Sheep. Cute, cuddly, soft, and sweet. Don’t ya just wanna snuggle one?
No, you don’t! As a Vermonter by childhood, I got to experience sheep first hand. Maybe it was because I was allergic to them, but I remember them being annoying and dirty. Their rough wool was not something you wanted to pet and boy, were they loud!
If you search for sheep videos on YouTube, you’ll also find they’re not very self-sufficient. Prone to wander and get themselves into perilous predicaments, sheep need help. When they do stick together, their herd-mentality and lack of awareness tends to get them in trouble. And without much of a ‘natural defense,’ sheep require the protection and care human hands, eyes, and minds can provide them.
As a mom, I can relate to those shepherds. In our busy life, with three kids on different school and activity schedules, I feed and move and protect and feed and move and protect. It’s exhausting on many days, but like all parents, I want my children to live in the security of knowing they are cared for!
More than my care, though, I want them to live in the security of knowing they are cared for by Someone much more capable than me. I want them to know that this God we pray to is not only big and strong and awesome – He’s also available to meet their daily personal needs.
But when your daily personal needs involve school, homework, playing, eating, and maybe a few chores, what do you really need God for? When I pray with our girls at night, I find myself struggling to come up with ways God may have helped them that day or could help them tomorrow – and I see their own struggle when I ask them how I can pray for them.
When David penned the verses of Psalm 23, he was speaking from experience. As a shepherd himself, David knew all about the care of sheep. Before battling Goliath, playing his harp for King Saul, or becoming king himself, David spent his days feeding and moving and protecting, feeding and moving and protecting.
In this well-known Psalm, David points out the similarities between his life of caring for sheep and his life of being cared for by God:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (v. 1-4)
When David says, “I shall not want,” he wasn’t saying he didn’t have needs, he was saying he was so well cared for he wasn’t aware of those needs. Sheep, by nature, have little awareness of how they are being cared for – they have no way of perceiving all that is being done to keep them alive and well. They don’t know the predators they’ve been protected from and they never wonder how the shepherd will meet their next need – they just know they’re full and happy!
A few weeks ago Tim was away and it was a four-trips-to-the-school-and-back-for-swim-practices kind of night. The first practice was at 5:30, and around 5:10 I looked at the clock and thought, “I should tell Amelia it’s almost time to go.” But I had a mouth full of pita chips and I was busy with a project, so I decided to give her a couple more minutes.
Unfortunately, the next time I looked up, it was after 5:30. “Oh no!” I yelled and we went into full-on panic mode. Practice was already starting and my kid who can’t handle being late was going to be really late! I remember thinking, “How did this happen? God, why didn’t you help me?”
When we arrived at the middle school most of the other parents had come and gone, but it just so happened that another family was just as late as we were. And they just happen to be a family we know well and who lives near us and who we’ve carpooled with before. The dad looked at me and said, “Hey, I heard Tim’s away, can we give Amelia a ride home for you tonight?”
Could I have handled the four trips? Of course. But instead, I was given a moment of rest that I didn’t even know I needed. And it was all orchestrated outside of my awareness. Sheep don’t perceive all that is being done for them and my human brain will never perceive all that God is doing for me!
After having just about enough of “That’s not mine, why do I have to pick it up?” and “I didn’t make that mess, they did!” Tim and I have started threatening to take a whole day (or week – the time seems to lengthen with each threat 😉) and stop doing anything for anyone but ourselves. We haven’t had to follow through yet, but I think our kids would be shocked at how much we do to care for them!
Our girls may have no idea how much we do for them, but we kind of like it that way and I think our Good Shepherd likes it that way, too. We can’t always label or pinpoint how He’s feeding, moving, or protecting us, but we can absolutely trust that His “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life” (v. 6).