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Managing God or Caring God?

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep." John 10:11-15 (NIV)

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Yesterday in my journal time, I was sharing with God some of my concerns and noticing ways in me that seem a bit out of sorts and not who I want to be. This year has been one of those years where God has seen fit to do an overhaul of my inner world. It's good - really good - but it's also hard. Blissful unawareness is nice sometimes, but usually not for the others in our lives. God has been taking me into recesses of my heart I didn't know existed and exposing motives, attitudes, festering wounds and all sorts of things for what they are. I am so thankful God loves us deeply, unconditionally and sees fit to not allow us to see our whole inner world all at once. He untangles our lives one knot at a time and He is okay with the process of growth.

My inner world may be shocking to me, but it's not to Him and He is not one bit worried about it because He knows exactly what to do. He clears out the clutter so He can breathe new life into those spaces and so the ruins can be restored.

Sometimes the doors to those places of our lives our locked until He is ready to work in that space and when the door opens, we see a lot of clutter, but also possibility. Possibility of more freedom, love and wholeness in our lives. We never have to be afraid of the opening doors because both His forgiveness and His love are enough for whatever may be there. If He is showing us something, it means He thinks we are ready and so is He - always. We can always choose to shut the door again, but that is never the way towards life and restoration. 

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As I was sitting in my big, comfortable chair, I felt Him speak to my heart, "I do not manage you, I care for you." The difference can seem a bit nuanced at first, but with those words a little bit of a wrong view of God was dismantled. I realized at times, I see God as more of a hired hand sort. Sometimes I see Him as a God impatiently just wanting me to get from point A to B instead of a God who holds my hand in the processes of life always loving me, always caring for me and always patient. I am beginning to realize He enjoys the journey of deepening trust in Him. A hired hand is more concerned with the outcome and getting the job done. The shepherd cares for the individual sheep in the process of getting them where they need to go. He cares about each one, not just the flock as a whole. He is aware of the intricate needs of all individually. The hired hand is only concerned with the whole. He is a manager. It's okay if he loses some in the process. The shepherd is concerned with the health of each. He cares. His heart grieves over one lost one. 

God has been dismantling my view of Him as distant and more concerned with the whole of everything than the details of my life. It's happening in little shifts and one statement at a time. Those nine little words carry deep meaning and if allowed to shift our view, they hold the possibility to change the way we relate to God if we let them.

Wrong religion manages. It is impersonal and demands performance and can make us feel like a project. Relationship with God is one of experiencing the care and friendship of God and we relate to Him as dearly loved children. It is personal and asks for vulnerability and authenticity. Performance and authenticity cannot co-exist. Sometimes we would rather be managed than cared for because it is often easier to keep our heads down, work hard and do our best, but our hearts know we would actually rather be cared for. 

To be cared for takes bravery and a willingness to allow ourselves to be seen. "Just tell me what to DO and I'll DO it" as opposed to "Transform me internally so that I can BE who You created me to BE." When we are transformed in our inner world we will automatically do what He desires us to do. The doing is the outcome of the being but so often we try to flip it. We become actors trying to act right wondering why it's so hard to do the right thing. We find it hard because we AREN'T right internally. God wants to integrate our inner and outer worlds so that what others see outwardly is what He sees inwardly. This only comes from allowing Him into the deep places where we are often to scared to go alone, but His grace gives us the courage.

This will only happen if we know we are deeply cared for. No one wants to be vulnerable with someone who does not deeply care. We will only be vulnerable to the extent we trust God. If we have trouble with vulnerability, we can ask God to deepen our trust just a little more and trust Him with what we can. When we find Him trustworthy, we will allow ourselves to be a little more vulnerable. Trusting God is a growing process. We don't either trust God or not. All of us have places we trust and places we don't. As we walk through life, we find new places to put our trust in Him. I trust Him more than I used to but hopefully less than I will in thirty years. A caring God is much easier to trust than a managing God. 

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According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, a couple definitions of manage are 1)to handle or direct with a degree of skill 2) to work upon or try to alter for a purpose. Some synonyms are: handle, manipulate, maneuver, direct, conduct, dominate, supervise, train and use. 'To care for' is also in that list, but most of these synonyms and definitions give the feeling of distance and not tender care. Managing is not bad, but it's not what we long for with God. We long for something more intimate and more tender.

Merriam Webster defines care as 1)painstaking or watchful attention 2)regard coming from desire or esteem 3)charge and supervision (responsibility for or attention to health, well-being or safety. Some verb definitions are 1)to feel interest or concern 2)to give care. Synonyms listed are: safe-keeping, supervision, protection, keeping, to be concerned, to look after, to care for, to attend to,  to regard to notice, to take interest in, to respect. When we read the whole of the Bible, we see that God deeply cares for us over and over. THIS is how He longs for us to relate to Him.

God does not handle us, coerce us, manipulate, dominate or use us. Rather He painstakingly watches us with great attention and has regard for us. This is why He gives us the choice to love Him or not and to follow Him or not. He takes a great interest in us and is concerned for our well-being. He sees every part of our heart and tenderly wipes our tears away as well as takes joy in our joy. With Him, we are safely kept, protected, looked after, cared for, attended to and noticed. He is both capable and loving. He doesn't use us but invites us to work alongside in what He is doing. God cares for us. He cares for us whether we believe it or know it, but when we truly believe it, it will change how we live and give us the courage to allow Him to change us. God does not manage us, but cares for us. We are not God's project, we are His dearly loved children.

In what area of your life are you needing to know God cares for you? Ask Him to make that truth a little more real to your heart today.

Verses on His care: I Peter 5:7; Psalm 55:22; Matthew 6:30; I John 4:9-10; Isaiah 46:4; Psalm 8:4; Nahum 1:7; Matthew 10:29-31; Romans 8:38-39; John 10:11; Acts 17:27; Psalm 144:3; Psalm 91:4 and many more.