Sheep grazing in pastures along Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Living life like a sheep

My brother and I raised 4-H market lambs for two years, and during that process, I learned a lot about sheep. And I learned why the Bible compares people to them. Sheep are pretty stupid, even though they think they’re awfully smart. They fall prey to the herd mentality. They will gorge themselves if allowed. They always think they know where they’re going, and they’re very, very stubborn about changing their minds.

Sound like anyone you know? I think every person needs to have experience raising sheep, especially if you’re a Christ-follower. It will open your eyes.

Sheep grazing in pastures along Hadrian's Wall, Northern England

Sheep grazing in pastures along Hadrian’s Wall, Northern England

Today’s verses are John 10:11-18.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

“The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”

I never had opportunity to sacrifice my life for any of my sheep. I can’t say that I would have, honestly, because their purpose was to go to market. They existed in my life for experience and education and hopefully a decent premium at auction that would jumpstart my puny savings account. In that context, my sheep weren’t worth my life.

But shepherding in Jesus’ day was different than it is today. Around here, my neighbors “shepherd” with four-wheelers and a lot of shouting. In Jesus’ time, shepherds led their sheep. Sheep were their livelihood, and you didn’t need to raise sheep for the experience of it. It was a full-time occupation. So if anything ever threatened the sheep, it was worth it to the shepherd to intervene. Why? Because they were his sheep. They were his life.

To a sheep, a shepherd is everything: guide, provider, protector, friend. The shepherd is the one who knows where the best grazing is. The shepherd is the one who knows the safe paths to travel. The shepherd is the one who leads. The shepherd is the one who makes the plan. It’s up to the sheep to follow. The sheep don’t have to do anything else. They just have to keep up, and even if they can’t keep up, the shepherd won’t leave them behind.

Thinking about our relationship with Jesus in that context leaves me speechless. I am very much like a sheep in my life. I really think I know what’s best for me. I think I know where I can find the best prospects for my life, and I am certain I know how to handle the opportunities that come at me without help. I convince myself I know when I push myself too hard, and I’m incredibly too stubborn about everything, especially the things I don’t actually know.

Jesus is patient with me anyway. He gently corrects, carefully guides, consistently provides, and always protects me no matter where I go and no matter how often I bite off more than I can actually chew.

A shepherd who’s in it for the money can always find another opportunity for cash if the sheep are in danger. There’s no need to risk life and limb. But the shepherd who’s in it for the sheep will do crazy things to keep them safe, and that’s what Jesus did for us. No one compelled Him to sacrifice His life for us. Yes, God the Father sent Him, but Jesus didn’t have to do what He did.

So what does all this mean for our lives today? It means a lot, honestly. It means that we don’t really know best, even though we think we do. It means God has a plan, and it means our job is to follow and not worry about things we can’t control. Yes, do your best. Use your gifts to their fullest extent. But Jesus wouldn’t lead you down a path without a reason. Just like a good shepherd wouldn’t lead his sheep to an area without good grazing.

Maybe your life hasn’t turned out the way you expected. That’s okay. God still has a plan, Jesus is still the Shepherd, and you’re still the sheep. The roles haven’t changed, even if your location has. So rest. Find some nice grass to munch on. Live. Enjoy the view. And take it easy until Jesus calls you again. Then follow. If He’s willing to lay His life down for you, He’s not going to lead you wrong.

We like sheep

I got ahead of myself. Yesterday, the verse for the day were two out of Isaiah 53 and becuase it’s such an awesome chapter, I went ahead and posted the whole thing. So . . . guess what the verses for today are?


Isaiah 53:5-6

 5 But he was pierced for our rebellion,
      crushed for our sins.
   He was beaten so we could be whole.
      He was whipped so we could be healed.
 6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
      We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
   Yet the Lord laid on him
      the sins of us all.

I always found it interesting how this verse refers to people as sheep. That won’t mean anything to anyone unless you’ve raised sheep.

Sheep are the dumbest animals alive. I’m telling you, they’re on the level of turkeys who look up during a rainstorm and drown. We had sheep grazing on our property for a number of years, and for two years I raised market lambs for 4-H. So I have a little bit of experience with them, and what experience I have has taught me a lot about why the Bible calls us sheep.

And it’s not a compliment.

Yes, lambs are cute and cuddly, but like most other farm-type critters, they grow up and they’re not cute and cuddly anymore and they’re just a headache.

For example, if we knew we were going to be out of town for a day or two, we had to get our neighbor to help us feed them because if you put extra food in their stall to sustain them while you were gone, they wouldn’t stop eating it. It’s like they have no “I’m full” switch in their brain. So they’ll gorge themselves, literally eat themselves to death.

My sheep actually almost did that too at the fair one year. We had set their feed bag too close to their stall, and they’d chewed into it and eaten most of what was in there.

Similarly, you have to mix salt in with their food instead of giving them a salt lick because they’ll gnaw holes in their teeth.

And it doesn’t matter what the situation is, if you have six sheep and a tiny little door they will all try to run through the door at the same time.

I’ve seen them stampede each other for no apparent reason. I’ve seen them freak over something that was going to help them and cause damage in their panic.

So . . . . how much of this sounds like us?

How many of us are so undisciplined that we gorge ourselves? And not necessarily on food. There are other things we shouldn’t have too much of . . . even if they’re good for us. How many of us do things we know we’re not supposed to do? How many of us do things that hurt us even though we know it will hurt us? How many times have we caved to the herd mentality and followed someone even though that person didn’t have a clue what he/she was doing and usually ended up making decisions that damaged everyone?

I know I’ve been there.

The Bible calls us sheep. There are other instances in the New Testment where Jesus also compares us to sheep. I can’t remember the reference, but it’s spoken in a good way. About His sheep knowing His voice. That’s the difference between shepherding in the Eastern World and in the Western World. In the U.S., we herd sheep and demand that they follow us; in the Middle East, the sheep follow their shepherds.

But in this context in Isaiah, being a sheep isn’t a good thing. It’s the epitome of rebellion by stupidity. All sheep have a shepherd, and the shepherd takes care of His sheep. That’s what shepherds do. But sheep are stupid and they want to do things their own way, even though any thinking sheep could see (if sheep could think) that following the shepherd makes sense. So what happens? Sheep wander off. They stray. They take off down a path that they think is the best option for them, and they end up in trouble.

Jesus tells a story about how the shepherd goes and gets the sheep that’s wandered off and brings it back to the fold. But this statement in Isaiah is different. It’s not about the shepherd and his work to rescue a sheep. It’s about the punishment that the shepherd endures because his flock is stupid.

All of us are like sheep. Not one of us has actually stayed on God’s path, and for that reason, Jesus accepted punishment. We’re the ones who made the mistake, but He was the One who paid for it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be like a sheep. I’ve worked with them enough to have little respect for them. Cute and cuddly will only get you so far when you’re dumber than a post.

So the next time I’m tempted to go off on my own — to do something I know God has said is wrong or not good for me — I’m going to think about those sheep all trying to cram through one tiny little door. Finding sheep who act stupid is easy. Finding a sheep that actually keeps following his shepherd when it has the opportunity to run away? That’s unusual.