I awoke with a start – hurled out of my sleep by a screech in the night. Was that a goat or a rabbit scream? I couldn’t tell, but I could hear coyotes yapping close, their barks and yips mingling with the deep throated bark of our male lab and the higher pitched voices of our two female labs. The coyotes were close and it sounded like they may have cornered their prey.
Within minutes my son Jacob was up and I could hear the click of the shotgun as he loaded shells into the chamber. The dogs were still barking excitedly, but the yapping of the coyotes was fading into the distance as we grabbed a flashlight and headed out the door.
A quick search of the fence line did not reveal any predators inside the pasture. Jacob took the flashlight and began to count – the dark eyes of his goats reflected red in the light of the flashlight. Satisfied that all was well, he went to the front pasture and roused the goats out of their shed so he could get an accurate count. Then he headed to the barn. Only after he was satisfied that all was well and his herds were safe did he head back to the house and the comfort of a soft bed.
The next morning I could see him on the far side of the west pasture walking the fence line checking tracks and looking for places where coyotes might slip past the fence. There is nothing unusual in his actions – this is what a shepherd does: he sees to the protection and needs of his flock even when it means waking in the middle of the night, he builds fences and maintains them for their protection, he feeds them when the pastures are dry and barren, he brings water to them that they might quench their thirst.
After his resurrection, the Lord asked Peter that heart wrenching question, “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” and when Peter answered, Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” We all know that Christ often referred to himself as the Good Shepherd and scriptures also refer to those who are called as elders, ministers, and leaders in the church as shepherds, but shouldn’t the heart of a shepherd also be evident in all who know the Lord and are called according to his purpose.
Are we not all called to love deeply and to feed and care for the flock that we are given – our children, friends and family, and others that the Lord has brought into our lives? I am reminded of the many, many, times friends (and sometimes even strangers) have ministered to my needs with prayers, unexpected gifts, late night phone calls, surprise visits, and in many other ways have protected and shepherded my heart. I have been blessed by those who have been the hands and feet of the Good Shepherd and have come to my aid in times of need, sacrificed sleep to offer prayer and encouragement, and have sacrificed time to walk with me and talk with me and refill my cup with the words of the gospel.
It grieves me to think of the times when I have been awakened in the night with someone on my heart and an urgent need to pray and I have battled hard against sleep just to spend a few minutes in prayer. Other times when I have been prompted to send an email or make a phone call to offer someone a word of encouragement, I am challenged by my selfish desire to hoard my time or to guard against appearing foolish. It seems that always, regardless of what I do, I battle against self – I would rather sleep than pray, read than write, talk rather than listen – self always challenging my shepherd’s heart.
Do I love deeply enough to feed the sheep? I’m afraid I often fall short, but it is my prayer, “Lord, give me the desire to love deeply and help me to sacrifice self with the unwavering heart of a shepherd.”