One of my most memorable experiences as a shepherd was the day that my sheep followed me for the very first time. This event, however, did not take place overnight. For five years I hated my sheep and my sheep hated me! They ran from me, they stamped their feet at me, and they were an embarrassment to me. But they followed my seven-year-old daughter. They knew her voice and they ate out of the palm of her hand. But me? One look at me and they gave a loud bleating sound that sent shivers up my spine, especially when visitors were around.
To make matters worse, Rambo (that is what we named him for obvious reasons) tried to kill me several times. You can be sure I didn’t take this lightly. Since strangulation didn’t work, there were several times that I had the scope on him while aiming from my bedroom window. I often employed this method of using the scope on my rifle to check the sheep in the upper pasture. I found that when Rambo came into sight, my finger seemed to find its way to the trigger! No, I never did shoot him, but if I could do it again, I might just hold on to that trigger a little more firmly. Now for all you animal activists, no letters!
One time in particular, Rambo stood on his hind legs and "rammed" me square in the back. As I lay on the ground trying to catch my breath I thought he had broken my back. I looked up to see the beast was standing above me, ready to finish me off! I quickly rolled and he missed me. But what happened next was the best part. Losing all sense of humanity I was filled with anger and wrath (this was 10 years ago!), and I began to choke this beast. While I was actually trying to strangle him my wife, protector of all who stand in my way, yelled down from the back porch saying, "What on earth are you doing to that poor animal?" While breaking blood vessels in my eyes from this death grip I retorted, "What does it look like I am doing!? I am trying to kill him; he tried to kill me first!"
I think you have a pretty good picture of my early days as a shepherd. My relationship with my sheep was a hate-hate relationship. I couldn’t wait to have some of them for dinner, but my daughter loved them so much that she threatened never to speak to me again if I touched one of her beloved sheep. So I was stuck. Little did I know that God would use my relationship with the sheep to teach me that I had a problem with anger and that forceful control leads only to broken relationships.
It was 1994. I was as sick as a dog and, for the most part, on empty. I had been sick for thirteen years, and the possibility of going back to full-time ministry seemed unlikely. To make matters worse, Jonathan, my oldest son, had just told me that he hated me. Without realizing it, I had been treating him just like Rambo—controlling him with threats, anger, and forcefulness. One can only maintain that posture for so long until it turns around and "rams" you right in the back.
After several lambs had died due to the weather and my negligence my daughter informed me that I was not a good shepherd. My heart was pierced. God sure knows how to get our attention. So I really tried to care for the sheep. Then it happened. I had spent eight weeks in the barn during our third lambing season. About the sixth week after sheering, de-worming, immunizing, and bottle feeding, I noticed that the ewes were behaving differently toward me. They were observing my movements, and were not as anxious around me. Now, picture this: there I was, sick beyond description, with no energy and little hope; but I was giving these sheep the best care I could give them. I often sat in the hay, reading the Psalms and praying aloud, holding a lamb that nibbled on my finger. I truly began to love these creatures of God, and the mother sheep knew it. Then one day as I walked to the other side of the barn, all seventy sheep moved toward me. I walked to the other side, and they followed. I quickly opened up all the stall doors and then began parading up the path toward our house and when I looked back, all the mothers and their lambs were following! As we approached the house, I yelled, "Jennifer! Debbie!!! Look outside!" When my little girl came to the window, I saw a great big smile, and knew exactly what she was thinking: "Daddy became a shepherd today." And I had! When the sheep knew that I really cared, especially for their lambs, they began to follow. No more control, no more anger, no more forcefulness.