"We are His people, the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving." —King David, Psalm 100
"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." — King Jesus, John 10
While I don't know much about those white, fluffy animals Scripture talks about, I've been tending sheep—the human variety—for a long time. I like the way Jesus compares his Church to a sheepfold, and even calls us His "little flock." Best of all, He describes Himself as our Good Shepherd.
In observing "sheepfolds" over the years, I've been fascinated by a particular group I've come to call "Near Sheep." Near Sheep are the ones who seem to enjoy being near the Shepherd. They're easy to spot because they're always at His feet, brushing up against His ankles. Near Sheep get those choice treats the Shepherd keeps in His pocket. If their fleece becomes matted, or if a thorn gets lodged in their hoof, the Shepherd's healing hand is always nearby.
Near Sheep are already there at feeding times, they're the first ones to the feed bin. They get the fresh water before it's been trampled and muddied by a hundred hooves. Near Sheep get loving nicknames. Gentle pats on the head. Being close to the Shepherd is a safe place; with that rod nearby, no predator is likely to sink his fangs into you. All things considered, it's good to be a "Near Sheep."
We've all known "Far Sheep," too. For whatever reasons, Far Sheep prefer the outer boundaries of the pasture. Far Sheep come lumbering in at designated feeding times, but by the time they arrive, the grain and water are no longer fresh. They aren't happy about this.
Those little emergencies? The Shepherd faithfully makes his rounds to check on the Far Sheep, but they may have been hobbling about on a sore hoof for hours before He's arrived.
Far Sheep see the Shepherd, primarily, as a service provider and a protector; they've come to doubt, though, that He's very good at either. Wolves and bears stalk the distant fence-lines, and have snatched away more than one Far Sheep. At the edge of the corral, sadly, the sheep-talk is often about the Shepherd's failures. They don't believe the sheepfold is a very good place.
As an under-shepherd, I can tell you confidently that Near Sheep are the joy—the life— of ministry! And yes, Far Sheep provide nearly all the grief.
I don't think anyone sets out to be a Far Sheep. It just happens. Both Isaiah and the hymn writer described us as prone to wander. It's not good, but, like gravity, it's the natural direction of a human heart.
I do believe, though, that we deliberately become Near Sheep. We choose to enter His gates with thanksgiving. We decide to listen for the voice of the Shepherd. We fix our eyes on Jesus. As we draw near to Him, we'll discover He's already drawing near to us. After all, we're talking about the Good Shepherd Who, long ago, showed that He loved us so much that He laid down His life for the sheep.
Phil Christensen is worship pastor at Cedar Hills Evangelical Free Church (CHEF) in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He is married to Mitzi, the Beauty Queen, and is father of four great kids. Phil has served as a worship development missionary in the Pacific Northwest and is co-author of two books for Kregal Publishing. You can reach him via email at email@example.com.