Our Shepherd

My Friend Jeanie,

During this morning’s time with Jesus, one of the devotionals I use, included a single verse from Psalm 23. After this special time was over, my reflecting on Psalm 23 continued. Memories and thoughts began to connect: sermons I’d heard, things I’d read, ideas revealed, and lessons learned. I wish to share with you my thought on a very small snippet that has been meaningful to me and has opened my understanding of this Psalm and what it may have meant to David.

I have lived my entire life in cattle country. I know little to nothing about sheep. In truth, I know a lot more about bison than I do sheep. But I do recognize sheep when I see them. I had a childhood friend who lived on a farm. His dad raised cattle and one year experimented raising a small flock of sheep. I was visiting one day during this experiment and thought they would be fun to play with. I was disappointed because I wasn’t allowed to do that; I did get to pet a few, though; they were dirty, smelly, and shy. And then there are rodeos. I like rodeos and enjoy seeing the cowboys riding, roping, and bulldogging cattle of all sizes and descriptions—some with horns some without. I enjoy watching the barrel racers on their highly trained horses risking life and limb trying to be the fastest around the barrels. I’ve also seen sheep at rodeos. I like watching their part in it all, too. What I’ve noticed is that the cowboys, wranglers, and barrel racers aren’t the ones teaming up with the sheep. No, it’s the children. And we laugh because it’s funny. Now that’s pretty much the extent of my personal experience with sheep. Anything else I know about sheep has come second-hand.

So when David sings, “The Lord is my shepherd”, one thought I have is, ‘I am glad he didn’t say the Lord is my cowboy’, or ‘the Lord is my barrel racer’”.

No, David sang, “The Lord is my shepherd”. Knowing the Son came as a shepherd and not as a cowboy teaches me a lot about the human race He created. We must have things in common with sheep. One possible commonality is we need protection from ourselves. Sheep and humans are not completely stupid, but sometimes our behavior suggests that. This reminds me of a couple of things Mom used to say: “You don’t have the sense God gave a goose!” or “You don’t have enough sense to get in out of the rain!”  (She wasn’t always talking to me, either.)

Sheep are not very good at roaming themselves into a state of well-being. They don’t have strong instinctual behaviors like many in the animal kingdom. They don’t recognize when it’s the season they need to go to higher pastures. They need a shepherd who recognizes changing seasons and who knows the way to higher pasture. Tying this in with human behavior doesn’t take any effort, at all. A cursory look at human history, or our own for that matter, will show we do a very poor job of roaming, or lucking, ourselves into a place of personal well-being. In truth it shows just the opposite; we set goals and direct ourselves to places that are detrimental to our well-being; the irony is we believe we are pursuing happiness and don’t recognize we are destroying ourselves in the process and then we wonder why we aren’t happy. We need a shepherd as much as any sheep ever did.

A study funded by National Geographic notes that sheep can recognize the faces of up to fifty members of their flock and remember them for up to two years. They can recognize the faces of several different people, as well. Along with that is the idea that they make an emotional connection with these faces (I suspect a deep examination might reveal that the study was conducted by vegans.). However, cattle, for the most part, only seem able to recognize objects associated with eating: trucks, feeders, sounding horns, blowing whistles, etc.

Cattle live in herds. Herds are driven, whipped, shocked with prods, roped, bulldogged, and forced to go where they don’t want to go. Cattle only need tending and a cowboy fills that need just fine. Sheep live in flocks. Sheep seem to be able to form relationships. Sheep welcome and respond to a shepherd. So when David sings, “the Lord is my shepherd”, within that he’s saying, “I know you, you know me, I love you, you love me, you want what’s best for me, I trust you, I’ll follow you because you’re leading me to a better place.”

Why am I sharing this with you? Well, Jeanie, you and I are sheep and members of the flock of Jesus. We know our shepherd and he knows us. He calls us by name. He calls us friend. Just think, the Lord of the universe calls us friend. I hope as you read this your thoughts turn to Him, you feel His touch, hear His voice, and see Him smiling back at you.

Your friend,

Carl Ray

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