I’ve had a few up-close experiences with sheep in my life. The most recent was Christmas Eve just a few weeks ago. Our church secured a 4 month old lamb to participate in our Eve services, the theme of which centered around God’s choice to announce Christ’s birth first to shepherds, of all people.
My friend and colleague Steve was set to do a “Shepherd’s monologue,” and then bring in the lamb while I continued the message. Besides bringing home the realism of shepherds as part of the Christmas story, there was admittedly an element of sheer practicality as we wanted to grab and keep the attention of the many young children in the audience with their parents.
When Steve and I went to meet the lamb a few days before Christmas Eve, I was immediately reminded of some of the characteristics of sheep that make me a little sheepish (no pun intended) that God compares His people to sheep in passages like
Know that the Lord , he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. -Psalms 100:3
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way… -Isaiah 53:6
To be compared to sheep is not really a compliment, given that sheep tend to be:
- Easily startled
- Seemingly clueless about which way to go without guidance
- And, in general, not the sharpest knives in the drawer
Quite honestly, I don’t like being any of those things. I want to be competent, confident, and be more like a shepherd who cares for others, than a sheep that needs someone to care for me.
But that lamb did something on Christmas Eve that I want to learn to do better.
When Steve and I visited him at his farm, when he was with his mother, he was calm and cooperative, and Steve held him for an extended period of time without any issues whatsoever. He seemed to be at peace with us. Of course, he was in full view and earshot of his mother, only 6 feet away.
Christmas Eve was another story.
His owner dropped him off at the church about an hour before the first service began. From the moment he arrived, he ran around his cage agitated, refusing to be calmed, and bleating VERY loudly. I told Steve, “We may have to punt this idea.” I pictured “Lamby” (so designated because he had not been given a name as he was likely destined for market) squirming and making such a ruckus on stage that I would not be able to talk over him and teach about his fantastic symbolism, which of course was the whole point of bringing him in the first place.
All of us who knew the backstory were quite surprised when Steve brought Lamby into this unfamiliar setting, in front of over 300 people, under bright lights – and he lay calmly in Steve’s arms long enough for me to make my point (and Steve’s arms to get tired!) Lamby hardly made a sound, except for a few well-timed and contented “baas,” and even nuzzled Steve like a puppy licking his master’s face.
It was then that it occurred to me what I have to learn from Lamby.
Like a sheep, I may be fearful more often than not, I may be an easy target, I may not be the brightest bulb in the chandelier.
But I can learn to rest in the safety of the Good Shepherd Who holds me.
I can be still in His arms, stop the restlessness and crying, and enjoy the warmth and closeness of the One Who is fully capable of taking care of me.
Oh, to embrace the good work of the Good Shepherd!
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. -John 10:14-15
Now, if only I could learn to embrace my identity as one of the Lord’s sheep, rather than fighting against it.
Maybe Lamby is not the dense one after all.