Spiritual Renewal Happens When We Follow

Jana Carlson

Jana Carlson

When we follow the Good Shepherd wherever He leads, we experience the spiritual renewal we long for - even in the midst of valleys and hardship.

It had been a long season of spiritual apathy. Years of intense trials and trauma had taken their toll. There had been a lot of questions unanswered, a lot of transition, grief, relational and financial strain. It depleted me to a point of complete and utter exhaustion.

After the worst was over, I felt relieved, but instead of starting to feel renewed, I sunk into a sort of spiritual monotony.

Feeling like I was just going through the motions, I set aside some time one afternoon to pray about what was going on. “God, I need spiritual renewal. I feel disconnected, numb, dispassionate. It’s not like me. I miss the sense of Your presence. I yearn for the refreshment I used to get every time I read my Bible. What’s going on with me?”

Can you relate? Our spirits grow weary during hard seasons with a lot of unknowns, don’t they? When we’re waiting for results from medical tests or a call back about a job after unemployment, we grow weary of wondering what’s going on and what our next steps will look like. When our marriages are difficult or our children are not walking with the Lord, we’re afraid.

We don’t know how to “fix” things. There’s so much beyond our control and it’s exhausting to sit around and wait for something good to happen. Or we frantically, blindly search for something that always seems out of reach.

It’s exhausting, not restful.

It’s scary, not peaceful.

It’s chaotic, not calm.

It’s uncertain, not secure.

It’s draining, not fulfilling.

Spiritual renewal is possible in any situation. We explored how this looked in David’s life in a previous post. (I encourage you to read it before continuing here.) He wrote Psalm 23 when he was walking “in the valley of the shadow of death”, hunted by enemies. It’s helpful insight into finding the security and fulfillment we’re looking for, even when our circumstances are chaotic.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
   He restores my soul.

(Psalm 23:1-3a)

Restoration in the Midst of Chaos

Have you ever watched a flock of sheep? They’re not the smartest animals. That’s why they need a shepherd. The shepherd knows what they need better than they do. He can lead them on the right paths, provide for them, protect them. Sheep appear content and secure. They trust the shepherd.

A shepherd faithfully guides his sheep, but the sheep must follow him. The sheep hear his voice and go where he directs. Only as they walk in obedience to him do they enjoy his benefits. If the sheep wander too far, they can’t hear the shepherd’s voice; they get lost and the shepherd can’t protect them.

How can we become sheep who enjoy the guidance, provision and protection of our Shepherd? How do we experience peace and contentment, trusting God to be the Good Shepherd?

We need to get to know Him.

The Voice of the Shepherd

When he [the shepherd] has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:4-5)

How do we get to know our Shepherd?

By hearing what He has to say. By listening to and reading His Word. (We focused on this in the earlier post.)

When we’re in a spiritual wilderness, it’s hard to muster up the energy to read the Bible. But if the spiritual renewal we long for can only come from Jesus, spending time with Him is our only option.

As we read His Word, we get to know Him. We learn to discern His voice amid the millions of other voices that speak into our lives each day.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

Follow Him

Just like a sheep hears its shepherd and follows his voice, when we hear what God is saying to us as we read our Bibles, we must take steps to follow Him.

Reading the Bible is not the same as truly believing it and living it out. We are called to be doers of God’s Word.

Being a doer of God’s Word requires that we trust Him. It’s difficult to follow someone if we don’t trust them. And reading the Bible is how we get to know God more, so we can trust Him more.

Growing in our knowledge of Jesus renews us. We become more like Him.

“…put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:10, emphasis mine)

As Christians, we are sheep of the Good Shepherd and have been reborn. We are to “put on the new self”, living as the “new you” rather than the old, unredeemed sinner (Ephesians 4:17-24). As followers of Christ, we are being renewed in knowledge into His image. Knowing Him more fundamentally changes who we are. We are being transformed from the inside out.

That day I prayed for spiritual renewal, God convicted me. He showed me how I hadn’t really been actively following Him. I had been walking in His general direction. I kinda knew which way He walked, but I was so consumed with the “stuff” of life that I was really just meandering on my own.

It was time to go beyond just reading the suggested passage in my Bible reading plan and getting on with my day. I needed to actively listen to the voice of my Shepherd. When I read His Word, I need to act on it, follow where He’s leading. It’s more than head knowledge. It’s heart change manifested in how I think, speak, and act.

A life lived in submission to the leading of the Good Shepherd is a life of spiritual fulfillment – no matter what your circumstances are. Following the Shepherd even in the midst of the “valley of the shadow of death” is a walk of soul satisfaction. The “still waters” and “green pastures” David talked about in Psalm 23 do not refer to a life free of difficulty. He could say, “I shall not want” because his spirit was at rest in Jesus.

There is sweet relief in knowing we don’t have to know it all. There is rest and renewal that comes when we trust Him and simply follow where He leads.

Live It Out

Read your Bible today. If you don’t know what to read, try Psalm 1 or the rest of Psalm 23.

Before you do that, pray, asking God to open your eyes to His Word for you today.

After you read, pray again, asking Him how He would have you respond to and apply what you’ve read.

A Prayer to Help You Follow the Shepherd

Father, sometimes it feels overwhelming to follow You faithfully, especially when I’m weary. But You are the Good Shepherd and You’ll never lead me wrong. You always equip me to do what You’ve called me to do. Open my eyes to Your will for me today. Help me to follow You, one step at a time. As I take a step in the right direction, begin to revive my heart and refresh my spirit.

10 Responses

  1. I’ve always found such comfort in the idea that Jesus is my Shepherd, leading and guiding me where HE wants me to go. Because I surely will wander off and get lost without Him! Love that you are speaking to the spiritually apathetic, Jana. I think there are a lot of people who fit that bill and need to hear that there’s someone like you that Jesus led back to the streams of living water! Pinning and tweeting, my friend!

    1. Yes, the image of Jesus as Shepherd is a precious one to me – ever since memorizing Psalm 23 as a small child. Spiritual apathy is real and we can all use a little encouragement in this area, I think. “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.” He’s a Good Shepherd! Thanks for sharing, Beth!

  2. I most often find myself in a state of spiritual apathy when my life is noisiest. I appreciate the reminder of how gently and steadily Jesus leads us when we dial into His voice.

  3. “It’s more than head knowledge. It’s heart change manifested in how I think, speak, and act.”

    Amen to that! Reading the Word and ACTING on it – the two ought to go hand in hand. If we think of this in terms of our relationships, we can’t really get to know someone by simply listening to them talk. We need to let their words penetrate our heart, not merely go in one ear and out the next. The same is true of our relationship with Jesus. If we want to get to KNOW Him, then we need to let His Words do more than just land flat. It’s more than head knowledge. It’s a heart transition.

    Love these words of wisdom, Jana!❤️

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