Trapped. That's how I felt when every exit out of a dead-end job closed. And that's why I found myself praying about sheep.
The night before, I'd sat in a church service trying hard to hear God's direction. Listening for divine guidance is practical, I knew. Looking to God in prayer the previous year, for instance, had totally transformed a living situation in which I had also felt trapped.
This time the answer I got was to take a day off work - something I usually wouldn't do unless absolutely necessary. I needed to be sure that this wasn't my own unconscious effort to avoid the job. But I felt a sense of integrity about the decision. Intuitively I knew that taking a day off was no escape, but a step toward a solution to my job predicament.
I remember wanting the next morning to maintain the listening attitude from the night before; it felt so much more comfortable than the worrying and plotting I had already tried. Picking up the week's Bible Lesson from the Christian Science Quarterly, I saw familiar words from Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want."
I never finished the Lesson that day. Instead my thought became engrossed with the shepherd's psalm. Questions filled my consciousness. What kind of pasture would sheep want? (Green.) What source of water would they need? (Quiet, holding no danger of choking or being swept away.) How would they know when the pasture was depleted, and where to go next?
The shepherd, of course, was the key to the sheep's welfare. Who else had their well-being at heart, an overview of the entire pasture, the knowledge of other green meadows? My thought was lifted. This psalm was about my Shepherd, God. He knew and loved me as a good shepherd knows and loves his sheep. And I could trust Him as a sheep trusts its shepherd.
I was especially comforted by the thought of a feast prepared in the face of an immediate enemy threat. If danger had any power or reality, I reasoned, God would have provided an army instead of a meal. The "enemy" thoughts I'd been plagued with - resignation, desperation, gloom - faded before the spiritual truths flooding my consciousness.
I have no idea how much time elapsed as I considered these Bible passages. But when I reached the end, a solution to my work situation was waiting: "Leave your job."
Once again, it was an answer I would not ordinarily have entertained - at least not without another job in place. But as if to confirm the rightness of this prayer-based direction, the telephone rang. "Have you considered," my husband asked, "leaving your job?"
It felt so natural to be obedient to this. I gave two weeks' notice the next day, still not knowing where I'd work next. In the ensuing weeks, I was offered an interesting, well-paying job (which my prayer directed me to decline) and provided a temporary job, which I had previously avoided.
These incidents weren't exceptions to God's guidance. They fit perfectly with His design, meeting my need for income without tying me to a location I was soon to leave. Within three months, God led me to a very green pasture in another state, where I was hired to help others think through job-related issues. I couldn't have planned my preparation for that job better myself.
The image of a divine Shepherd nurturing, guiding, and protecting us is a powerful one - powerful enough to dissolve the discouraging conviction that we have the responsibility, but not the power, to find and keep good jobs. As I found, our real work is listening for and following God's direction. We can trust Him to do His work - to provide everything we need, from green pastures to protection from enemies. We can trust Him with our jobs.
Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me
all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house
of the Lord for ever.