The Serenading Shepherd

A few years ago, when I was visiting Bethlehem, a friend of mine, JR, and I were walking near a site called Shepherds’ Field. It’s a grassy hillside tourists come to visit and reflect on what it might have been like to be a shepherd near Bethlehem on the night Jesus was born. This, of course, led to a conversation about sheep.

JR is from Canada and told an intriguing story about a friend of his who is a rancher there. Although he’d never worked with sheep before, he jumped on the chance to buy a flock of sheep. After the purchase, he brought them to his property and put them in a pen.

There was, however, a problem. The sheep were terrified of him. Every time the rancher came to the corral to check on them, the sheep would bolt to the far side of the enclosure. In their panic, they would even climb over each other to escape.

After a few days of this, the rancher was concerned for their safety. So, he called the original owner and explained his dilemma. The former owner listened patiently and then asked this question:

“Are you singing to them?”

“Excuse me? Did you say singing to them?”

“Sure. They’re scared because they don’t know who you are. They need to get used to the sound of your voice. If you sing to them, they’ll get used to you and know they’re going to be OK.”

According to JR, the rancher began to sing to the sheep. And sure enough, over time, they calmed down and settled into their new arrangement.

Jesus self-identifies as a spiritual shepherd, someone who protects and cares for people. In one of his teaching moments with his followers, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 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 10:3b-5).

Following Jesus, then, doesn’t start with courage, devotion, knowledge or even desire. It’s much more primal, more basic, simpler than all that. It begins with the ability to hear God call our name and trust his voice for the next step. To be clear, it’s not the capacity to hear a voice, but the capability to hear His voice. To hear it and know it so clearly, that we can identify a counterfeit in a single word.

Can you pick the Shepherd’s voice out of a crowd? Are you ready to run after it?
Do you know when you’re hearing voices that aren’t His? If so, make sure you run away.

Craig Custance