By Ben Simpson
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
Prayer is relational, a dynamic exchange between persons bound to one another. Talking with God is grounded in relationship. So how does God relate to human beings, and how do human beings relate to God?
In John 10, Jesus provides a compelling image. Jesus tells the crowd, “I am the good shepherd.” His first hearers were familiar with this idea. The Lord identifies himself as the good shepherd of Israel in Ezekiel 34, saying he will come and care for the people with tenderness, love, and as their protector. In John, Jesus takes up this idea. Jesus will gather those who have been scattered, protect his flock from threats, and he promises to lay down his life for the sheep. Jesus knows his sheep, they listen to him, and they follow him. Jesus has a relationship with his sheep, and the sheep have a relationship with their shepherd. This relationship is characterized by trust.
Jesus continues to be our Good Shepherd. Those belonging to him recognize his voice and follow him. As we follow Jesus, we join God in kingdom work. Our service to God is not done alone and under our own power, but in relationship to God, who guides and graciously empowers us as we seek to please him. As we serve others at home, in the office, or at play, we pray.
Dallas Willard writes that prayer “is an honest exchange between people who are doing things together. God and I work together, and I need to invoke his power in that activity. Joint activity is a key to understanding how conversation flows.” Prayer is a means of ongoing fellowship with God. We pray to be in relationship and to grow into the kind of people who are mature in faith. Prayer is part of the life of discipleship, with the end being growth toward the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
Dallas Willard explains, “Specifically, in our attempts to understand how God speaks to us and guides us we must, above all, hold on to the fact that learning how to hear God is to be sought only as a part of a certain kind of life, a life of loving relationship with the King and his other subjects within the kingdom. . . . We must therefore make it our primary goal not just to hear the voice of God, but to be mature people in a loving relationship with him.”
We pray to be in communion, for by knowing God through trust in Jesus we receive the greatest gift of all: entering eternal fellowship with the Trinity, in whom we find life, joy, love, peace, provision, abundance, forgiveness, redemption, and more, not only here and now, but forever and always in the unending household of God.
Jesus says he is the Good Shepherd. How do our ways of understanding God’s relationship with human beings (and vice-versa) shape our life of prayer?
Jesus, you are the Good Shepherd. Help me to know and listen to your voice, and to follow you where you lead me. I trust you to lead me to good pastures, to be with me, to protect me in trial, to lead me away from danger, and to always guide me along the path that is best. I trust you because you have laid down your life for me, that I might live. Help me to grow in my relationship with you. Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.