“…Do you love me?….Tend my sheep.” John 21:16
“I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” John 10:11-13
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2
God recently pointed out these scriptures to me and said to me, “This is what I want you to become. A shepherdess.” I was a little puzzled at first, and began to ponder what that really meant. First, what does it mean to be a shepherd, and second, what are some important things to know about shepherding?
What does it mean to be a shepherd?
A shepherd must take very seriously the lives of the “sheep” that God has put into their care. This will look different for everyone, but God gives each of us our own “sheepfolds” – places where we meet people and become connected to them, such as school, work, church, etc. Depending on how outgoing you are, your “sheepfold” may be larger or smaller…but it’s still there, no matter who you are, or what your personality, we all know people who are hurting and need help. Each of these people you know will/have become your “sheep”; as God calls you to a serious relationship with Himself, it will never be simply for your own enjoyment – God calls us to always be pouring out our lives to help others, and the closer you get to God, the more He will ask you to give. And the closer you get to God, the bigger He will make your “sheepfold”…because you will begin to see, more and more, that you don’t have the right to choose who you feel comfortable talking to about Jesus or not…because every single person needs Him – even just the people you walk by in the grocery store or at the mall – and you may be their only chance to hear the gospel.
A shepherd’s duty is to invest their lives in the sheep. To give all they can give to see the sheep succeed. To teach them, to invite them over, to be available whenever they need help – or just a friend, and most importantly……
A shepherd is also the “priest” of their sheep-fold. This does not mean that you have to perform rituals with incense and wear weird hats. Let me share a few scriptures to clarify:
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.”
“The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”
“But you are….a royal priesthood….” 1 Peter 2:9
These verses show us that God has called each of us to become like a high priest, just as Jesus did. This doesn’t mean that we are to think of ourselves as something special. No, it actually means quite the opposite. As shepherds and priests, it means we are to become the servants of all, and to deal compassionately with those God has placed in our care, knowing all that He has saved us from, and His great mercy toward us daily. But it also means that we are to live our lives to make intercession for these “sheep” of ours (intercession=earnest prayer). The job of the priests in Biblical times was to offer sacrifices and prayers before the Lord on behalf of their people. And in the same way, God has called us to pray earnestly for those He has given into our care. We are to uphold them in prayer as if their very lives depended on it. And indeed, so often they really do depend on it.
What are some important things to know about shepherding?
1.) Shepherding is not a part-time job.
We humans are always looking for the easiest way around things. We don’t want to just throw our lives into things without careful thought and planning…and making sure we still have plenty of time to do the things we want. “I don’t know if I really want to commit to that job right now…maybe I can just work part-time.” Well, in Biblical times, being a shepherd meant giving up your life to take care of your sheep. It meant 24/7 care. It meant that you spent your life leading your sheep around to new pastures, and being aware of their every need and trouble. A good shepherd literally invested their whole life into these sheep, so they were very careful to watch over them and take great pains to make sure they were well cared for. When you invest your own time and energy into something, you take a greater responsibility for it, because it has suddenly become a part of you. A shepherd didn’t have the choice of waking up late, or watching TV, or hanging out with friends and doing whatever he wanted to. A shepherd woke as the sheep woke, and had to continually keep watch over them, to make sure they had what they needed and that they were safe from harm. A bad shepherd was one that would relax when he should have been alert, and wild animals would come and kill the sheep. A bad shepherd would also be one who was simply out with the sheep because he had no other choice, and who didn’t invest his time and energy into taking the best possible care of them…so that when the wolves come to attack the sheep, he cares only about saving his own life, and flees – leaving the sheep to be devoured.
When God makes you a shepherdess, you can’t say, “Today I am ‘off duty’, and I’m not available to help anyone.” Nope. Serving God means being on call all the time, and when someone calls you at 2am, it means talking with them, and helping them gladly. It means when someone interrupts your plans or ideas for a nice time with their need for help, it means not hesitating to rush to their aid.
2.) Shepherding means laying down your life.
Like I mentioned in the previous point, shepherding means dying to yourself. Jesus is our example in this as John 10 says, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
We must be willing to set aside our own plans in order to pray for and help those around us. If they need prayer, we must be faithful to lift them up before the Lord. If they call us at 2am, we must be willing to talk. If they need a home, we must be willing to offer them ours…
We must always be willing to have God answer our prayers for people through us…otherwise, it is not real love and care for them. Of course we are always glad to pray for people who need help; praying that God sends them someone who can help them, someone to encourage them….someone to give them the money they need — the support they need. But…when you pray for God to provide for someone, are you willing to give your own last $50 to help them? When you pray for God to encourage them, are you willing to be the one to go out of your way to bake them cookies, invite them out to coffee, and just BE there for them? When you pray for them to be saved…are you willing to be the one to share the gospel with them?
I’m not saying these things to scare you out of praying, but to show you what real love for people looks like…and to show you the kind of heart attitude we need to have when we pray for people, if we truly want God to answer our prayers. Sometimes God will do things to answer our prayers that have nothing to do with us. Sometimes God will ask us to pray someone into salvation without ever talking to them even once. But sometimes…many times…God will test us to see what we are willing to do ourselves to help someone…and when we give all that we have to help those in need, God will both fill in anything else that is lacking and use our sacrifice to actually minister to their needy hearts.
As Oswald Chambers said so well, “It is one thing to follow God’s way of service if you are regarded as a hero, but quite another thing if the road marked out for you by God requires becoming a ‘doormat’ under other people’s feet. God’s purpose may be to teach you to say, ‘I know how to be abased…’ (Philippians 4:12). Are you ready to be sacrificed like that? Are you ready to be less than a mere drop in the bucket— to be so totally insignificant that no one remembers you even if they think of those you served? Are you willing to give and be poured out until you are used up and exhausted— not seeking to be ministered to, but to minister? Some saints cannot do menial work while maintaining a saintly attitude, because they feel such service is beneath their dignity.”
God wants us to serve and to give of ourselves without expecting any praise, any recognition, or any help from another person. And it is only a truly pleasing sacrifice when it is done with gladness and praise to God, and not begrudgingly.
3.) God will teach you obedience through your suffering.
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.”
(Hebrews 5:7-8 ESV)
Even Jesus Himself had to go through suffering in order to be perfected, and to learn true obedience. When you live your life for others instead of yourself, it will require great suffering and difficulties. You will have your heart crushed when “sheep” you have invested much love and prayer in turn away from you. You will have to battle off the intense desires of your flesh for ease and pleasure continually. You will have your character shaped and pruned so that it becomes more pleasing to God – this can often be a painful process, and is never truly finished while we are here on earth. You will have to give up your own plans, your own comfort — even things that every other “normal” person feels entitled to may not be things that God allows you to have or do. But it is all worth it if some of your “sheep” are brought into freedom and life with Jesus! And, it is even worth it all if you learn the lessons that God needs to work in your heart, and you are drawn into a closer walk with Him.
So, I hope that you will join me in praying that we will cling more closely to God in all things, and that we will take our jobs more seriously, and pour out our lives more freely for the sake of others.
Only by His power working within us.
Lord, teach us how to be shepherdesses.
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”