By Susan E.Richardson
“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young,” (Isaiah 40:11).
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd,” (John 10:14-16).
Trust has been an ongoing struggle for me. I still have to work to maintain a healthy balance in looking to God and taking responsibility for myself. Looking to other things for my defense rather than God comes naturally to me.
One Sunday morning during Sunday School, my teacher, Ken, began talking about sheep. We were studying John and reached this portion about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. To begin, Ken asked us to list some characteristics of sheep. Someone answered, “Defenseless,” and I suddenly realized how ridiculous it was for me to believe I could defend myself.
Trusting in your defenses is a natural response to being wounded, but the truth is that we’re all weak, wandering, wooly creatures. Jesus calling us sheep wasn’t a compliment, but it’s quite accurate. Pathetic isn’t it, to consider that such a beast could actually protect itself? The two thoughts—trust and self-protection—came together as I considered what it means to be the Good Shepherd’s sheep.
Perhaps, like me, you’re a timid sheep huddled in the security of the fold. There we’re warm and safe, and we feel protected. The Shepherd, though, calls to us every morning to follow Him outside the fold. He wants to lead us to good pastures and to quiet pools where we can drink.
Instead of responding to His call, we shrink back into the sheepfold, afraid to come out. We place our trust in the walls around us and refuse to leave. Because the Shepherd isn’t in the business of driving His sheep, He lets us stay.
So there we stay, fearfully crouched in a corner, snatching a few mouthfuls of grass close to the door now and again, perhaps a drink from a puddle, but refusing to go out. All we can see is the danger of the world. We’re afraid of the wolves and bears out there. The very openness of the world is frightening. In the sheepfold things are stable and predictable.
Daily the Shepherd issues the invitation to come out. Maybe we’ve even begun venturing a little further a time or two before we retreat. What we’ve missed is the fact that our real protection is the Shepherd, not the sheepfold. He built the fold—for our protection. He guards the door – for our protection. He goes with the sheep—for our protection.
We may have chosen to put our trust in the things, not the One behind those things. We can even manage to delude ourselves into thinking we can create our own defenses. We’ve kicked up a couple of ridges of dirt in the sheepfold floor and convinced ourselves that they’re walls that can protect us. We convince ourselves that because we can butt heads with other sheep we can also defend ourselves against the wolves of the world when in reality only the Shepherd’s staff can protect us from them.
Daily the choice comes before us: will we trust the fold or the Shepherd? We can trust our false sense of security and continue to live in the confines of the sheepfold, hungry and thirsty because we won’t go into the pasture, or we can choose to follow the Shepherd, trusting in Him alone to keep us safe.
He makes no promise that we won’t be frightened in the pasture. Sometimes the wolves do attack. We bear the scars of such attacks. Injury does come, but the Shepherd is always there, comforting and healing.
Lord, You’re calling us outside of the sheepfold and we’re not sure about venturing out. We trust other things for our security and refuse to follow You. Often we’d rather keep retreating from the world than go into it. We confess that, Lord. Help us find the courage to follow You and trust You with whatever comes.