For many years, my brother has been my small claim to fame. Often when I am trying to describe who I am, where I am from and what I do, the only connection I can make with a stranger is to mention my brothers name. In our part of the world, lots of people know him. Of all things, he is a Professional Rodeo Clown. He travels all over the United States, stays in all kinds of places, meets thousands of interesting people, and has lots of adventures. I stay home, punch a time clock and raise kids. And yet, neither of us is one bit envious of the other. (Well, maybe just a little bit...now and then...)
We were raised on a farm in the country. Had horses, cows, chickens, dogs, cats and anything else that happened to wander onto our land. Once we even had pet squirrels who lived in the living room. Lots of “animal adventures” in our childhood.
These days, as an entertainer, he is constantly working on new “acts” involving training live animals to perform. He has had a goat or two that I didn’t see eye to eye with, or I guess you could say horns to eye. He trains them to do all kinds of tricks, and I have to admit to being impressed at times at what he can teach them to do. But I’ve never seen him teach a sheep. And I probably never will. After some insightful study, I can tell you why.
My Sunday School lesson recently was on one of my favorite passages of scripture. My Bible translators titled it “The Love Motivation.” John 21:15-17. They didn’t ask me, but I would have titled them “Peter’s Second Chance.” Love these verses. Love Peter’s story. But I find it interesting that Jesus refers to us as “lambs” and “sheep” several different times. It got me thinking and reading about sheep. What I found wasn’t very encouraging.
Sheep are not very smart. They are stubborn and slow. They tend to follow blindly and without thought when led. They think about food a lot.
Sheep can’t easily be trained. Even after learning the same dangerous lessons over and over, they will continue to wander away from the flock and put themselves in harms way.
And sheep have no way to defend themselves. No fangs, no claws. They can’t even run fast enough to get away when pursued by an enemy. And they have many of those.
They must be fed regularly, sheared often and protected constantly. Most importantly of all, sheep can’t even clean themselves. It has to be done for them.
Are you getting the idea here? Following along? At any point I could stop typing the word “sheep” and start inserting the word “me or I.”
I like to think I am fairly smart. But God might argue that I have often made poor decisions. I might say that I’m not stubborn. I think He would laugh out loud at that one. Anyone who has ever seen me run would say I would have a hard time outrunning a lion or wolf. So I think my chances of outrunning any enemies are pretty much non-existent. Not sure how well I could defend myself in a good fight, although some might swear they have seen my fangs and claws.
I often reflect on all the times I’ve followed blindly and without thought. Away from my church family, away from God’s word, away from my flock. Away from sure protection and provision. Forging my own path through the woods. On my own. In harms way.
I have some vivid memories of times God allowed me to be sheared by other hands than His. Times when I have shed some layers, lost some parts of me that I thought I couldn’t live without. Ended up healthier.
Are you starting to get the picture?
And now, the most important comparison. Just like a sheep, I’m not able to clean myself.
My soul gets muddy, my heart grows thick wool. My feet get heavy and planted in place.
The Saving Grace for sheep is that they are never left alone to deal with the helplessness. They don’t have to outrun the enemy, fight the battles, learn the tricks or find the way. They don’t have to shear themselves or give themselves a bath. Because sheep have someone standing by to take care of all the big stuff. Someone to keep the danger away and the food close. Someone to fight the wolves. Someone who won’t leave them. He’s called a Shepherd.
I’m so thankful I have a Shepherd too. To fight my enemies, clean off my dirt and feed me daily. I’m so thankful that He shears me when I need it and leads me to the lush green pastures. I've so thankful He has never left me. He has a perfect track record of caring for me.
My trust is strong in Him. And always, no matter what, He is the Shepherd of my Soul.