“I myself will search for my sheep, and I will care for them.”—EZEK. 34:11.
SONG 105 “God Is Love”
1. How is Jehovah like a nursing mother?
“CAN a woman forget her nursing child?” That was a question Jehovah asked in the days of the prophet Isaiah. “Even if these women forget, I would never forget you,” God told his people. (Isa. 49:15) He does not often compare himself to a mother. However, he did so on that occasion. Jehovah used the bond between a mother and her child to reveal how deeply he is attached to his servants. Most mothers can relate to what a sister named Jasmin says, “When you nurse your child, you form a very special bond that lasts a lifetime.”
2. How does Jehovah feel when one of his children drifts away from him?
2 Jehovah takes note when even one of his children stops associating with the Christian congregation and engaging in the preaching work. Think, then, of how pained he must be to see thousands of his servants become inactive* each year.
3. What does Jehovah want?
3 Many of these dear brothers and sisters who have become inactive do come back to the congregation, where they are most welcome! Jehovah wants them to come back, and so do we. (1 Pet. 2:25) How can we help? Before we answer that question, it would be good to know why some stop attending meetings and sharing in the ministry.
WHY DO SOME STOP SERVING JEHOVAH?
4. How can secular work affect some?
4 Some have become absorbed in secular work. “I let myself get overly involved in my secular work,” admits Hung,* a brother who lives in Southeast Asia. “I foolishly told myself that if I were better off materially, I would be better able to serve Jehovah. So I worked more hours. I began to miss more and more meetings until I finally stopped associating with the congregation. It seems that the world is designed to draw people away from God little by little.”
5. How did a series of problems affect one sister?
5 Some brothers and sisters are overwhelmed by problems. Anne from Britain is a mother of five children. “One of my children was born with severe disabilities,” Anne explains. “In time, one of my daughters was disfellowshipped and a son developed a mental illness. I got so depressed that I stopped attending meetings and preaching. Eventually, I became inactive.” Our hearts go out to Anne and her family as well as others who face such challenges!
6. How could not applying Colossians 3:13 cause someone to drift away from Jehovah’s people?
6 Read Colossians 3:13. Some of Jehovah’s servants have felt hurt by a fellow believer. The apostle Paul recognized that at times we might have a valid “cause for complaint against” a brother or a sister. We may even have been treated unjustly. If we are not careful, we could become resentful. Bitterness may eventually cause a person to drift away from Jehovah’s people. Consider the experience of Pablo, a brother in South America. He was falsely accused of wrongdoing and, as a result, lost a privilege of service in the congregation. How did he react? “I got angry,” says Pablo, “and I gradually drifted away from the congregation.”
7. What effect can a guilty conscience have on a person?
7 Or a guilty conscience may torment a person who has broken God’s law in the past, making him feel unworthy of God’s love. Even if he was repentant and was shown mercy, he might feel that he is no longer good enough to be one of God’s people. A brother named Francisco felt that way. “I was reproved for committing sexual immorality,” he says. “Although at first I continued to attend meetings, I became depressed and felt unworthy to be among Jehovah’s people. My conscience bothered me, and I was convinced that Jehovah had not forgiven me. In time, I stopped associating with the congregation.” How do you feel about brothers and sisters who face situations like those just discussed? Do you have empathy for them? More important, how does Jehovah feel about them?
JEHOVAH LOVES HIS SHEEP
8. Does Jehovah forget those who once served him? Explain.
8 Jehovah does not forget those who once served him but who have temporarily stopped associating with his people; nor does he forget the work they did in his service. (Heb. 6:10) The prophet Isaiah recorded a beautiful illustration to show how Jehovah cares for his people. “Like a shepherd he will care for his flock,” Isaiah wrote. “With his arm he will gather together the lambs, and in his bosom he will carry them.” (Isa. 40:11) How does the Great Shepherd feel when one of his sheep strays from the flock? Jesus revealed Jehovah’s feelings when he asked his disciples: “What do you think? If a man has 100 sheep and one of them strays, will he not leave the 99 on the mountains and set out on a search for the one that is straying? And if he finds it, I certainly tell you, he rejoices more over it than over the 99 that have not strayed.”—Matt. 18:12, 13.
9. How did good shepherds in Bible times treat their sheep? (See cover picture.)
9 Why is it appropriate to liken Jehovah to a shepherd? Because a good shepherd in Bible times cared deeply about his sheep. David, for example, fought a lion and a bear to protect his flock. (1 Sam. 17:34, 35) A good shepherd would certainly notice if even one sheep went missing. (John 10:3, 14) That kind of shepherd would leave his 99 sheep in the safety of a pen or in the care of fellow shepherds and go searching for the missing one. Jesus used that illustration to teach us an important truth: “It is not a desirable thing to my Father who is in heaven for even one of these little ones to perish.”—Matt. 18:14.
JEHOVAH SEARCHES FOR HIS SHEEP
10. According to Ezekiel 34:11-16, what did Jehovah promise to do for his lost sheep?
10 Jehovah loves each one of us, including the “little ones” who have strayed from his flock. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God promised that he would search for his lost sheep and help them to regain their spiritual health. And he outlined specific steps that he would take to rescue them, steps that a typical Israelite shepherd would take if a sheep went missing. (Read Ezekiel 34:11-16.) First, the shepherd would search for the sheep, which could require much time and effort. Then, once he located the stray, the shepherd would bring it back to the flock. Further, if the sheep was injured or starving, the shepherd would lovingly support the weak animal, binding its wounds, carrying it, and feeding it. Elders, the shepherds of “the flock of God,” need to take these same steps to help any who have strayed from the congregation. (1 Pet. 5:2, 3) The elders search for them, help them to return to the flock, and show them love by providing the necessary spiritual support.*
11. What did a good shepherd understand?
11 A good shepherd understood that sheep may get lost. And if a sheep did wander away from the flock, the shepherd did not treat it harshly. Consider the example that God set when helping some of his servants who, for a while, strayed from Jehovah.
12. How did Jehovah deal with Jonah?
12 The prophet Jonah ran away from his assignment. Even so, Jehovah did not quickly give up on Jonah. Like a good shepherd, Jehovah rescued him and helped him gain the strength he needed to fulfill his assignment. (Jonah 2:7; 3:1, 2) Later, God used a bottle-gourd plant to help Jonah understand the value of each human life. (Jonah 4:10, 11) The lesson? Elders must not quickly give up on those who become inactive. Instead, the elders try to understand what caused a sheep to stray from the flock. And when that sheep comes back to Jehovah, the elders continue to show loving interest in him.
13. What can we learn from Jehovah’s reaction to the writer of Psalm 73?
13 The writer of Psalm 73 became discouraged when he observed how the wicked seemed to flourish. He questioned whether doing God’s will was worthwhile. (Ps. 73:12, 13, 16) How did Jehovah react? He did not condemn the man. In fact, God had his words recorded in the Bible. Eventually, the psalmist came to realize that a good relationship with Jehovah is worth more than anything else, making life worthwhile. (Ps. 73:23, 24, 26, 28) The lesson? Elders should not be quick to judge those who begin to question the benefits of serving Jehovah. Rather than condemn them, elders must try to understand why they speak and act the way they do. Only then can the elders draw attention to the specific Scriptural encouragement that is needed.
14. Why did Elijah need help, and how did Jehovah supply it?
14 The prophet Elijah fled from Queen Jezebel. (1 Ki. 19:1-3) He thought that nobody else was serving as a prophet for Jehovah, and he felt that his work had served no purpose. Elijah became so depressed that he wanted to die. (1 Ki. 19:4, 10) Rather than condemn Elijah, Jehovah assured him that he was not alone, that he could trust in God’s power, and that there was still much work for him to do. Jehovah kindly listened to Elijah’s concerns and gave him new assignments. (1 Ki. 19:11-16, 18) The lesson? All of us, especially the elders, should treat Jehovah’s sheep kindly. Whether a person expresses bitterness or feels unworthy of Jehovah’s mercy, elders will listen to him as he pours out his heart. Then they will try to assure the lost sheep that Jehovah values him.
HOW SHOULD WE FEEL ABOUT GOD’S LOST SHEEP?
15. According to John 6:39, how did Jesus view his Father’s sheep?
15 How does Jehovah want us to feel about his lost sheep? Jesus provides the pattern for us. He knew that all of Jehovah’s sheep are precious in God’s eyes, so Jesus did all he could to help “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” return to Jehovah. (Matt. 15:24; Luke 19:9, 10) As the fine shepherd, Jesus also did his utmost to avoid losing any of Jehovah’s sheep.—Read John 6:39.
16-17. How should elders feel about helping those who have gone astray? (See the box “How a Lost Sheep May Feel.”)
16 The apostle Paul urged the elders of the congregation in Ephesus to imitate Jesus’ example. “You must assist those who are weak and must keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus, when he himself said: ‘There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.’” (Acts 20:17, 35) Clearly, elders today have a special responsibility in this regard. “When I think of how much Jehovah cares for his lost sheep, I feel motivated to do all I can to help them,” explains Salvador, an elder in Spain. “As a spiritual shepherd, I am convinced that Jehovah wants me to care for them.”
17 All those mentioned in this article who had drifted away were helped to come back to Jehovah. At this very moment, many more who have strayed want to do the same. The next article will discuss in more detail what we can do to help them return to Jehovah.
SONG 139 See Yourself When All Is New
Why do some who have served Jehovah faithfully for years drift away from the congregation? How does God feel about them? This article considers answers to those questions. It also discusses what we can learn from the way Jehovah helped some in Bible times who temporarily drifted away from him.
EXPRESSION EXPLAINED: An inactive publisher is someone who has not reported any activity in the preaching and disciple-making work for six months or more. Even so, inactive ones are still our brothers and sisters, and we love them.
Some names have been changed.
The next article will discuss specific ways that elders can follow these steps.
PICTURE DESCRIPTION: Concerned about a lost sheep, an Israelite shepherd would search for it and help it back to the flock. Spiritual shepherds today do the same.
PICTURE DESCRIPTION: As an inactive sister waits for her bus to depart, she observes two Witnesses who happily share in public witnessing.