By Kari Jackson

By Kari Jackson

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2 NLT

Deep waters. Rivers of difficulty. The fire of oppression. These are more than bad days; these words describe prolonged seasons. Difficult seasons that push you to your breaking point. Times where your strength is depleted, and you just aren’t sure you have anything left to give.

Have you ever been there? Weary, worn, and overwhelmed to your core. One of these seasons for me came as we brought home our youngest daughter from foster care. For the second time. My heart was already heavy knowing that this precious little girl we had raised since birth had been returned to unsafe and unhealthy circumstances. Learning of the trauma she had endured while away broke my heart in ways I could never express in words. Shortly after welcoming her back home, we learned a new baby brother was just born as well. And he would also need a place to call home, for a season. It was Christmas time. And right in the middle of the Christmas rush and chaos, we brought home an unexpected newborn and an emotionally wounded 2 year old. Our world was turned upside down. Bedrooms had to be rearranged, furniture and necessities had to be quickly purchased, and appointments had to be scheduled. We felt the pressure of trying to maintain “normalcy” for our other 4 children. But long, sleepless nights, mixed with the heaviness of our daughter and her brother’s stories, brought a weariness into my spirit. And the feelings of being “tired,” reached much deeper than the physical. 

David understood this place of belonging to the Lord, but struggling within his soul. And he records his thoughts for us as he writes: “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God.” (Psalm 42:11). David, who was a shepherd boy before becoming an anointed king, uses a word that would have immediately brought understanding and imagery to the minds of fellow shepherds: downcast

In one of my favorite books, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23,” W. Phillip Keller describes this seemingly simple word and explains in great detail how the downcast sheep is one of the highest concerns for a watchful Shepherd. There are many reasons why a sheep might become downcast: too much wool, too comfortable in her surroundings, too heavy from indulgence. But whatever the underlying reason, the danger is in the sheep’s posture: She is downcast. Meaning she has fallen on her back, and in her own strength, she is unable to get up. It’s a dangerous position because not only will gasses within the sheep’s body begin to quickly cut off blood supply to her organs and extremities, causing death, but while she lies there, the shepherd knows his sheep is utterly helpless to escape the attacks of lurking predators. His sheep is completely helpless, and vulnerable, lacking the ability to defend, heal, or rescue herself from this dangerous state. Naturally, the sheep will thrash around, frantically attempting to stand herself upright once again. But even her best attempts will prove to be unsuccessful. She simply does not possess the strength to restore her downcast state. Her only hope then is in the coming of the Shepherd. 

Keller goes on to share, from a shepherd’s perspective, his response to realizing one of his sheep has gone missing, and most likely is downcast: “As soon as I reached the cast ewe, my first impulse was to pick it up. Tenderly, I would roll the sheep over on its side… If she had been down for long, I would have to lift her onto her feet. Then, straddling the sheep with my legs, I would hold her erect, rubbing her limbs to restore the circulation to her legs. This often took quite a little time. When the sheep started to walk again she often just stumbled, staggered, and collapsed in a heap once more. All the time I worked on the cast sheep I would talk to it gently: ‘When are you going to stand on your feet? I’m so glad I found you in time.’”

I believe this is the picture David wants us to have as he speaks of the downcast state of our souls. For those times where we find ourselves defenseless. Helpless. In danger. Exhausted from the fight to make it through another day. Aware that within ourselves, we simply do not have the strength to stand, much less run, the race set before us. But in this weary, down cast state of our souls, we draw our attention to the Shepherd. For He becomes our only Hope. 

The New Testament reminds us that Jesus is our Shepherd. And He is a Good Shepherd. He is watchful, intimately aware, and lovingly concerned with our well being. He knows your steps. He is acquainted with your grief. And He comes to your rescue when you find yourself cast down and unable to stand. The process is tender, not condemning. For He is a strong, but gentle, Shepherd. And He is the only One who possesses the strength, and the wisdom, to know how to restore. He will hold you steady as you regain your strength. He will bring you to a place where you can stand, and live, once again. But our striving must cease. We must yield to His care, to His touch, and to His way. Because our hope, our answer, is only found in the embrace of the Good Shepherd. His presence means your deliverance. His strength means your healing. His tenderness means your comfort. The answer for our weary state is found in the nearness of our Shepherd. 

Isaiah 57: 15 says, “For this is what the high and exalted One says- He who lives forever, whose name is Holy: I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the contrite.” 

Do you see it? He is Holy, but also intimately present. He dwells in a high and holy place, but also with those who are contrite and lowly. He revives our spirits and restores life to our hearts. This is our Shepherd King. This is our Emmanuel: God with us. This is Jesus. 

May our weary souls find hope. For He has come for us. 

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