Baack to the Sheepfold

If you know me at all, you know I have a thing for sheep. What you may not know is that my sheep obsession started almost 30 years ago, in the summer of 1989! My sister, who has a thing for animals of any kind, was fostering endangered desert tortoises in her Arizona backyard at the time. My mom thought it’d be fun to start a turtle figurine collection for her. Not wanting to ignore her favorite (oldest) daughter, she asked me if I’d also like to collect something.

I thought for a moment before answering, “Sheep.” I’d never even been around actual sheep. But I’d rubbed shoulders with them on the pages of the Bible, and read a few books about the spiritual parallels between humans and sheep. (The most notable being “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” by Phillip Keller. It’s a classic; I highly recommend.) I’d grown rather fond of these wooly wanderers.

And so, I became known as a lover and collector of all things Sheep.

This spring, I revisited Psalm 23 with my Thursday night Bible study group, along with author Jennifer Rothschild as our insightful teacher. (I also highly recommend her study!) In preparation, I dusted off my sheep collection and enjoyed the memories they evoked as they decorated our gracious Bible study host’s home. I was excited to share my passion for sheep with the group.

Turns out I was the one most in need of a reminder that I was still just a humble sheep.

If you know sheep at all, you know that despite their thick wool coats, they are “a few threads short of a sweater,” if you know what I mean. They need a lot of help. They’re extremely high maintenance. (“Bless,” my British BFF Caroline would say about folks like these.)

Here are just a few reasons why sheep are so needy:

  • They are quickly disoriented. Unlike birds, dogs, and many other animals, sheep lack a homing device. No GPS included!
  • They are easily spooked. Once, on a field trip with my “Mums and Tots” group in England, I witnessed a whole group of sheep panic when some harmless preschoolers tossed a few bits of hay their way!
  • They are almost completely defenseless. No claws, no fangs in those jaws. No wonder they run!

That they need a shepherd is no surprise. But not just any shepherd. They need a good shepherd. One who will tirelessly devote himself to their intensive care.

I don’t really like being compared to a sheep. But (sheepishly) I must confess this threadbare sweater fits.

  • I can lose my spiritual bearings and forget my way “home.”
  • I am prone to panic, the smallest worries triggering an emotional stampede.
  • I often feel defenseless and vulnerable when under spiritual attack.

Thankfully, I am not a sheep without a shepherd.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. (Psalm 23:1, NASB)

And my shepherd is a Good One. An expert in His field! (No pun intended.)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11, NIV)

A good shepherd is, well, good at what he does. He genuinely cares for his sheep. He has a vested interest in the well-being of His flock, because his reputation is on the line. A thriving flock testifies to His watchful, faithful care. He’ll do whatever it takes to keep them safe and sound.

In a recent blog post I shared that I am in need of some “soul care,” some restoration and repair. The starting point for this journey was admitting who I am: a sheep in need of a shepherd, and acknowledging who He is: the Good Shepherd, who will stop at nothing to provide for His sheep. My job? To not resist, but instead rest in His capable care.

I needed this reminder. Do you? Then repeat after me:

I am a sheep.

I have a Good Shepherd.

He is more than able, and willing, to take care of me.

I will rest in His loving care.

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Prone to Panic

“A southeastern Idaho ranch lost 176 sheep as the animals ran in fear from two wolves…”

This story on my Facebook newsfeed the other day caught my attention.  Curious, I clicked on the link to read more.

According to the owner of the sheep ranch, 119 lambs and 57 ewes were lost in the early morning ambush.  But less than a dozen sheep actually perished from injuries inflicted by the wolves.   The vast majority died from…asphyxiation.  What?  Reporter Mike Koshmrl of the Jackson Hole Daily explains:  “Running downhill in a panic, about 165 sheep from the (herd) were killed, trampled and smothered in their terror.”

The panic attack was more deadly than the wolf attack.

I did some research.  Apparently for skittish sheep, this is not that unusual.  “Even if sheep are not directly bitten or survive an attack, they may die from panic…” (Storey’s Guide to Raising Sheep)  How needless.  How sad.

I’m reminded that I too am a sheep prone to panic.

This is especially true for me in the wee hours of the morning, when a bad dream or a full bladder disrupt peaceful slumber.  In the dark, semi-conscious, I’m more vulnerable to cries of wolf.  Within minutes, “…my anxious thoughts multiply within me…” (Psalm 94:19a, NAS).  And once spooked, fears, doubts and insecurities can stampede into a suffocating pileup at the base of a hill called Reason.

Carrying me right along with them.

What’s a sheep to do?

I have learned over the years to try not to put too much stock into thoughts that intrude in the middle of the night.  Darkness has a way of distorting reality and magnifying problems.  The light of day mercifully illumines Truth.

A definition of faith that I’ve always liked and remembered is this:

“Faith is a refusal to panic.” (David Martyn Lloyd-Jones)

Now if I could just remember to apply it!  For once runaway fears take off, they can be next to impossible to corral.  That’s when I bleat out a plaintive cry for help…

Shepherds and ranchers will go to great lengths to protect their flock from wolves and other predators.  Realistically, they can’t be out in the fields with their animals 24/7.  I was intrigued to learn that some ranch owners have implemented a creative solution known as “livestock guardians.”   Sheep specialist Susan Schoenian describes their function:  “A livestock guardian generally stays with the sheep without harming them and aggressively repels predators.”  Certain breeds of dogs, llamas, and donkeys have proven to be very effective in this role.

I love the beauty and serenity in this picture of a faithful livestock guardian on the job:

Livestock guardian dog

And I realize…God is not only our Shepherd.  He is also our Guardian.

“Once you were like sheep who wandered away.  But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.”  (1 Peter 2:25, NLT)

This Shepherd is not distant or detached.  He is an ever-present Guardian, right smack dab in the middle of the flock.  He is alert and attentive to His timid sheep’s cries for help.  He instantly knows when they’re under attack from doubts within or threats without, whether real or imagined.  There’s no need to push the panic button with Him on the scene.  Sheep in His care can rest, secure in His love, safe in His protection.

I’m His sheep.  He is with me.

As a result I can confidently declare:

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shalt not…panic!”

Let’s Keep Calm and Trust On!

(Note:  “Guardian” is another great song we sing in church!  You can listen here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiRH8Hc8VQI )

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