I have delivered my sheep to safety, and you may soon be called on to do the same.
Almost five years ago we started our own little flock of Katahdin sheep in order to be able to raise our own healthy, drug-free organic meat. Through the years we had 23 lambs, two rams, and many tough times (lambing in winter) as well as hilarious, joyful times (lambs frolicking and snuggling). We had read that in large flocks sheep have a mob mentality, but we discovered that one-on-one sheep had their own personalities and were much more complex than we ever imagined (kind of like people!)
In our main pasture they had things to climb on and jump off, big red exercise balls and Jolly Balls to play with, and more. We watched them try to figure out how to open the gate carabiners with their mouths. We watched lambs perform circus acts on the backs of their mothers under our floodlights at night. We gave them the best life we could, protected them in many ways, and gave them a quick and humane death when the time came (well, Katahdins are meat sheep).
One thing we tried and failed at was improving our pasture. Three years in a row we planted pasture seed and three years in a row we got skunked. A lot of work and money down the drain. Our property is just too dry and we couldn’t irrigate. So our sheep were on hay 7 months out of the year and required much higher quality (and correspondingly more expensive) hay than is typically fed to horses and cattle. When the collapse comes there would be no way to raise or buy / transport three tons of hay for over winter!
No hay, no sheep.
Buying that much hay wasn’t working for us, but equally we realized that we were too close to Spokane for the coming collapse. We couldn’t move the sheep on short notice and we couldn’t defend them against looters and rustlers. Our plan was actually to shoot our own sheep before bugging out rather than trust them to the “mercies” of hungry, desperate, violent people. But having to do that would not only take time and alarm the neighbors, but be enormously disturbing at the very time we needed to be focused and high speed.
They would just have to be moved to safety in advance.
Don’t misunderstand: I loved the idea of being a “shepherd” – that identity was special, manly, challenging. It was an opportunity to learn many, many carryover skills. I took my responsibilities very seriously, learning from my sheep as well as from the Bible about what a good shepherd does and does not do (and the Bible has a lot to say).
“Yahweh is my Shepherd. I shall lack nothing.” (Psalm 23:1)
I learned that the shepherd/sheep metaphor is used throughout the Bible and applies not only to the relationship between God and his people, but between human leaders and the people depending on them.
“When He saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)
Sheep need shepherds. Guard dogs are important and minimize predator losses, but sheep dogs are not a substitute for a shepherd.
When all the details miraculously came together it was a long drive to Montana to deliver my precious flock to their new home, but God guided me through the whole process. There were valuable things to learn and new equipment to purchase so that even the sheep sale and move was a prepping lesson. And it was a lesson in faith as much as anything.
The 12 hour drive there was grueling for me and my sheep, but it left me with a lot of time to think and pray. I know my sheep must have been wondering why I was doing this to them! And the answer was, This is what real shepherds do. They do what’s best for their sheep, even if it’s hard on the sheep, and even if it means the shepherd sacrifices and suffers too.
I spent half my profit on gasoline, replacing a tire, and a hotel room before the trip back. It was costly.
But it was worth it.
“Even if I go through a ravine as dark as death, I will fear no harm, for you are with me and I’m comforted that your shepherd’s crook and club protect me.” (Psalm 23:4)
Why would a shepherd take his flock through a dangerous area? To get to good pasture. It might be hard on the sheep, it might be dangerous, but the shepherd was with them, and that was enough. He could rescue them and he could defend them. The shepherd was prepared.
Many of us have adopted the “sheepdog” identity as so eloquently described by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman in his book On Combat. God has put people in our lives who need protecting – our family and friends, perhaps neighbors or citizens in harm’s way when we’re in public going about our business. We must have sheepdogs!
But I want to propose that some of us have been called to be shepherds. “Shepherd” is not just a defensive role, not simply a spiritual role, it is a visionary leadership role. Someone who knows people, who cares personally for those God has put in his/her life, and can motivate, encourage, and equip people. The shepherd is someone who knows where to go (sometimes literally), how to get there, and can lead his people to good pasture and still waters.
There’s a negative example in Zechariah 11:15-16 that illustrates a shepherd’s rightful duties: A shepherd is to care for those who are dying, look after the young, heal the injured and feed the healthy.
Sheep dogs are essential, but they’re no substitute for a shepherd. What sheepdog can do all that?
Is that what God is calling you to do? Then welcome that calling, embrace it. It’s not all up to you! Don’t be afraid to step up. He will guide you as you guide them.
Even shepherds have a Shepherd.
He’s proven he’s a worthy shepherd: Our Great Shepherd, Jesus, delivered us from death at great personal cost. He suffered and sacrificed for his sheep, and led us from spiritual hunger and darkness to life and safety. And he will lead us home one day through the valley of the shadow of death to his great and joyful Pasture in heaven.
After all, that’s what a real shepherd does!
The Sovereign Lord is coming to rule with power,
bringing with him the people he has rescued.
He will take care of his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs together
and carry them in his arms;
he will gently lead their mothers.
– Isaiah 40:10-11
Be prepared. Trust God! And take heart, brothers and sisters. Isaiah 43:2 promises that He will see you through. – ShepherdFarmerGeek