Observations whilerunning with my pack (flock?)
I run with my twolarge dogs. Not as often as I should, oras they would like, but I do. As we wereout for our run this morning, I was thinking, and noticing things. First, my two dogs are rather exuberant whenwe start out. They really don’t want tofollow my lead, but would rather run ahead. That causes problems, because when I’m not in front, they tend to missthe turns, and get their leads really tangled up, sometimes causing one or moreof us to slip and fall in the snow. Whenthey’re following well, they run withtheir shoulders right next to my thigh. They can sense when I slow down, speed up, or change direction; evenwhen I alert on some sort of perceived threat. We move almost as one.
Now, when they perceive a threat,whether it’s a moose, another dog, or a trash can (what can I say, the GreatDane can’t see too well in the dark) they tend to take their eyes off me, andstart focusing on the threat. If I don’tget them refocused quickly, they start veering off toward the threat, creatingthe same problem discussed above. Theycan even start pulling me off course. But, if they stay focused on me, we generally run right by the waywardtrash can, or I deal with the loose dog, and our little pack is safe.
So what, yousay? Well, I see a broaderapplication. Excuse me while I changemetaphors, from a pack to a flock. Manypundits, bloggers, and commenters on the internet news pages like to use themetaphor of sheep to refer to people today, particularly those who aren’talarmed by the threat that the writer sees. “Sheeple” has become a derogatory term for those in societywho aren’t alarmed by the threat so obvious to the writer. “I don’twant to be a sheep! ” Sheep are dumb, blindly following theshepherd, and easily led astray. Theyhave no real individual defensive capability, and are only really safe frompredators when pressed tightly together in the flock, and when being protectedby the shepherd.
Unfortunately, Jesuscalls us sheep. His sheep. He uses this metaphor a lot, and says he isour Shepherd.
So what does being asheep have to do with running with my dogs? Well, while I was running with my “pack,” I was considering aflock and how it behaves. I won’t even pretendto be an expert on sheep behavior, but I have observed flocks before, and I’vegot Google.
First, a flockfollowing their shepherd tend to bunch pretty closely together. Even those sheep on the outside edges,farthest away from the shepherd, know where to go, because the flock tends tobecome one contiguous mass. Those on theedge press in to those closer in, much like my dogs do when they’re followingwell. When threats appear, they tend topress in even closer, trying to draw closer to their shepherd, and listeningfor his voice. If those sheep on thefringe of the flock, instead of drawing closer, focus instead on the threat,they will tend to veer away from the flock, and toward the threat. This is exactly what a predator wants–todistract the sheep from the flock, causing it to take its eyes and ears off theshepherd, and to stray away from the safety of the flock, becoming easy prey.
Jesus says his sheepfollow him because they know his voice. But what if the sheep, instead of focusing on him, are bleating aboutthe threat? Loud noises frighten sheep! I imagine those closest to him may still beable to hear his voice over the cacophony of the flock, but those sheep on thefringe, farthest from him, and also most vulnerable to the predator, may not beable to hear over the noise.
I think it’s time for Christians to start acting like the sheep we are supposedto be. We are defenseless, other than bystaying in our flock. We’re not supposedto fight against the predator, but to stay close to the Shepherd. Quit fixating on the predator, and stopbleating. We might still be able to hear him, butothers in the flock might not. Ourcarrying on about the threat may be what panics them, causes them to losefocus, to run. Our lack of trust andfocus might be the very thing that makes the predator successful in taking ourlambs.
If you’re scared, oruncertain, or worried about the predators lurking in the shadows, press in alittle tighter to the flock, and listen for the Shepherd.
Even though I walk through the valley of theshadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and staff, they comfort me. – Psalm23:4