I do not have a lot of experience with barnyard animals. Sure, I’ve driven by a lot of cows over the years, and even visited a few farms on school field trips. But, for the most part, my experiences with barnyard creatures has been relegated to petting zoos. This Christmas, our church set up a live nativity for Christmas Eve services. Our local veterinarian and his family brought an animal menagerie to the church yard that consisted of a donkey, a burrow, a sheep, a lamb, and a Scottish Highland cow. I was just as excited as the kids to spend some quality time with these animals. I even got to carry the lamb, which was an experience I never knew I wanted until I had it. I became immediately attached to the soft, snuggly, squirmy little fuzzball, and would have brought him home if my husband hadn’t intervened.
While all of the animals were a joy to behold, it was actually the sheep that proved most enlightening. This was because she had absolutely zero interest in being put on display for our Christmas Eve viewing pleasure. After descending from her trailer, this stout black and white furred diva lay down in the middle of the street and refused to move. Despite the pleading, prodding, cajoling, and nudging of her humans, she would not perform. Not even the promise of fresh hay could bring her to her feet. She stubbornly lay on the cold, hard concrete forcing her handlers to push and pull her short but stocky frame up a hill, across a yard, and to the front of the church. Once situated in her spot, she stood quietly and munched on the fresh hay while her lamb nursed, ensuring that her back was always turned toward the congregation–a quiet protest at being dragged from her barn and set out for all to gawk at.
I always assumed that sheep just blindly followed where they were led. But this little mama had spirit. She displayed a rugged individualism I didn’t know sheep had. She willfully refused to follow the lead of her shepherds, and as I watched her be dragged across the yard I thought to myself, “This is what Jesus really has to put up with!”
When Jesus talks about being the good shepherd, I always picture him standing in the middle of a field with all of these quiescent little sheep gathered around him blissfully following him with big doe-eyes as he leads them on their way. I never even considered that Jesus would have to push, pull, and prod his sheep where he wants them to go–even though that’s how Jesus has often had to lead me! Truth be told, I do not always jump up and run to God when I hear God calling me. Rather, like the sheep at our Christmas Eve service, I lay down right where I am and refuse to budge. Following God is often inconvenient, sometimes uncomfortable, and occasionally disruptive. It means changing my course, deviating from my schedule, and giving up my own personal ambitions or plans. I don’t want to follow because it’s not my will. Case in point, the other day I found myself thinking about a friend. Time and again she came to my mind. I knew I needed to give her a call, but I had so much work in my inbox. There wasn’t time. It was inconvenient. And yet, God kept pushing and pulling until I finally laid the work aside and picked up my phone. We had a great conversation. It was good, and the work was still there when I hung up. Did I make it through my to-do list for the day? No way. But, God reminded me once again that it is infinitely more important to invest in people rather than tasks.
Recognizing the shepherd’s voice isn’t the problem for most of us. It’s following the voice that proves most difficult. This week, we have a choice to make. Will we willingly relinquish our own goals and plans in order to follow the voice of God we hear calling in our lives? Or, will we remain stubbornly ensconced in our own to-do lists, ignoring God’s entreaties to follow his lead? The shepherd knows where we need to go. Let’s try to follow him willingly and see what amazing opportunities he has for us this week!
Blessings and Peace,