Sheep often have a bad press. But there’s one skill sheep have that I find extremely impressive. Jesus clearly knew sheep very well, and He also knew this amazing quality they have: voice recognition. It’s what, in our family, we call their ‘Baa code’. It keeps the sheep safe.
Every new-born lamb must learn to recognise its mother’s voice. It comes with personal bonding time together. When Mum knows her lamb, and the lamb knows its mother’s voice, they are safe together in the flock. If the slightest danger threatens, Mum calls, and the lamb answers. Just try entering a field of sheep with lambs at foot and you will set the whole flock calling back and forth and the lambs dashing each to its own mum for safety.
But if the sheep hear the sound of a quad bike coming, they magically react. This will be the shepherd. In winter, he’ll bring a bale of hay or extra food. The sheep are there, queuing up, alert, expectant. They know the sound.
But what happens when the flock are let loose in the mountains or fells, allowed to roam free? A few weeks ago, Richard and I were climbing in the English Lake District. I happened to notice a man with two dogs running: the shepherd. Sure enough, we soon heard his distinctive kind of call echoing around the mountain.
I watched. Nothing. Again, the call. Silently, gradually, as from nowhere, I could see a small stream of sheep joining up together and coming down the slopes. Just two or three at first, then another string of four or five joined from somewhere else, coming down from the high crags. In ten minutes, they were gathered in a real flock, as the shepherd called, and the dogs helped. And that was it. Where no sheep could be seen, the shepherd had called them out. And the sheep recognised his voice and followed.
Here we are – God’s sheep! We also have that voice recognition gift within us, through the Holy Spirit. It’s our safety. Our shepherd longs for us to know Him deeply, to pick out His voice over all others and follow Him. I think that only comes as we spend time with Him and grow to love Him and to trust Him.
Prayer: My Father, thank You that You call us the sheep of Your pasture. As I spend time listening for Your voice and getting to know You better, I am longing to recognise Your voice over all others, so that I might follow You step by step each day of my life. That’s what I want so much. Amen.