The area of England where our son and his family lives is beautiful. It is hard to believe that some of these towns and buildings are older than our nation… by a few hundred years!
The scenery is breathtaking and you never know what you’re going to see.
Isn’t this gorgeous? And, the hillsides are dotted with sheep.
One of the most interesting things we saw was painted sheep! Yes, painted sheep!
And, sure enough, as we got closer to the farm that the sheep call home, the door of the barn was painted the same color as the backs of the sheep. It makes sense. The wool will grow over any other identifying marker, so in order to know whom the sheep belong to, you must mark the wool.
Not only does it look pretty, it sounds pretty. Everyone has an accent! Everywhere I’ve lived – Texas, North Carolina, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota – all y’all have an accent.
I was thinking about that recently and it dawned on me: those sheep know the voice, and accent, of their shepherd. Would they recognize a shepherd with an American Midwestern accent? No. I don’t think so.
I don’t think so because of the nature of sheep. When I taught the Gospel of John a few years ago, I studied a little bit about sheep and shepherds and I learned that sheep are very fearful animals.
Sheep are afraid to venture beyond where they have been led because they don’t know what is out there. Unlike goats who will roam about freely, a sheep will only go to familiar territory. If their water source is beyond the familiar, they will die of dehydration. A good shepherd will lead them to the water, after that, they will find it on their own.
Now, I’m not convinced that animals have emotions (except for dogs – my dog-loving friends have taught me this!), so perhaps it is not fear of the unfamiliar that leads sheep, but knowledge of the familiar.
Whichever it is, a sheep will not follow an alien voice, they will run in the opposite direction when they hear one. Therefore, a sheep must learn the sound of its shepherd’s voice and the way he communicates. They learn this by repetition.
Some shepherds use words, some use syllables or sounds. As he calls them out of the pen in the morning they learn to follow only him. And at the end of each day, leading them back to the pen, the shepherd speaks to his sheep as he checks them for scrapes and injuries. They hear his voice as he puts salve on their wounds. They learn to trust him to provide for and take care of them.
It’s interesting that throughout the Bible God’s people are referred to as sheep, and Jesus is our shepherd. We are marked with the Holy Spirit and we know to whom we belong. And, hopefully, as we live for God, other people will clearly see our resemblance to the Father and will also know to whom we belong.
If a sheep can learn the voice of its shepherd, so can we. Do you know the voice of your Shepherd? Even though we all have the same Shepherd, his voice will sound different for every one of us. It will have the accent with which we are familiar. It will be personal and private to us. Your Shepherd’s voice will speak clearly.
“After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.” – John 10:4-5 NLT
However, when the Shepherd speaks – and we always know when he does – if we begin to argue, dissect, ask advice from other people, question, or weigh the pros and cons his voice becomes indiscernible. It gets lost in the cacophony of voices that vie for our attention all day every day.
If, when we hear our Shepherd’s voice, we submit to whatever he says our ability to hear him grows clearer and stronger. We will hear his voice no matter where we are, or how far from him we might roam.
Our Shepherd will lead us into the familiar, he will protect us from predators, and he will look over us each day and lovingly salve all of our wounds. He will comfort us as he brings us into the fold.
Do you know the voice of your shepherd? When was the last time you heard it? Are you training your ears to hear him more clearly? Will you follow him wherever he leads? Are you living an identifiable life? If you never told anyone, would people know that you belong to God?
The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. 2 He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. 3 He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. 4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley,[a] I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. 5 You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. 6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever. – Psalm 23 NLT