by Meg Searle
Did you know that sheep are mentioned over 500 times in the bible and are referred to more than any other animal? Here are two examples but I am sure you are already thinking of more...
"Yes, the Sovereign LORD is coming in power. He will rule with a powerful arm. See, he brings his reward with him as he comes. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young." Isaiah 40:10-11
"Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things." Mark 6:34
God loves to use sheep in the bible to illustrate his love and care for us but also to highlight our extreme dependency on him. Most of us know the parable of the lost sheep from childhood story books or Psalm 23 on headstones or read at funeral services. It is a familiar image but how good are we at following him as Sovereign lord who rules with a powerful arm. If we are honest with ourselves, we do like to do things our way (Isaiah 53:6).
Recently, pastor friends of ours shared a word for us at All Saints and I just can’t get it out of my head. We have not been in touch for a long time and they did not know anything about our church community. I really paid attention as it seemed such a timely picture for us. The picture was of a sheep that desperately needed to be sheared. Its fleece was utterly over grown and it could barely move. It is funny to think that many of us our sporting our overgrown lockdown hair styles and can’t wait to get back to the hairdressers but in all seriousness, what could God be saying to us about our walk with him and the season we are in? Let’s take another look at the bible:
"Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." Hebrews 13:20-21
Jesus promises that He will equip us with everything good for doing his will but this is not just a passive story or a sweet picture from childhood, it is also a call for us to participate with Him in being prepared for those good things. We need to take responsibility for our own choices and part of being a shepherd-led sheep is about returning time and time again to The Shepherd to be tended to, fed, cleaned and sheared. This is both an individual and a church family act. We need to remain in Him (John 15) and not go wandering.
The picture above is a sheep that really escaped from his shepherd for too long. It is scary to think of what would have happened if he hadn’t been found. I think it is a clear illustration of what can happen when we don’t return.
In response to these bible passages I have listed 7 points to can pray. This is something that you can do in one sitting or, you could spread it out over a few days or week. As you consider each point, pray for yourself, the church and those that are particularly struggling. Ask the Holy Spirit to highlight areas in your life that He wants you to bring before Him and how you can pray for others who need your intercession at this difficult time. Imagine standing before Jesus with an overgrown and dirty woolly coat. What is he saying? I pray that as you press into God He will wrap his arms around you, strengthen you and bring you peace (Psalm 91:4).
As long as there are sheep, shearing must be practiced for the health and hygiene of each individual animal. Unlike other animals, most sheep are unable to shed. ... This can cause sheep to become overheated and die. Urine, faeces and other materials become trapped in the wool, attracting flies, maggots and other pests. Jesus, see if there is any offensive way in me? Wash me clean. Make me holy like you. Psalm 139/1Cor 1:30
The sheep can’t move properly. It’s fleece gets too heavy. It can’t go where its supposed to go. It can’t remain fit and healthy. Jesus, am I carrying a heavy burden? Show me how to lay it down and teach me to trust in you? Matt 11:25-30
3. KINGDOM PERSPECTIVE
Even if it can move, it can’t see where it is going. Am I seeing things through a Godly perspective or through the world’s eyes. Am I believing things about myself or others that are sinful and untrue? Jesus show me what you see. Eph 1:18
The overgrown sheep can’t get close to other sheep or to the Shepherd. Obviously this is seasonal. We are in social distancing mode but this is more about being emotionally and spiritually connected with others. Am I holding onto grudges, gossiping, not forgiving and not being humble? Jesus, make my thoughts and actions pure. Jesus, I repent... Thank you that you forgive. Help me to continue to forgive as you have forgiven me. Eph 4:29-32/James1:26
Once the sheep’s fleece becomes that matted, it becomes harder to shear. What should be a simple process becomes painful. Jesus, help me to trust in your ways and not run away and hide when times are hard. Teach me to stand. Teach me to be patient with myself, you and others. Psalm 145.
The wool is meant for others. It is not designed to be left on the sheep and to be kept for itself. God blesses us so that we can be a blessing to others. Are we holding onto things that are not ours to keep? Are we putting others before ourselves and sharing our resources? Matt 6:19-21
The heavy fleece also stops the sheep from being able to follow the shepherd when He moves to a new field. We are called to follow Jesus no matter what happens (Matt 16:24). Sometimes this means moving when we don’t want to or stopping when we want to move. Often it is uncomfortable. In our present age, we are not used to feeling uncomfortable. It seems counter to our life experience and we can be tempted to think that uncomfortable is wrong. It reminds me of the people of Israel as they were shepherded to a new land of milk and honey (Numbers14:2). They grumbled and complained even though God was trying to bless them. Jesus, I am sorry when I don’t follow you. Remind me of your love and kindness. Teach me what it means to be faithful. Remind me of your love. Ps 23:6. Amen.