At the Bennett home, otherwise known as “Fleece and Fir Farm,” we have twelve Shetland sheep. Their names are Brie, Liberty, Jasmine, Pixie, Baby, Titterbug, Huckleberry, Rocky, Little Brother, Little Sister, Rosemary, and Piaget, and each of them are completely different than any of the others. The more time we spend being shepherds to these precious sheep, the more insight we gain not only into the references Jesus made to sheep, but in countless other aspects of our Christian lives.
Contrary to “popular belief,” sheep are not senseless, brainless creatures. True, they can be slightly stupid sometimes, but aren’t we as well? Our sheep are actually just like simplified people. They have mood swings, sweethearts, unique characteristics, and even their own personal baa. They too want attention, friendship, and (of course) back massages. They represent us in so many ways.
As soon as we realize that we are like sheep, we can easily conclude that God is represented by the shepherd. Indeed, Jesus said in John 10:11, “I am the Good Shepherd.” So from that perspective, there are so many parallels that can be drawn from our relationships with the sheep. Several are pointed out in John 10, but I’d like to bring to mind a few things that you may not have known before, or illustrate a truth of our Christian walk.
To me, our twins Little Brother and Little Sister (both in the bottom left picture, second in) represent the kind of Christian that we should all strive to be. They are full of energy and never want anything more than to be with their shepherd. Anytime we walk into the field, they will leave whatever they’re doing and run over to us, wanting nothing more than some time together. They are unafraid to do anything that we encourage them to do because they trust us. It’s inspiring to watch them come right to us during the shearing, even when the other sheep are scared and baaing in fear. They don’t care what the others think, they only know that we love them and only do what’s best for them. They aren’t scared to step out of what it considered safe because they trust their shepherd.
But this amazing relationship with their shepherd didn’t come by chance. In fact, that may be the most poignant part of their story.
When they were born, their mother rejected them, even tried to kill them. We pulled them out of the pen to rescue them, and gave them to another ewe to watch. But this ewe had no lambs of her own and so she couldn’t feed them. Thus, we had bottle-feed them (as you can see by the bottom right picture). Until they were significantly grown, they depended on us every few hours to come out to them with a warm bottle of milk. They learned quickly that though it was hard to be without a true mother and without a constant supply of milk, they could trust us to be there for them. The hard times, the times when they had to completely trust in their shepherd, were the times that developed the faith that has given them happiness throughout the rest of their lives. Because they trust us, they never fear anything, and they have the joy of a wonderful relationship with their shepherd.
So why don’t we usually have that joyful relationship with Jesus that casts out every fear and gives us boldness to go against the flow and out of our comfort zone? Well, if we look at the example of the sheep, we can see that the problem for many of us is a lack faith. The thing that gives Little Brother and Little Sister their feelings of safety and happiness is their undoubting trust (redundant). So why don’t we have that?
For most of us, we’ve grown up in a safe, Christian home with rarely an occasion that we really needed to trust God for something like our daily food. In fact, our culture of prosperity is probably one of the greatest dampers to growing our faith. The reason that our sheep trust us is because they lived through a time where the shepherd was their life and death. There was nothing they could do to feed themselves, there was no way for them to provide for themselves.
Something our culture has taught us is to never go all out for something in case it fails. We are brought up with the idea that we always need to have a plan B, we shouldn’t ever be without another lifeline. But that’s not how we should act toward God.
We can’t have faith in God if there’s no need for faith.
Often we tell God that we’re trusting Him, but really we prepare some kind of back-plan just in case He doesn’t come through. As Francis Chan asked in his book “Crazy Love,” have you ever trusted God so much in something that if He hadn’t come through for you, you actually would have lost something? My answer was an ashamed “no.” It’s so hard for us to leave ourselves completely vulnerable, completely off balance. And it can indeed be hard for a while. But we have to remember the reward.
Remember Little Brother and Little Sister? Their joy, security, and contentment in their shepherd can be ours. We too can be without fear. When we place our faith completely in Jesus, He will never fail us. The more we trust Him, the more we will love Him, and “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). So next time you are called to trust, cut all the strings. Leave yourself floating alone. Push yourself off balance. And when it seems hard, remember the reward. Remember that Jesus is the Good Shepherd.