Four Requirements to MAKE a Sheep Lie Down

I tend cattle. Therefore, I have a mandate from God to care for His creation and see to it they flourish. I fancy the word cowherd as my job description because it connects me to the rich heritage of scriptural metaphor for shepherd. Sure, there are subtle differences between sheep and cow behavior. But, the similarities abound. I think they’re worth shouting about.

On the Barnyard of Heaven, I get a close-up, personal perspective on the relationship between a cow and a cowherd, hence a sheep and a shepherd. I hope my stories help you connect the dots and lead you to ah-ha moments in your relationship to our Good Shepherd.

Psalm 23:2 says, “He MAKES me lie down in green pastures.”

This ain’t easy. Phillip Keller highlights this in his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23:

“The strange thing about sheep is that because of their very make-up it is almost impossible for them to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met:

  1. Owing to their timidity they refuse to lie down unless they are free of all fear.
  2. Because of their social behavior within a flock sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others of their kind.
  3. If tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down. Only when free of these pests can they relax.
  4. Lastly, sheep will not lie down as long as they feel in need of finding food. They must be free from hunger.

The unique aspect of the picture is that it is only the sheepman himself who can provide release from these anxieties…It is actually he who makes it possible for them to lie down, to rest, to relax, to be content and quiet and flourishing.

A flock that is restless, discontented, always agitated and disturbed never does well.”

“And the same is true of people.”

This framework sets me up to explore how my Good Shepherd pours Himself into the task of providing for me, to end that I can lack nothing. His mandate is to cause you and me to flourish. To MAKE us lie down.

It cost him his life.

Take A Deep Breath of Remember: I invite you to join me on a discovery tour into the four requirements needed to MAKE a sheep lie down. Check back for future blogs on this series.

Prayer: O Good Shepherd of our souls, put us at ease as nothing or no one else can do. Amen.

Photo Credit: Herdsman with Cows, in the Distance, a Village, Johann Friedrich Voltz, 19th century

 

A Guy Walks into a Barnyard

It’s 2 A.M. The cloudless, moonless firmament reveals a stellar view of constellations and, appropriately for a cowherd, a little galaxy we call the Milky Way.

My barnyard rhythms kick in. Those rhythms I noticed in a Sunday church service and I am now trying to intentionally weave into my mundane, workaday lifestyle.

Why? First, because we are what we love. Second, because there’s a serious gap between what we say we love and what we really love.[1]

First up, God Calls Us. I stop midway between my trailer and the barn, and gaze skyward until awe sinks in. That’s when I hear, with those ears of my soul, God’s Barnyard Call to Worship.

I hear Him say, “You’re Mine! You’re Mine! You’re Mine!”

Those words are crammed with meaning. My Covenant God[2], who knows me by name[3], thinks things about me too marvelous to absorb fully. Things like, I’m His beloved. I’m part of a royal people[4]. I’m His son.

Pretty deep stuff to ponder for a guy in Muck boots and Wrangler jeans, just stumbling out of bed, carrying a thermos of coffee to, eventually, sharpen my senses. But His words go to work in me. They are shaping something in me no less than my core identity. Carving truth in stone in my deep places. Like all good rhythms, whether encountered in a church service or a barnyard, it takes time and repetition for the shaping to work. I wish it would happen quickly, but transformation, in me, seems almost imperceptible. It usually takes a test or trial to reveal if it’s real.

Like me, I’m guessing you, too, love to recognize God’s Presence. To aid in this, have you considered the weather? The wind? Clouds? Hot? Cold? Storm? Calm?

Because I work outdoors for a portion of my days and nights. I noticed the negative impact weather has on my attitude. God can never seem to get it right. You know the feeling, “Snow, again? Too much, too little rain. The crops will suffer. Dang, the manure is so frozen, it’ll take me hours more to clean the barn. Or, it’s too hot/cold in this milking parlor.”

Farm-folk are notorious for complaining about the weather since it has such direct impact on their livelihood. But somewhere deep down, farm-folk get a grasp of God’s Sovereignty as they bend their trust toward Him.

I can point to a new shape, a new love growing in me, transforming my heart by drawing me towards God. One example involves wind. You and I know that His Spirit is wind, breath, life. His Spirit broods on us, lives in us, moves us, guides us, comforts us. Could my perception of something as common-place as wind become a fresh awareness of the Holy Spirit, the very Presence of God I long for?

Maybe you could try this at home. I discovered another little rhythm to incorporate into my trip to the barn and periodically throughout my work day. A rhythm well-suited to God’s Barnyard Call to Worship. I call it, “Where are You, wind?” I pause to notice. Okay, tonight under a sky crammed with stars, gentle breezes waft from the Southwest. I turn to face it. Then, I adjust my stance a few degrees left, then back right, one part of one degree until I know its direction precisely. I feel it on my beard.

I wanted to sense the Presence of God? There He is!

Take A Deep Breath of Remember: In a brief, sacred moment, on the way to work, I both noticed God’s Presence and hear Him speak intimate words to my soul. Such a beautiful rhythm, mirroring a church service, to launch into my labors. I step down into the milking-parlor pit. What could possibly go wrong?

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? (Psalms 139:5-7, NIV) 

Prayer: O my Creator, my abiding Holy Spirit, quicken me. Amen.

Photo Credit: The Old Homestead, Currier & Ives

[1] These thoughts provided by James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love-The Spiritual Power of Habit, 2016, BrazosPress

[2] For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15, NIV)

[3] The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (John 10:3, NIV)

[4] But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9, NIV)

Big Mama Asks, “Who’ll Get in the Muck with Me?”

Twenty-four hours after birthing Blossom in a snowdrift, Big Mama’s clamoring for her life.

Diagnosis? Milk fever.

Prognosis? Without intervention? Death.

Location? Muck.

Even at the Barnyard of Heaven, life’s messy. Big Mama collapsed from milk fever, slid a few yards in the muck, and bloodied herself in a futile effort to regain footing. Her bloodstream, her brain, devoid of calcium needed for nerve and muscle function, left her helpless, half dead.

I pictured the man Jesus described in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) attacked by robbers, stripped naked, beaten and left half dead. Big Mama needed a neighbor.

You know the story, but indulge me with the liberty to modernize it. I imagined a priest passing by on his way to Jericho to teach a leadership seminar. “Sorry about the muck you’re in, good sir, but I’m running late and can’t afford to soil my suit. Looks like you could benefit from the principles I’m teaching. Stop by if you can, I’m in town all week.”

Next came a Levite noting the man’s struggle to breathe. “Looks like it’s time to give up those cigarettes, my friend. Stop by and see me for a helpful 5-step program I’m presenting at the synagogue. I’m in town all week.”

Finally, a Samaritan saw the urgency of the stranger’s situation, had pity on him, and got down in the muck with him.

I’m a cowherd. I tag along behind cows I don’t own. I take care of their needs. I know Big Mama needs a strong dose of calcium delivered straight to the jugular vein. But, she’s sprawled out on her side. I first need to reposition her on her sternum, no easy feat. So, I got down in the muck beside her.

Why? Because numerous times, I’ve been the half-dead man in the muck. I’ve had friends, family, pastoral caregivers, even strangers have mercy on me, get down in the muck with me. They prop me up, attend to my thirst, bandage me up and care for me.

Take A Deep Breath of Remember. I hope you’ve experienced this neighborly care, too. I hope you’ve gotten down in the muck with the broken ones in your life.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, lover of my soul. Thank you for having mercy on me, for pitying my broken, wretched condition, and for joining me in the muck to quench my soul thirst. I gaze on your thorn-crowned head, your body pierced with nails and spear, beaten, abandoned to die. You died for me. And I live. Amen.

Photo credit: The Good Samaritan, Daniel Borup, Sculptor