. We always can fall. Don’t ever think it couldn’t happen to you, because it could. Like sheep, we have a tendency to go astray. So we have to constantly keep our guard up.
Show me a believer who’s trying to get away with things and still be a Christian, and I’ll show you someone who’s well on their way to a backslide. It isn’t a good thing when a Christian asks, “Can you still do this and technically be a Christian?” Or, “Can you do this other thing and still go to Heaven?”
Wrong questions. The real question should be, “Because I’m a Christian, because Jesus Christ has come into my life and has forgiven my sins, how can I get closer to him? How can I discover more of his plan and purpose for my life?”
If you’ve ever watched one of those nature shows where a lion goes after a certain animal, you may have noticed that it’s always the one that lags about 10 feet behind the rest of the herd. It’s the stray that gets picked off.
When we’re at a distance from God’s people, when we’re at a distance from the church, trouble will ensue. And when we hang out with the wrong people at the wrong place at the wrong time, it’s only a matter of time until we do the wrong thing.
But no matter what we’ve done, no matter what sins we’ve committed, there is always room for forgiveness. Speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, God said, “Return, you backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings” (3:22 NKJV).
Maybe you’re in a backslidden state right now. You’ve hit bottom, and you don’t see a way out. There is always a way out. In fact, there’s a way up, and it’s through Jesus Christ. It’s taking his hand and accepting his forgiveness as you turn from your sin.
We have to constantly be moving forward spiritually. Psalm 1 says, “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night” (verses 1–2 NLT).
We’re in a spiritual battle. And if we want to win in this spiritual battle, we need to fight fire with fire.
What is the weaponry God has given to us as Christians? First there is prayer. In fact, I think the lack of prayer is a direct result of self-confidence. Think about it. When do we usually pray? Answer: When we’re in trouble. If things are going reasonably well, if the bills are paid and our health is good, if there are no problems on the horizon (at least that we’re aware of), we may not pray all that much. But when a crisis hits, when problems come, we start praying.
And then there is the rarely used weapon in the arsenal of the church today: the proclamation of the gospel. As we look at our culture and see how it’s going downhill, we wonder how we can ever see things change. However, the answer isn’t boycotts or protests. The answer isn’t even political. Rather, the answer is spiritual.
We need to pray for our country. And we need to proclaim the gospel.
Learn more about Pastor Greg Laurie.
This article was originally published at WND.com.
Join us every weekend on Harvest at Home for an online worship experience.
Used with permission from Greg Laurie.