"The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, and he restores my soul." (Psalm 23:1-3).
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, we read of a young man who received his inheritance early, left his father's home, moved to a distant country, and then went out and squandered everything that he had received on wild and sinful living. After he ran out of money, a severe famine occurred in that distant country, and he began to be in need. He then went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his field to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the slops that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. Eventually, he came to his senses and made the decision to repent and to return to his father, where he was warmly and lovingly received.
Whether we want to accept this truth or not, there are two shepherds that all mankind follows. Man is following Christ or he is following Satan; there is no in between. No one is wandering around aimlessly in this life with no leader in sight – not even the most fervent atheist. Either God is our Father, or Satan is our father. There are no orphans on planet Earth.
Satan is a fallen angel. The Catholic Church teaches that angels were created before man was created. Unlike man, the will of an angel is incapable of changing once a decision has been made. Angels have one irrevocable act of will, and they know this. Once they sin, that's it. For them, there is no second chance – no redemption. When the angel Lucifer (whose name was changed to Satan afterwards) and the other angels who conspired with him chose to rebel against the Lord, they sinned and could never seek forgiveness or redemption.
Human beings, on the other hand, are capable of changing their minds. Man is capable of repenting and seeking forgiveness. The Catholic perspective is that Satan hates mankind because humans have been given a second chance that he knows he'll never have. Satan is jealous of man because the Second Person of the Trinity became a man in order to die for the sins of man, but God was not willing to become an angel in order to redeem the fallen angels. Satan and his fallen comrades can't stand that God allowed man to fall, but He would not allow the angels to fall. God had mercy on man, but He would not have mercy on Satan. Satan knows that he is doomed. He knows that he is bound for the eternal lake of fire, with no hope of redemption. Before his allotted time is up, he is determined to deceive as many human beings as he possibly can in order to take them with him to that terrible place.
Satan is a dark shepherd. When he leads, he does so with destruction of a man's soul in mind. There is no good in Satan. He is pure evil, pure rot. When he leads, he never has a man's welfare in mind. Never. He may cause things to go well in a person's life in the beginning in order to lure him or her away from God, but at some point (and there's always that point), a "severe famine" will begin to occur in the life of the individual who has been deceived. Things will begin to go wrong, and the individual’s life will hit rock bottom. Once this happens, Satan then attempts to move in for the soul's kill.
I know a man who had it all when he was growing up. Both of his parents were successful professionals who were able to give him the best of everything, including education. When this young man graduated from college, he landed a job that paid extremely well. He was living in New York City in a beautiful apartment, making lots of money, and living the good life. Eventually, however, he started taking drugs. Because of his addiction, he was not able to perform his job duties, so the company let him go. He then found himself unable to keep any job because of his addiction. He was then forced to live in the homes of friends or relatives because he couldn't afford to live anywhere else. He has been out of work for almost 20 years now. He has to receive handouts from family and friends, who ask him to clean their homes if he wishes to stay in them.
This man, who was once at the top, was led to the pig trough by Satan, whose goal has always been the destruction of this man's soul. First, he lured him away from spiritual things by dazzling him with "the good life." Then, as soon as he had the man, he introduced him to drugs, knowing full well what would happen afterward. After the man became completely addicted and his life was destroyed, Satan led him to the "pig trough," where he continually works to keep this man from "coming to his senses and returning to His Heavenly Father." Satan is jealous of God's love for this man. He is jealous of the fact that this poor soul has a chance of forgiveness and redemption that he will never have. This man has no idea that there is a God in Heaven who loves him and longs for Him to return so that He can restore His soul and bless him with a better life than the one Satan gave him. He is a lost sheep, and the dark shepherd whom he has followed is determined to keep him lost.
Contrast Satan, the dark shepherd, with Christ, the Good Shepherd in Psalm 23. Unlike Satan, who leads mankind to the pig trough and won't even allow man to eat the slops after he's led them there, Christ leads us into green pastures. He leads us beside quiet waters, where we will find all that we need to nourish and satisfy our souls. Satan's goal is the destruction of man's soul; Christ's goal is the restoration of that soul.
In order to follow Jesus into these green pastures, we must completely walk away from the world and all that it has to offer. Many are not willing to do this, and this is why they have no peace of spirit. If we want to walk with Jesus beside the quiet waters, we have to be willing to walk away from the noise pollution of this world. This means that we will have to make decisions regarding what we are going to do with our time. If we have time to read a book, wouldn't it be better for our soul if that book were of a religious nature rather than a secular one? Which book will profit a man's spirit and nourish his soul: a religious book or a book that has nothing to do with Christ and His Kingdom? If we desire to listen to music, which type of music will be better: music that ministers to our spirit and soul and causes us to look upward into Heaven, or music that keeps us focused on the things of this world and leads our minds away from God? If a man desires to relax and watch a good movie on television, what would be better for his soul: a religious film that will inspire him to serve God in a deeper and more committed way or a film that has absolutely nothing to do with God?
Many things are not sinful, but neither are they beneficial to a man's soul either. Life is short. I only want to embrace those things that are beneficial to my soul, not those things that distract it or that fail to nourish it.
Satan attempts to keep mankind busy and distracted with the cares, worries, treasures and pleasures of this world so that he won't even have time to consider that he has a soul that needs nourishing and saving. Satan leads mankind to tend to physical and material matters all day long in an effort to keep him from focusing on his spiritual needs. And yet, on our deathbeds, the only things that will matter are the soul and the spirit. The material things that were so important to us in the days when we had our health won't even come to mind.
Thomas Kempis, who wrote The Imitation of Christ, believed that a man should think often of the day of his death. By staying focused on the day of death, Kempis believed that men would be spiritually prepared for it when it came. None of us like to think of the day of death. We want to focus on the business of living, not dying. But since death is inevitable and will come to all of us eventually, we need to think of it often so that we will be ready for it when it comes.
Think of the ways in which you are presently spending your time, talent, and treasure. When you are on your deathbed, will they be a source of comfort to you, or will they bring you regret, as you prepare to face your Master?
Satan, the dark shepherd, desires to lead you to the pig trough of sin so that your life, and eventually your soul, will be destroyed and sent, with him, to the pit. Christ, on the other hand, desires to lead you to green pastures and quiet waters so that your soul will be restored.
Which shepherd are you presently following? Are you allowing Jesus to do the leading in your life, or are you going where you want to go and cordially inviting Christ along for the ride? Take a good look at your life right now. Is this where Christ has led you, or did you end up where you are because you were deceived by the dark shepherd, the enemy of your soul? We're either at the pig trough with Satan or we're walking with Christ beside the still waters; there is no in between.
Your Heavenly Father has given you something that Satan will never have; He has given you a second chance. He has given you a chance to repent, return to Him, and be completely restored. You have something that Satan can never have, and that is the love of God, who desires to be a Father to you and who was willing to lay down His own life for you, through Christ Jesus His Son, so that you could be brought back to Him. Knowing this, which shepherd will you follow? Will you follow Satan to the pig trough or Christ to the green pastures? At the pig trough, Satan will only dangle slops in front of you that can never nourish, satisfy, save or restore your soul, but Christ, in the green pastures, will give you His own body and blood to partake of so that your soul might be nourished and satisfied.
This is the true tale of two shepherds, a tale which Christ wants you to strongly consider and Satan wants you to quickly reject. Which shepherd will you follow?
The choice is yours to make.
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