7. Your rod and your staff,
they comfort me

The life of shalom is one which is high in discipline. A life lived where everything is in the right place and nothing is in the wrong place requires a lot of discipline.

When we hear the word discipline, it may invoke negative associations for us, especially if we were ever disciplined in a harsh or excessive way. But the word itself is positive. Discipline is fundamentally about learning. We naturally prefer to learn lessons the easy way, but for many of us, the best lessons we learn are from our mistakes.

If we consider this basic example: when a toddler learns to walk they are actually learning how to not fall. Picture a little girl — every time she falls, the opposite of what she is trying to do, she learns from it, making all the necessary adjustments, until she manages to walk without falling. In this case, falling is the best teacher for learning how to walk.

That is not to say that the best lessons are the ones we enjoy the most. Most of us fear making mistakes, or failing at what we aim for. At the root of this fear is shame. In the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, their eyes were opened and they saw that they were naked. As their eyes were opened they became self-aware in a whole new way, and their response was to feel shame. In that moment, their mistake was laid bare before them as they now carried a weighty knowledge they were unequipped for. Since then, shame has cast a long shadow across history and prevented many from living in some measure of shalom.

Shame limits us. It prevents us from taking risks and trying things for fear of getting it wrong and experiencing that shame. It is hard to find a usefulness for shame; it is so entangled with guilt that it has no utility other than to remind us that we have made a mistake.

If we are to live in shalom; if we are to live above 50% and aim towards 100% — life in all its fullness; if we are to grow in maturity and attain to the full stature of Christ; then we need to be free to make mistakes. As has already been set out, mistakes make for good lessons.

Falling short well

At this point we should be clear about one important thing: there is a difference between trying something beyond ourselves and falling short because we made a mistake, and wilfully doing wrong and calling it a ‘mistake’. The scriptures call the latter type of mistake ‘sin’. The Greek word “Hamartia,” which is translated as ‘sin’ means to fall short.

It is an archery term that means missing the mark. But this is to fall short of the ideal that the Lord has set for us as those made in his image; we fall short because we try to be like God, only to find we don’t have what it takes.

As Paul puts it,

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”
(Romans 3:23)

When we reach for that ideal with a genuine heart of wanting to please the Lord as his children, we may fall short because we make a mistake. But this kind of falling short should not be a cause of shame. As Paul puts it,

“Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God
in Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 3:13-14)

If, like Paul, we experience those mistakes and, instead of looking backwards in shame, we look forward and press on, trying and trying again, then we will eventually reach our goal.

This is the mindset of living in shalom. We cannot avoid mistakes when we try something new and if we are to live in shalom, we need to find a way to turn mistakes into opportunities for growth. When Jesus says to us, “Follow me,” he is leading us to a new place; a place where we will grow and bear much fruit. He knows we will make mistakes along the way, but he is also there to discipline us and help us to learn. He hems us in with his shepherd’s rod so we don’t fall off any edges, and gives us a prod when we need it to encourage us to press on to what is ahead of us.

By hook or by crook

If we are to live in shalom, we need to find a way of allowing for mistakes as part of our growth. As we will see in the subsequent reflections, the Lord who is my shepherd wants and wills a life of rich blessing for us, with extravagant provision and unparalleled opportunity. As Paul again puts it,

“It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
(Philippians 2:13)

It is the ‘good pleasure’ of the Lord to give us the Kingdom! He is not concerned by our mistakes, only that we would decide to not enter into the fullness of life he has prepared for us. That is why he has his rod and his staff; to lead the way and mark out safe ground for us, to keep us from straying and to nudge us in the right direction when we do.

The most amazing part is this: even when we stray because of sin, his grace can make a wrong turn or a dead end into the start of a new path of righteousness. He is not focussed on our sins; he is focussed on putting us back on the right path. As a beloved friend used to say, “He doesn’t count the sins; he measures the distance.”

The Lord who is my shepherd has determined that we will reach our goal in Christ and, by hook or by crook, he will get us there.

One more pearl of wisdom from Paul:

“I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you
will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
(Philippians 1:6)

This is indeed a comforting thought. The Lord wants us to grow. He wants us to try. He wants us to step out in faith and even take great leaps. He knows we will fall down, but he will be there to pick us up again. He knows we will make mistakes, but we will also learn the best lessons. His discipline is what makes us his disciples.

Therefore, “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

May you live in Shalom, and may you know that his rod of discipline will comfort you.

May you not be limited by shame, or held back by past mistakes.
May you know the Lord will complete his good work in you, and you will live in shalom.