I have this recurring visual in my head of when I was a child. During the summer, we would go up to the mountains. I remember that there was this forest surrounded by a field that shepherds would bring their sheep too. We found great delight watching the sheep rest, hearing the occasional baa and seeing the shepherd provide for them.
Each day appears to present us a world that is unraveling. The news can be hyper personal, very local or simply global in nature. There is a depth of sadness and loss that I have not experienced in my life. I can better understand those before us that lived through wars, famines, great depressions etc. Although I know we all have a different experience with the past year and a half, many have suffered physically, emotionally, financially and spiritually. Some not so much. The visual I described earlier has been a source of peace. Let me tell you why.
Shepherds and their sheep
I did some additional study (grab Philip Keller’s book on the subject) on the relationship between shepherds and their sheep and was awestruck…I mean “baastruck” at the intentionality of the shepherd in caring for their sheep. I often thought that the job of a shepherd was somewhat of a passive one; however, I learned it was not.
For example, there is a term that a shepherd will use when his sheep (or ewe, female term) is in trouble; it’s called a cast sheep. Sometimes a person may feel cast down; it’s a similar idea. Here is what happens. The sheep wanders off and loses its balance on some unstable ground. The sheep then finds itself lying on its back, legs straight up in the air and unable to turn itself over. The situation, if unresolved, will lead to the sheep’s death. Predators are always looking for a cast sheep because they are defenseless. However, a good shepherd is also always looking for a cast sheep to restore. Once the shepherd realizes one of his sheep is cast, he immediately remedies the situation by finding the sheep, turning it back onto its feet, rubbing its legs to regain circulation and bringing it back into the fold. The irony is that the shepherd often would have to do this many times with the same sheep (ouch, too close!).
I immediately saw the parallel in my life, do you? My soul can get cast down. I become disoriented, “upside down,” stuck, anxious and hopeless. Fear can overcome me, and I have a sense that I am dying. My death may not be physical, but can be emotional, spiritual and relational. A loss of some sorts. However, the shepherd is indeed my Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd, and I am reminded that He is not passive, but always on the lookout of his cast sheep. He rushes to my aide, gently turns me over, brings back my circulation and invites me back. He is intentional, He is gentle and He is vigilant.
So, I ask myself, why does a sheep (or in this case me) get cast in the first place? I learned and observed a few things. When the sheep wondered off and found themselves in a soft spot, meaning a place of utter leisure, laziness and self-absorption, it was more susceptible of being cast. Additionally, sometimes when the sheep had too much wool entangled with mud, debris etc., it would be “top heavy” and could easily roll over. Lastly, a reason a sheep may find itself cast is that it was simply too fat.
I could not help but remark how similar these characteristics in my life can cause the same thing. There are times I find myself in a soft spot. Sometimes a soft spot can be a time or place in my life where I wonder off and may let my guard down, open myself up to a bad habit, attitude, wrong friends, etc. We must be very wary of soft spots.
How about too much wool, allowing the “world’s clutter” to attach itself to my life. Too much news, too much social media, too much shopping, too much partying, too much of anything can get entangled in our lives and make us vulnerable.
Lastly, too fat (hey, let’s be nice now). The fat can be the blessings I enjoy. Romans talks about us worshiping the blessings and no longer the blesser. I know in my life, when I worship the blessing, I am becoming fat with blessings. One way that I watch my “blessing weight” is to recognize that there is a responsibility with my blessings, and I am to be generous with them. Abraham was told the same thing. Generosity is a wonderful anecdote. Have you ever tried to lose some fat on your body? I know when I do it takes time, takes discipline, takes denial and it takes honesty…not fun or easy but always worth it, same with generosity.
The Good Shepherd
This summer I had the opportunity to go back to the same place I had gone as a child. I took some time one afternoon to go find that forest and field. This time there was no sheep and there was no shepherd; however, I did have my Shepherd, and He and I enjoyed some time together. I am grateful that He keeps watch over me, as He does you. I have revisited that forest and field in my mind many times, and the first thing I look for is the Shepherd. Therefore, despite all of the unsettling news, the sense that the world is unraveling, perhaps an uptick in anxiety and worry, I know that if I stay close to the Shepherd and don’t wonder off looking for soft spots, get too entangled in the world’s affairs and watch my blessing weight, I will experience a supernatural peace that protects me even as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
Stephan N. Tchividjian is the president and founder of the National Christian Foundation South Florida. Visit southflorida.ncfgiving.com to learn more.