I’ll never forget hearing about this story that happened in 2005 in Turkey. It has stuck with me all these years. According to news reports, “Turkish shepherds watched in horror as hundreds of their sheep followed each other over a cliff. More than 400 sheep died in the 15-metre fall - their bodies cushioning the fall of 1,100 others who followed.” I could not understand why the sheep did not pay attention to what was happening in front of them. They followed the others believing that nothing could go wrong.
Sheep by nature tend to be followers and not have any direction—they go where they can graze and enjoy the grass. According to the Sheep101.com, “Sheep have a strong instinct to follow the sheep in front of them. When one sheep decides to go somewhere, the rest of the flock usually follows, even if it is not a good "decision." For example, sheep will follow each other to slaughter. If one sheep jumps over a cliff, the others are likely to follow. Even from birth, lambs are conditioned to follow the older members of the flock.” Sheep are very social animals and even when grazing, must stay in close contact with others. Staying in groups can serve as a form of protection from predators.
Without a shepherd, sheep can get into a lot of trouble. The shepherd guides the sheep to the pasture to ensure that they are safe and protected. Sheep encounter wild animals, and the shepherd is armed to address any conflict. In addition, the shepherd makes sure the sheep are healthy. A shepherd will even assist with birth of a lamb. The shepherd is also responsible for fleecing the sheep—when the hair becomes unmanageable and weighs the animal down, the shepherd removes it.
I now understand why God calls us sheep. Just as sheep can be directionless, misguided and make bad decisions, we as humans do the same. Several scriptures reference humans as sheep such as Psalm 100:3, Psalm 79:13 and Ezekiel 34:30-31. Sheep need a Shepherd. The disarray in our lives, families, homes, jobs, schools, and houses of worship are a direct result of our unwillingness to be led by the Good Shepherd. As much as we want to believe others are stupid and make poor choices, we all have fallen short and can add this description to our resume if we are honest. It’s time to realize our need for guidance beyond ourselves because it isn’t working and like the sheep, many are either falling off cliffs or about to.
Here are some possibilities to consider about the confusion we face:
1. Could some of the challenge we face be a result of our inability to hear the voice of the Shepherd? “But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me.” (John 10:26-28)
2. Is it easier to criticize others than to take the time to find them, walk with them, and bring them back in love? “What man among you, who has 100 sheep and loses one of them, does not leave the 99 in the open field and go after the lost one until he finds it? When he has found it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders, and coming home, he calls his friends and neighbors together, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my lost sheep! I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous people who don’t need repentance.” (Luke 15:2-7)
3. Are we too busy pushing to lead instead of positioning ourselves to be led? “But he led his own people like a flock of sheep, guiding them safely through the wilderness. He kept them safe so they were not afraid….” (Psalm 78:52-53)
4. Is it possible that we can’t distinguish between danger and destiny because of what speaks more to our hidden agenda? “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)
When we recognize who we are AND whose we are, not only will our lives look different, but our world will also experience the impact. We must recognize our need for the Shepherd and that nothing else will satisfy. “The Lord is my Shepherd. I want for nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters.” (Psalms 23:1-2).
There is a better way:
Stop following the flock.
Watch out for the wolves and cliffs.
Allow the Shepherd to guide, protect, and keep you.