Sheep are creatures of habit. If left to themselves, they will follow the same trails until they become ruts; graze the same hills until they turn to desert wastes; pollute their own ground until it is corrupt with disease and parasites.
A commonly held but serious misconception about sheep is that they can just “get along anywhere”. The truth is quite the reverse. No other class of livestock requires more careful handling, more detailed direction than do sheep.
The greatest single safeguard which a shepherd has in handling his flock is to keep them on the move. That is to say, they dare not be left on the same ground too long. They must be shifted from pasture to pasture periodically. This prevents overgrazing of the forage. It also avoids the erosion of land from overuse. It forestalls the reinfestation of the sheep with internal parasites or disease since the sheep move off the infested ground before these organisms complete their life cycle.
There must be a predetermined plan of action, a deliberate, planned rotation from one grazing ground to another in line with right and proper principles of sound management. This is precisely the sort of action and the idea David had in mind when he spoke of being led in paths of righteousness.
In his following of a precise plan of operation lies the secret for healthy flocks and healthy land.
Now as we turn to the human aspect of this theme we will be astonished at some of the parallels.
Scripture points out that most of us are a stiff-necked and stubborn lot. We prefer to follow our own fancies and turn to our own ways. We do deliberately, repeatedly, even to our own disadvantage. There is something almost terrifying about the destructive self-determination of a human being. We insist we know what is best for us even though the disastrous results may be self-evident.
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Turning to “my own way” simply means doing what I want. It implies that I feel free to assert my own wishes and carry out my own ideas. And this I do in spite of every warning.
A Christian either “goes on” with God or at which point he “goes back” from following on. There are relatively few diligent disciples who forsake all to follow the Master.
In brief, seven attitudes have to be acquired. They are the equivalent of progressive forward movements onto the new ground with God. If one follows them, he will discover new abundant life and increased health, wholesomeness, and holiness in his walk with God.
- Instead of loving myself most, I am willing to love Christ best and others more than myself.
- Instead of being one of the crowd, I am willing to be singled out, set apart from the gang.
- Instead of insisting on my rights, I am willing to forego them in favour of others.
- Instead of being “boss”, I am willing to be at the bottom of the heap.
- Instead of finding fault with life and always asking “Why?” I am willing to accept every circumstance of life in an attitude of gratitude.
- Instead of exercising and asserting my will, I am willing to learn to cooperate with His wishes and comply with His will.
- Instead of choosing my own way, I am willing to choose to follow in Christ’s way: simply to do what He asks me to do.
God wants us all to move on with Him. He wants us to walk with Him.
Perhaps there are those who think He expects too much of us. Some may even consider His call impossible to carry out. It would be if we had to depend on self-determination or self-discipline to succeed. But if we are in earnest about wanting to do His will, and to be led, He makes this possible by His own gracious Spirit who is given to those who obey. For it is He who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13).
An excerpt from A Shepherd looks at Psalm 23