Last weekend, I experienced a refreshingly different slice of life as I served a small rural community with presentations on the topic of my book, Please Pass the Faith. The community had several sheep farms and I got to tour through the barns of one of them. It’s a hard living these days, but its lambing time! In addition to stepping carefully and observing how roughly lambs nuzzle in for a drink, I got to hold a lamb that had just dried off and was no bigger than a cat. Reflecting on that experience reminded me of a visualization exercise I wrote to help camp staff feel close to Psalm 23, the famous Shepherd Psalm, some years ago. It’s where I started learning about the life of shepherds. I offer it here as a tribute to today’s shepherds, who face today’s shepherding challenges with equal courage and wisdom:
“Imagine yourself as an eastern shepherd, perhaps even a Masai herdsman. The life of these herdsmen provides one of the closer modern parallels to the shepherds of the Bible.
As a shepherd, your greatest objective is for your flock to flourish, so you are totally preoccupied with their care.
Daily, you stand in the pasture among your sheep, casting a knowing eye over them and rejoicing in their contentment and fitness. If you notice bramble scratches or other wounds on your sheep, you clean them gently and anoint the sores with oil. When they have grazed the grass to a healthy level, you lead them on before they damage the roots.
Each evening, you lead them into the protection of the dusty, dirty and smelly sheepfold that you have created with a thorn hedge. Not a blade of grass has survived the stomping hooves or the accumulated layers of dung in there, but it is open to the evening winds and is a safer place for the dark hours of the night.
You have named each sheep appropriately. They know and trust your voice, so most of them follow willingly. A few stubborn ones shake their heads, bleat out their pathetic b-a-a, and refuse to follow. You approach them with your most obedient sheep, let them graze side by side for a while and then call them to follow you again. This time the stubborn ones follow the example of the others and come along.
Each sheep receives its night-time greeting as it enters the sheepfold for the night. All night you keep watch for predators who may leap over the thick thorns of the fence.
Next morning you rise early and call them out of the fold, leading them from the barren, contaminated ground of the sheepfold before the insects in the sheepfold awake, to fresh green pastures while the vegetation is soaked with moisture providing dew. You lead your sheep methodically in and out, from place to place, offering them protection, nurture and the experience of new grazing places as they need them.
Without your careful leadership and care, you know they would soon be distraught, hungry, sick, and scattered in every direction, so you do what you can to keep yourself healthy, too. The sheep bring you such joy as you see them thrive, so you willingly devote the strength of your body, the energy of your mind, and the enthusiasm of your spirit to their well being, for their well being is your well being; these sheep are life to you.”
Based on information about a shepherd’s life, as described by Phillip Keller in A Shepherd Looks at the Good Shepherd and His Sheep,© 1978 by Phillip Keller, Zondervan Publishing House.