Thursday, March 8, 2012

On Sheep (Or, How to Keep Yourself from Falling Off a Cliff)

Watch the following video (Disclaimer: this video contains brief language):

Did you see all the green grass on that hill? Tons of it! Yet where do the sheep decide to head? Straight for the dangerous cliff with a scarce amount of grass. But that grass looks gooooood. There's nothing to stop the sheep from heading to that tiny patch of green in the midst of the sharp rocks (apart from common sense). They are free to choose, and they inevitably choose self-destruction.

Sheep are stupid. Scripture often refers to human beings as sheep. It's not a kind metaphor. Sheep do things like ignore the surrounding pastures and choose to pursue ideals that will ultimately lead to destruction. When they experience the natural consequences of ignoring green pastures, they are quite surprised that this could happen to them.

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments. (Psalm 119:176)

If I'm honest with myself, I have sheep-like tendencies. We all do.

We wander. We are not as wise as we might believe. I like to think that I've got a pretty good head on my shoulders and can make healthy decisions for myself and my family. But I can't, at least not on my own. Any wise choice I've ever made found its roots in the God-given wisdom from the Scriptures and the Spirit. I'm like the sheep in the video; left to my own devices, I'll wander towards whatever appears good in the moment.

We tend to go with the crowd. Did you notice the second sheep's response? It followed the first sheep right down the cliff. Maybe it was self-lessly thinking, "oh no! I've got to go save my friend!" I doubt it. I doubt it was thinking much at all beyond, "hey, I'm alone here. Better follow that guy." Or perhaps, "sure, he fell to his imminent death. But that won't happen to me." It's the literal outworking of the frustrated parental outburst: well, if your friends were jumping off a cliff, would you? Yes, yes we would. We do. We care about what other people think and we are terrified of being alone. This fear affects our decisions and behavior on a daily basis.

We need boundaries. You know what would have helped that sheep on the cliff? A fence. Now, I don't know too many people who are fond of rules. No one is requesting, "could I please have some more rules and restrictions in my life?" Christianity has never been about rules; it's about grace and faith and love. Yet there are still disciplines and boundaries that Christ has called us to obey. This is why a community of fellow sheep holding each other accountable to the beautiful truths of Scripture is necessary. With our wandering, we need some fences in our lives to limit our self-destructing ability to jump off the cliff.

Our Shepherd is good. He guides us into greener pastures. He leads us to quiet waters. He restores my soul. He knows me. He is worth giving all my trust and affection.

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here's my heart, Lord, take and seal it;
Seal it for thy courts above.

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