Living in a small country town has had it’s benefits—especially during CoVid. Even though I live alone, I have been grateful for much: the obvious and the not-so-obvious. I am grateful that I have a backyard where I can tend the plants, weed the garden beds, and admire the ever-deepening emeralds and jades as winter melts into Spring, and as splashes of colour attract bees, butterflies, and birds of all kinds.
I am thankful for the friends who have gone out of their way to connect with me via phone or in-person. I am in awe at those who have offered me provisions of all kinds and who have responded to the promptings of Holy Spirit.
I have loved spending time writing my novel and tending to various other bits and bobs. Yes, this season could have been much worse, but instead I have been deeply thankful for friends, colour, life, and a God who ever-pursues my heart.
Another ‘perk’ (sometimes cloaked as a task) of living in a small country town is that sometimes you have to drive medium-to-long distances in order to bulk shop for basic supplies. Yesterday was one of those days. As I drove to a nearby regional area to do a grocery shop, my eyes were drawn to the fields on either sides of the road. The scenery was beautiful.
As a result of recent rains, everything is looking uber-lush: Golden canola fields, clear skies and pristine air. And animals. Loads of animals contentedly grazing on greens. Some lying down, some standing. Cows. Horses. Sheep… yes. The sheep. That’s when the tears came… when I saw the sheep.
Many of the sheep had been shaved of wool. They looked like white morse-code dots on a green screen, spread out just enough to enjoy solidarity, but close enough to the greater flock to be aware of where each was at. They were vulnerable, but gathered. Calm and collected, but easily swayed.
“All it takes is just one sheep,” Jesus said to my spirit. “Just one sheep for an entire flock of sheep to follow.”
He let that sink in for a moment.
I watched the entire flock as one sheep at the far end of the paddock amongst a group of about ten, incited movement in the others.
Jesus spoke again. “People equate sheep with being stupid, but they’re not. They simply just feel before they think. They are anxious, fearful little beings when sudden movement comes; they live in a state of fight or flight. Yes, they think, but they react first, and unfortunately in their reacting they will take their comrades’ fight or flight responses or sudden directional changes as gospel.”
Hearing what Jesus was saying pulled at something deep in my gut.
“That is why I hate wolves dressed in sheeps’s clothing,” Jesus said. “Because it only takes one. It only takes one strong-willed and spiritually corrupted wolf dressed as a sheep to move an entire flock away from their rest and peace in green pastures, to places that will steal, kill or destroy them.”
“And (conversely) that one sheep that has wandered off? She has not moved the rest of the flock. She has left slowly and quietly because she has become confused or momentarily lost in what she was doing; or he has left because he didn’t want to follow the flock anymore; or she has left because she thought the pasture was greener on the other side of the fence… so I go after him or her to pull him or her out of the thorns, the sinking sand, or the clutches of the evil one. My heart for the flock and for the one is the same.”
More tears fall. Historically, I have been a reactionary follower but I have also been the ‘one’ lost sheep. Both have been crazy-difficult scenarios to have worked through, but Jesus has always been kind and patient with me in the middle of my most “sheep-like” moments. Never once has He said to me, “I told you so!” “I warned you!” “You’ve dug your own grave, now lie in it!” No. He has simply used His shepherds crook to pull me away from nefarious characters, evil places, confusion, anxiety and shame.
Yesterday as I was driving, Psalm 23 made a whole lot more sense to me when I thought about it through the eyes of a sheep (who knew?!):
“The Lord is my best friend and my shepherd.
I always have more than enough.
He offers a resting place for me in his luxurious love.
His tracks take me to an oasis of peace, the quiet brook of bliss.
That’s where he restores and revives my life.
He opens before me pathways to God’s pleasure
and leads me along in his footsteps of righteousness so that I can bring honor to his name.
Lord, even when your path takes me through the valley of deepest darkness,
fear will never conquer me, for you already have!
You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way.
Your authority is my strength and my peace.
The comfort of your love takes away my fear.
I’ll never be lonely, for you are near.
You become my delicious feast
even when my enemies dare to fight.
You anoint me with the fragrance of your Holy Spirit;
you give me all I can drink of you until my heart overflows.
So why would I fear the future?
For your goodness and love pursue me all the days of my life.
Then afterward, when my life is through,
I’ll return to your glorious presence to be forever with you!”
We currently live in a media-saturated world that is attempting to cloak everything in fear. The media is one voice. A wolf in sheep’s clothing. It bleats in the midst of flocks of sheep, “This President’s is evil! Follow our path instead!” And the sheep see the wool of the wolf’s clothing and they curse, cuss, threaten and malign the president as they run together in mobs into dangerous territories.
The media baa’s out, “An unidentified or undisclosed source has said ‘x-y-z’ things about this ‘horrible’ prominent public figure—run for the hills!” And the sheep see the wool of the wolf’s clothing and they run for the hills.
“This disease will be the end of humanity—stay inside but avoid herd mentality! We are in this together even though we are apart!” bleats the wolf. The sheep see white wool in the words, so they react and stand apart socially ‘and’ emotionally. They don’t realise that they can be picked off by foxes, eagles and other predators more easily if they are not communicating with each other and not together physically.
It is by no mistake that the enemy (who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour) calls people ‘sheep.’ We get stirred up so easily over the smallest of insinuations. We react fast. We shift into fight or flight mode without asking pertinent questions first, such as, “why does that loud sheep bleating over there have a brown bushy tail and big paws? And why is it drooling? And why are its teeth so big?” No. We get caught up in something that looks and sounds plausible, but actually isn’t. Or perhaps it is partly plausible but mostly hype… that’s the thing with brilliant lies: they consist of a partial truth mixed with complete and utter fiction, and without doing any research, how does one know where fact ends and storytelling begins?
Peter knew all too well what being a sheep felt like (in both healthy and unhealthy ways). After Jesus had already been betrayed by Judas and forcefully taken to the High Priest’s house, Peter followed the crowd he was with, and out of fear for his own life and being associated with Jesus in any way, he denied knowing Jesus three times. When Jesus spoke with Peter after He defeated death and was reunited with the disciples, they had the following conversation in John 21:
“When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Jesus reoriented Peter back into centre… into following Him instead of the crowd. Not the mob. Not the going political, media, religious or spiritual agendas of the day, but into Him alone. Jesus. And Jesus knew that after what Peter had gone through in denying Him and following another line of thought (fear), that Peter would understand the mentality of the flock—the sheep—when they were following the shepherd as opposed to when they weren’t, because Peter had done both.
Jesus understood that sheep needed tending. They needed direction and guidance. They needed food and water. He understood that they would largely forever behave the same way—children are dressed by parents when they are little and then they are dressed again when they are old—nothing much changes. But for Peter, to be a part of a flock in the middle of it all—even in the middle of the flock’s reactionary behaviour—would mean injecting truth, life, and hope into their midst. It would mean calling out obvious wolves in sheep’s clothing. But most of all, it would mean following Jesus’ lead. Following Him because He is the good shepherd. Following Him, because it only takes one.
It only takes one. It only takes one sheep with a Kingdom frequency and a disposition of peace to move an entire flock of sheep into the presence of the Good Shepherd instead of away from Him.
This was why I cried. This is why I am grateful to live in a small town. These are the types of things I learn when I go driving with Jesus. This is why I appreciate the simple things… because the simple things often confound the “wise”. And the simple thing I learned yesterday was that “it only takes one.”
Photo by Sam Carter