A Shepherd’s Story
There once was a shepherd who cared for his flock. His flock was not big nor was he renown. People did not come from afar to evaluate and study his methods of raising sheep. His ewes and rams were never grand champions at any of the local fairs, although occasionally one might get a blue ribbon. But he loved and cared for his sheep as carefully and tenderly as a father loves and cares for his children. He would daily arise early in the morning, when the mist was in the air and the dew wet upon the ground. Before he would eat he always made sure that his flock was well cared for. He would quickly go out and check on the condition of his sheep before going into the house for a meager breakfast. After breakfast he would begin the daily task of leading the flock down worn and well used paths. Sometimes he would walk ahead of the sheep to show them a new trail to new pastures, but often he would walk behind, making sure that no straggler was separated from the flock. In these cases the old ewes, traveling down familiar paths, needed no guidance from the shepherd, for they knew the way and his concern was not for them, but for the young sheep and little lambs that would easily tire, or get lost if not for the guiding hand of the shepherd. Sometimes, on a hot summer day, when the dust would boil up from the feet of the flock, it would be unpleasant to walk in the back, for the dust would choke the throat and the air would become stifling with the dust and smell of sweaty sheep. But rather than run to the front where the air was clean and the smell fresh he would remain in the back for it was during these times that the little lambs would stray from the path. When they came to the pasture he would gently quiet the flock until they settled down to eat in the fields. Sometimes the grass was dry and parched in the heat of the summer and so the sheep would be prone to wander, drifting to the cool of the timber desiring greener pastures. But the shepherd would carefully keep them away for he knew that the forest was hunted by the mountain lions that found the sheep easy prey and it was filled with crevasses that the sheep would fall into and get hurt. At times this was difficult, for the sheep did not understand why the temptation of the forest was such a danger. Nevertheless, he remained firm in spite of their bleating, knowing that the temptation of greener pastures is often a sentence of death rather than a giver of life.
In the heat of the day he would lead them to a cool stream where they could have their thirst satisfied. It was here that he carefully dug a trench for them to drink, for he knew the sheep were fearful of rushing water, needing a place of quiet and still water. As they drank in the stream and lied down for an afternoon rest, he would quietly go amongst the flock checking each of them for injuries and burrs in their wool. He would call them by name for he knew each of them and could distinguish each by their characteristics. He knew which ones were prone to wonder away from the flock. He knew which ones were the weakest and the ones most vulnerable to prey. He knew the ones that needed special care during the lambing season and which ones were the strongest. He knew when one hurt its leg or received a cut and then he would carefully mend the leg or put suave on the cut so that it would heal quickly. When a lamb was first born, he could tell which was strong and ready to run with the flock and which was weak needing special care, needing to be carried to and from the pastures.
While he loved each of the sheep not all treated him with the same tenderness. There was one old ram always looking for an opportunity to butt him if he turned his back at the wrong moment. There was a ewe that would bite at his hands when he tried to get the burrs out of the wool. Some of the little lambs took special delight in kicking if he got to close. But this did not bother him for he knew that he needed to spend time with them and earn their trust to be an effective shepherd. Instead he continued to love them and care for them, even when they tried to run away or butt him in return.
When the sun set, and the chill of the evening air descended upon the mountain tops and the coyotes began to howl in the valleys, he would carefully lead the sheep home and safely lock them in the fold where they would be protected from the wild animals that hunted and desired to devour the little lambs. When they went into the gate he would carefully count each one to make sure they were present. Before he went to bed at night he always made sure that his flock was well fed and settled down for the night.
In times of storm, when the lightening would flash and the thunder roll and the flock would be fearful and anxious, he would go and be with them. He would soothe them with a gentle voice, calming their fears by his presence, for they knew if he was there, everything would be all right. If a coyote came prowling he was stand between it and the flock, with his rod ready to strike if the coyote came near, and so the flock would be comforted and quieted.
When coming in from a dreary and stormy day it was not uncommon for him to find that one of the little lambs had become lost in the storm. So he would carefully put the rest in the fold and then he would go out looking for the lost lamb. Often it was of great peril to him and often in the midst of searching for the lost sheep he would despair even of his own life. This the shepherd did because he loved his sheep and this was what he was taught by an older Shepherd who was known as the Chief Shepherd. The Chief Shepherd had taught him how to love the sheep and care for them as the Chief Shepherd cared for the lambs. The Chief Shepherd comforted and cared for his flock and he was willing to give his life for the sheep. When the Chief Shepherd left, he gave the shepherd a sheepherder’s manual that guided and directed him as he cared for the flock. The shepherd studied this book and so he learned about how to care for sheep. So he was happy and content to shepherd this small flock and the flock listened to him and loved him in return.
For all his love for the sheep, there was one little lamb especially dear to him because this little lamb was forever giving him problems. When she was born she was the smallest of the lambs. She was so weak that he tenderly had to carry her everywhere he went. He had to give her special nourishment for often she was too weak to eat. But slowly, with his continual care, she started to grow. But even as she grew she continued to give him problems. Whenever there was a lamb missing at the end of the day he could always count on it being her. If there was a lamb caught in a thicket, it was her. If a lamb fell into a crevice and had to be rescued more often than not it was his little lamb. Maybe it because she was always the smallest, maybe it was because she was always in trouble, maybe it was because she always came running to him when she was afraid, whatever the reason, he had a special love and concern for her.
However, one fateful day this all changed. One day a man from the city came to visit. The man was dressed in all the latest fashions and drove a big, beautiful, nice car. Before the shepherd had been content with his humble surroundings. It did not matter that his flock was small and his house non-descript. It did not matter that he ate a humble meal on a roughly hewn wood table, for he was content just to be a shepherd who cared for his flock. But when the man from the city arrived in all his finery, suddenly his place seemed small and humble and there grew within him a desire for greater and grander things. The man said that his ways of shepherding were old fashioned and no longer effective and if he desired to succeed he would have to change and do things differently. And so the shepherd began to read about how to succeed in raising sheep. He read “The One-Minute Shepherd” that told him how to be more efficient. He studied “Shepherding for Dummies” in order to be more effective in organizing his flock and building the flocks. He went to seminars led by other shepherds who had become shepherds of large flocks, who had many flocks scattered in a number of different pastures. He analyzed the books written on growing large flocks so that he might have a greater production and more organized flocks. Soon he found himself building bigger folds to hold all the sheep and hiring others to care for the sheep. He learned that if he managed his flock more carefully and set the higher standards he too could have greater flocks.
It was not long until he too was raising sheep that became the grand champion at the local fair. People would come from miles around to admire his rams and study his methods so that they too could have large flocks. When he gathered with other shepherds, he had a sense of joy that he no longer was just a humble shepherd of a small flock, but that his flock was the biggest in the valley. He built a new house that sparkled with freshness and had all the niceties a modern home might have. No longer was he a shepherd of a flock, he was the CEO of a large corporation that marketed sheep around the world.
But something tragic happened in the process. The old manual that was given to him by the Chief Shepherd remained on the shelf, its ideas deemed too old-fashioned in a modern world. Instead of looking to the Manual for direction on how to care for sheep he looked to his books such as “The Visionary Shepherd,” and “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Shepherds” for they gave him wise words on how to build his sheep and wool empire in a competitive market. So the manual that he trusted so dearly, became a silent voice on the shelf.
It was not long until he no longer went with the sheep to the pastures. Instead of getting up early to be with the sheep and see about their condition, he would arise early in the morning to study the latest market trends and analyze the latest techniques on how to raise sheep. Instead of going with the sheep he hired others to go with the flock while he remained at the house, working on his computer and busying himself with running such a vast organization. The sheep no longer knew his voice and he no longer knew their name. At first he tried to keep up, but it became impossible, for to know their name he needed to spend time with them, and time was something that he did not have. Thus he trusted others to do what he could not do. He no longer knew which of the ewes were sick or which of the lambs had become lost and been devoured by a mountain lion. Instead he was given a report each day that showed the number of births of new lambs and the number of ewes purchased at the local market. The report also showed how many of the flock were lost to wild animals and to illness, but as long as the births and purchases were greater than the number lost and the flock was still growing, he felt satisfied and content. Instead of spending his time with the sheep each day, he spent his day with the people he had hired to care for the sheep, planning new strategies and projections on how to make the flock larger and bigger and how he might have better rams at next year’s state fair.
One day, with stark realization, he came to realize that he was no longer a shepherd. That fateful day he was sitting in his large chair in his large office at his large desk when he suddenly thought of his special lamb and he wondered how she was doing. At first he had still made sure that she had received special care and he would go and visit her, even when he was busy, to make sure she was OK. But it seemed as though he was much too busy anymore for any such trips. It was not as if he abandoned her, it was just that in the busyness of his day, he forgot all about her. He called one of his hired men and ask him how his special lamb was doing. “Her,” the hired man replied, “Why she was killed by a mountain lion over a year ago. She did not come in with the rest of the flock and no one went to look for her for we were all too busy taking care of the rest of the flock, and besides, it was a dark and stormy night and one of us might have been killed by one of the wild animals, so we did not want to take the risk. Well, it doesn’t matter, for she was just one lamb, and she was always sickly anyway. She always demanded so much of our time that it was probably best that she is gone, for now we can take care of more sheep without being troubled by her.” When he heard what happened, great sadness filled his heart, for he suddenly realized he no longer had time to care for each sheep. Instead, he was a CEO of a wool and sheep business. He realized that the one thing he loved the most was being a shepherd who cared for his sheep, who knew each sheep by name. Now, with the tragedy of a broken heart that only comes with the emptiness of regrets and forgotten dreams, he realized that he no longer was a shepherd.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 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.” (John 10:11-15).
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:2-4).