Friday, August 14, 2015

Just a Sheep I – Selective Listening

I stood on a small ridge, looking over a shallow gully where a herd of sheep was staring back at me. Sharing the same pasture, I had hoped for some sort of friendly sheep connection leading to me getting to pet them. They stared at me, I talked to them. They watched me and I tried to think of a sheep song I could sing to convince them to overlook my being a stranger. I tried to convince them that they really were very nice sheep that would like to have their heads rubbed. The glares I received in return stated clearly that I was not winning these sheep over. They didn’t know me, nor did they have any inclination to get to know me. My voice was not recognized.

As much as I would have liked to pet at least one of those wooly headed creatures, I understand their reluctance. This caution for any unknown was part of how they defended themselves. They were listening for a familiar voice, the voice of their shepherd. My voice was that of a stranger, and did not appeal to their sense of security. However, if the shepherd were present, things might be greatly different. The voice of the shepherd is the voice of protection, good pasture, care and adequate shelter. Knowing the voice and trusting it, the sheep will follow the shepherd from place to place.

As Christ is my shepherd, I need to rely on his voice. As a shepherd, he provides me with truth, grace, love, nourishment, protection and refreshment. This means I need know the voice I am listening for, and that I actually need to be listening. It is so easy to be distracted by other voices, I know it doesn’t take much sometimes for me to lose that focus. The background noises crank up the volume and I forget to listen, wandering off on my own. Pretty soon I am stuck. I may not be entirely certain how I got there and will need some assistance to get out. Standing there, stuck, I am forced to wait and listen, hoping to hear the familiar voice of my shepherd coming to assist. What a sweet sound that is, especially because I am not great at waiting for rescue - I get squirmy and impatient.

Towards the end of Tuesday on this very busy week, a few of us agreed that surely it should be Thursday. Can we just make the next day Friday by group decision? I was tired, feeling the pressure I place on myself as I watch the list of projects I want to participate in grow. Wednesday came, the group vote for Friday was overruled by calendar makers, and again the day primarily passed in a blur of rushing. Where in the midst of the hectic movement around me was the shepherd’s voice? It was hard to listen – let alone hear in all of that commotion. I felt stuck in the pace of the moments, and was waiting impatiently, hoping to be hearing my shepherd’s voice once again to calm my heart and mind against the ticking of the clock.

Sitting at a picnic table that evening at a Bible study and fellowship time, I felt my spirit being refreshed even as my eyes grew increasingly tired. In the midst of this great conversation, a young man with his hand behind his back left the road, came down the hill, took the steps and crossed the pavilion. Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect to see when the hand returned to his front. What I did not anticipate seeing was a beautiful yellow rose, tinged in coral. My favorite of rose colors is this, the one that looks like a sunset was shaped into a flower and smells like all the sweetness of summer. I looked into the face of a young man and his big grin. I couldn’t help but smile in return. “This is for you,” is all the rose giver said.

I’ve never seen this fellow before, nor do I expect to meet him in the future. The interaction lasted for a moment and contained less than a dozen words between us. But that moment will stay with me for some time. I was tired, feeling caught up in the background noise and wondering exactly how I was going to fit the rest of my week into the actual span of a week. Then, in an unexpected way, the voice of my shepherd burst through the noise with a friendly smile and a beautiful rose. It was an encouragement, a refocusing of listening for my distracted thinking. And in the moment, through the actions of a stranger, I listened to the familiar voice of my shepherd. He whispered to me through a sunset colored rose, caught my attention with the fresh fragrance, and told me that he was with me.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 
John 10:1-5