Literally and figuratively.
They really do. We always picture sheep so soft and sweet, but in reality they use the bathroom and then step it and carry it with them all day. Who wants to cuddle with that?
My brother-in-law Dave is a shepherd.
He lives on a communal farm in England where they care for marginalized people. He is both a chaplain and a shepherd.
My family and I have learned some things from him about sheep. My husband and my oldest son have been to visit him and they were invited to tend the sheep with him.
And sheep stink.
It’s not just the literal stink, they also are simply tough animals to tend. They are stubborn and stupid. My husband Tim fought with one sheep who refused to be led to greener pastures. She preferred to ram into a wall rather than follow the shepherd’s staff.
She refused to be led to greener pastures. She preferred to ram into a wall rather than follow the shepherds’ staff.
Isn’t that just like me?
I am a sheep who desperately needs a shepherd. I do not have my act together. I do not know everything. And I am weak and vulnerable, and susceptible to all kinds of danger.
It’s not just a nice idea. I really need a shepherd.
And yet, sometimes I prefer to ram into a wall rather than follow my Good Shepherd’s plan. Why do I struggle to trust that He knows a better way, or that His heart is always for me?
It is tough work to be a shepherd. The number of details that go into caring for sheep is astounding. Dave taught us how he has to daily move their feeding trough because if he doesn’t, they end up using the bathroom by it and, well, you can imagine what kinds of problems ensue. He has to watch their hooves, track the health of each sheep, move them daily to different plots of land. Shepherding requires intimate knowledge of each sheep and careful tending. It requires a whole lot of sacrifices on the part of the shepherd.
I think about how I can be a stinky, stubborn sheep. Then, my heart goes to my Good Shepherd. And I can not believe how much He loves me.
A good shepherd knows His sheep. My Good Shepherd knows me down to the dark places of my heart. And he loves me even there. Have you ever considered that He is the only One who shares every moment of your life with you? He has been with you. Always. He calls you by name. You are one his favorites. “He calls his own by name and He leads them out.” (John 10).
A good shepherd knows it will require careful tending. My Good Shepherd cares about every.single.detail. He tends me when my heart is desperately lonely. He tends me when I am anxious about our finances. He dances with joy with me when life is sweet. And he gently shepherds me when my heart is broken. “The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves those crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34).
A good shepherd is willing to lay down his life for his sheep. My Good Shepherd did not hold back when it required the costliest price. He loved me that much. How can I doubt His love now? “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” (John 10).
A good shepherd leads his sheep to life. My Good Shepherd has good planned for me, even when I can’t see it. I can trust His heart. I know He will get me home. “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23).
And I think I am beginning to understand this truth: there is no other place I want to be than to be tucked in tightly to my Good, Good Shepherd. He is the ultimate green pasture, the still waters that restore my soul. I don’t want to ram my head into a wall like that sheep. I want to stick close to the One who loves me more than I can imagine.
In God’s crazy economy, somehow He entrusts people into our care, doesn’t He? He asks us to be about the work of shepherding some of His flock.
As we shepherd those He gives us, oh may we imitate our Good Shepherd. May we truly know our sheep and be willing to lay down our very lives for them. And may we lead them to LIFE, to the Good Shepherd Himself.
What a gift to be part of His flock.
We are one loved lot of stinky sheep.
How have you been like a sheep recently? What comfort have you found in your Shepherd? Who is He asking you to shepherd? What does that look like?