We are sheep. We are sheep because, well the easiest analogy is that sheep are stupid… and well we are pretty stupid too.
Sheep do things like, a more commonly known situation, get their heads stuck in the fence because they really really REALLY wanted that grass on the other side. Shortly following, hopefully, the Shepherd (this would be me in this situation) has to come and push their head in the opposite direction, which is uncomfortable for a short while for them. They are free and run away, but later come back and do the same thing over. Rinse and Repeat.
I’ve been raising sheep since I was 7. It started as a fun 4-H project after seeing some cute lambs on a highway and then turned into a business when we found out how much our one little rare breed sheep was worth in the sheep industry. Throughout raising sheep I’ve experienced many things; especially over 12 years or so. I always enjoy the warm fuzzy feelings of bottle feeding orphan lambs and holding their fragile warm bodies as they fall asleep in your lap. I enjoy less the moments when they’ve gotten sick and they stop breathing but I can still see their heart beating as I desperately try to keep them alive but only to fail, then following having to lay their lifeless but still warm bodies in a sandy hole deep enough to not attract coyotes. Sometimes there are even gruesome tasks such as pulling maggots from their skin after a bad case of fly strike, then setting the maggots on fire with a passionate anger. Lovely, I know.
There are a lot of moments in between the beauty of new life and the heartache of death that make the life and analogy of sheep very applicable to the world around us and our relationship with God. I often think of it best when I remember moments last summer when I led the sheep out to pasture so they could enjoy some fresh green grass. Their enjoyment of having a new patch gives me a lot of joy to see them fervently eating as much as they can as quick as they can. I sit with them and watch as the flock walks around me. Normally when they are wandering free I walk with them as they tend to run off and get lost a lot, but today I gave them a new portion surrounded by a temporary fence I quickly threw up.
Sitting among them I just began to watch them move and interact with one another, a mix of lambs from late May and older ewes and many in between. Sitting I become as tall as they, as my sheep are miniature and quite close to the ground, here I’m less intimidating. My goal for the time is to help them know me. To know my voice. To know my face. To not be afraid of my presence. The elder ewes will stand near and some a far, they are not startled by my presence or any movements I make. The young ones are curious but keep their distance, too afraid of what I am. They don’t see my intentions to know and love them. Peacefully I sit, as I know if I’d chase them violently, they would only run away. I desire to run after them, to capture them, to hold them close and enjoy their little body heat, but I know the terror they will feel. Trust is something that grows. As I sit patiently, I take heed to the few little nose I hear sniffing behind my back and in my hair. I give them a few seconds as they think I don’t notice, then I turn around slowly and look at them. Their little faces pull back and they scamper away. I can call to them, tell them how much they can trust me, I can tell them how I want to love them, I can even show them how kindly I treat the others; but they just don’t understand. Sometimes seeing me gently work with the other sheep gives them comfort and they might make their way towards me. They know me best when they are hungry, when I can feed them, when they see I provide for them. They know I fill the water tank, so they call to me when its empty. I fill it gladly.
During this time with them a few lambs will get out, they’ve snuck under the fence and I have to help them quickly find their way back in as they get out just fine, but finding their way back… that’s a different story. Sometimes they need a close watch and discipline. Sometimes they need to test the electric fence for themselves.
Maybe you can see the parallels here. As a shepherd I learn about what it means to be a sheep, but I also learn a little bit about what it means to be God. I see how desperately I try to make them see how much I can help them, how I can love them. Yes, you can love animals. It’s ok too. It is even glorifying to God. Did he not make them, do you think he doesn’t love all of his creation? God has given us the opportunity to learn what it means to care for creation. There is no greater enjoyment with my sheep then successfully loving them to the point when you walk into the pen, they run to greet you and close their eyes in enjoyment as you scratch their chin. There is joy and pleasure in my presence among them, and that makes me feel loved. It all grows from trust and its all a gift from God too, just to me.
Sheep need to me led, because like us, we don’t know where to go on our own.
The LORD is my shepherd I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me. Your rod and staff comfort me….. surely goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever!
I love that David was a shepherd. I love that he could see himself as a sheep and God as a shepherd. I think of David’s great relationship with God as a sheep and a shepherd.
As sheep come to know their shepherd, come to know their voice, they are built with a desire to follow. They become excited by the presence of their shepherd and will enjoy their company far beyond just knowing as a shepherd who provides or sustains, but who is just enjoyed among the luscious greenery, gently lighting, and quiet hum of dusk.