Has the Shepherd got lost?

In the past year, some of us have literally walked through the valley of the shadow of death.  We have lost loved ones, tried to help the dying, ministered to the bereaved, and conducted more funerals than we can count.

Others who are not personally touched by death have walked in the shadow of fear.  We have not socialised (or been permitted to) for fear of infection.  We have not been able to travel.  We’ve had to deal with falling incomes and can’t do the face-to-face work to maintain our support levels.  We’ve seen our children struggle with home schooling and isolation and we wonder if they’ll be scarred for life.

Through all these experiences the Shepherd is still as close as you want Him to be.  He has not got lost or missed the right path.  He has not forgotten you.  He knows the path seems frightening and dangerous to you.  But he has chosen to bring you this way, though we may never know why.

The Shepherd is not in the habit of explaining everything to the sheep.  There is an agreement between them: the sheep trust him to care for them, and the Shepherd expects them to trust and obey.  When they fail to do that, they risk getting lost, but he will still come and look for them.

The Shepherd is bringing us on this route for a purpose, even though we don’t know what that purpose is, and probably never will.  We are tempted to wonder why He’s taken us away from the green pastures, but He’s not so cruel that he will take us on an unpleasant path that isn’t necessary.

Yes, there is danger.  Yes, it’s scary.  This is the time for the sensible sheep to stay close to the Shepherd, listen for the sound of his voice directing them, and close enough for His rod and staff to be there for them should they need them.

In walking the path through the valley our trust in the Shepherd is strengthened.  In future, we will know that if the Shepherd brings us this way again, we have nothing to fear, not because it’s not scary, but because the Shepherd has looked after us well before.

Mission workers are no strangers to risk.  We often go to or live in places which make people at home purse their lips and say “Are you sure it’s safe?”  No, we aren’t sure, but we go anyway, because we’re obedient to the call of the Shepherd and we will follow him wherever he leads.  As Jonah found, it’s safer to be with God in a scary place, than to run away from God.  Even at times when common sense tells us to go in the opposite direction.

The sheep who has stayed in green pastures knows nothing of this depth of trust.  That sheep is scared of a child with a stick, but the sheep who has trodden the valley road with the Shepherd has seen the eyes of the hungry wolf in the darkness, and knows the Shepherd will protect it from the wolf.  That sheep knows a new confidence, a new boldness, not because of anything it has achieved itself, but because it has witnessed with its own eyes what the Shepherd can do.  It emerges from the experience with a new, calm assurance.

That’s not to say it wants to walk the valley road again.  But it knows, not just theoretically but from experience, that if it has to go that way in future, it can trust the Shepherd.