“The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice.
He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them,
and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”
I think this passage is in the Lectionary during the season after Easter Sunday and before Pentecost because this is such an in-between time. The old way of knowing Jesus has passed away, but the new way of knowing Jesus hasn’t been birthed yet. Jesus has died, Jesus has been resurrected, but we’re still waiting on the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
In-between times are heady! There are visions on the road and appearances through locked doors and the disciples are jumping off boats and we’re all doing a lot more running than normal. But in-between times are also tricky to navigate. There’s not usually an appropriate authority or tradition to depend on, and usually your mentors and companions are figuring it out right alongside you. The in-between places are pretty fraught, and can feel like being “beset on all sides/by extremists with eyes on your heart.”
“The former things have passed away,” but who’s to say what the new thing is going to look like? And who are we supposed to trust to point us towards it?
It’s way too easy to say right here well just trust Jesus!
Well, sure, I’d love to trust Jesus, if I knew for sure where He was and what He was doing! I’d love to follow Jesus if I could be quite certain that it was really Him on the road. I’d love to listen to Jesus if I knew, for sure, for 100%, that it was His voice and not just my own subconscious peering out trying to trip me up.
To be honest, fundamentalism didn’t really do me any favors when it told me not to trust myself, but to trust Jesus instead – as a kind of either/or, alternative to trusting myself. He must increase and I must decrease, the bumper sticker admonished me. If we’re gonna trust Jesus more, the implication was, we’ve gotta trust ourselves less. Trust is a zero-sum game.
We made trust a zero-sum game, where trust in myself had to get smaller for trust in Jesus to get bigger. Which makes a tiny bit of sense if you’re as Reformed as my circles were as a young adult – we got taught that we are untrustworthy, unreliable, sinful down to our core, and entirely corrupt. And the more we knew how corrupt we are, the less we trust ourselves, and the less we trust ourselves, the more we trust Jesus. That was the assumption, at least. Take the Trust out of the Me Bucket and put it in the Jesus Bucket. There’s only so much Trust to go around! If you’re gonna put Trust in the Jesus Bucket you’ve got to get it from somewhere and so you’ve gotta take it out of the Me Bucket!
But Trust isn’t a finite resource.
In fact, I think that the less I trust myself, the less capable I will be of trusting Jesus.
Because how am I supposed to hear Jesus’ voice if I don’t believe my ears?
How am I supposed to see Jesus if I don’t trust my own eyes?
I have spent a hell of a lot more time wondering if I really heard the voice of God then refusing to follow what the voice of God said. I wasted so many minutes going over and over and over again in my head what I thought I heard, what I may have heard, what my mentors think I heard, what my pastor thinks I heard, whether it’s my own anxiety or the voice of Jesus calling.
What I’ve found, inexplicably, is that the more I learn to hear and listen to my own self and my own soul, the easier it is to hear Jesus.
There are obviously a lot of decisions that we make once we know we hear Jesus. There is a lot of sin and rebellion that we still get to choose once we hear Jesus’ commands. Jonah ain’t just a metaphor. But too many times, we don’t even get close to the kind of radical rebellion of Jonah, because we’re still planted on our living room floor, obsessing about whether God really said that we should go to Nineveh. Because we can’t even start the work of submission and obedience until we trust our own ability to hear the voice of God.
And in the in-between times, when the old has passed away, and the new thing is still fuzzy and hazy and feels more like a metaphor than something solid that we can bank our lives on – that’s when we’re most prone to doubt ourselves. In these in-between times, we don’t so much need more reminders to be faithful, but more help discerning what faithfulness could possibly mean. They aren’t the times where sin seems crouched at the door, but there do seem to be too many doors altogether.
Take time to tend your own discernment and gut and wisdom. When Jesus calls, trust yourself – and then trust Him.