My two oldest sons were not excited with the lessons they were about to learn. “Dad, this is just gross. I don’t think I can do it.”  I thought their comments were ludicrous. These were the same boys who had dissected a dead snake, swum in a neighbor’s stagnant green pond, cleaned horses’ stalls in their bare feet, and let the dog lick their faces. Comparitively speaking, this was not gross.

“But why do we have to do this?  Can’t we just let it die?” 

I looked into their eyes and slowly shook my head from side to side. Thorough answers to the boys’ questions would come later. Some things are better understood after you’ve completed the exercise or seen the illustration.

My neighbor, David, is a sheep and goat rancher. Several times a year he leaves the farm for a week or so to attend a show or go on vacation, and he usually asks us to take care of his animals. This particular time he was hand feeding a two-week-old kid that refused to nurse on its own. This meant that several times a day we would have to drive to the farm, milk a goat (or two) and force-feed the tiny baby by placing a long, thin, feeding tube into the kid’s mouth and down into its' stomach. Then, using an industrial-size syringe, we would slowly fill the baby’s belly with fresh warm milk. It was not the most pleasant thing, but it was necessary for the life of the baby. My boys have always seemed eager to help with the chores, but this was one aspect of farm life they found repulsive. 

I knew instinctively that the Lord was preparing us for some powerful lessons as we temporarily lived the life of shepherds and goatherds that week. As we piled in the truck and headed home that day, the Holy Spirit graciously opened a door of utterance for me to teach some lessons rich in heavenly wisdom.

Lesson number one: A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast… (Proverbs 12:10).

For those of us who have taken on the roll of pet owners or farmers, we must realize that most domesticated animals are not capable of taking care of themselves over the long haul. Eventually an animal in a stall, pasture, cage, corral,  kennel, or on a leash  needs water, food, a change of scenery, medical treatment, or just plain-old attention. I’ve had animals all my life, and sooner or later (usually sooner) they let you know about their needs. A shepherd is to “know the state” of his flocks (Prov. 27:13). This is more than just being aware of their needs, it’s acting responsibly to meet them.

Jesus underscored this principal of duty in Matthew 12:11 when he illustrated a point to the Pharisees. “What man shall there be of you, that shall have one sheep, and if this fall into a pit on the Sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?” When duty calls, it's rarely at a convenient time, it’s never cheap, and it’s not usually fun.

Because of the nature of animals (my animals, at least), they have a tendency to get into trouble. You don’t have to be at a farm or stable very long to discover that animals fight, get stuck, sick, or fall into any number of strange predicaments (I wish there were time and space for a few of my own bizarre illustrations here -- perhaps in future stories…). When these troubles arise, we are to be alert to the danger. No matter how inconvenient it is for us, we should demonstrate responsibility as their caregivers. God expects it.

Lesson number two: We are called to be good stewards.
In Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30), the master praised his servants who were “good and faithful.” They had been trusted to tend to the master’s business, and the two who took their jobs seriously were rewarded. 

A steward can be any person who has been entrusted with the property of another; a parent, a student, a neighbor. Who wouldn’t want to hire someone faithful, responsible, and trustworthy? Who wouldn’t want that reputation or its' benefits?