I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments. Ps 119.176
I heard recently of someone who won’t sing Come Thou Fount because the hymn writer declares himself “prone to wander… prone to leave the God I love.”
True, this line resonates with me less and less as I grow in faith, but I also recognize how many other things vie for my heart.
Thank God he holds on to me and keeps me close to himself. I could never hold on against all the things that daily tug at my heart and my flesh. Yank and pummel, more like.
I didn’t always know this. I thought I had to muster the strength and faithfulness never to give in to the slightest temptation. Of course I failed.
Even though I trust in the power of God never to let me go, that doesn’t mean I never sin.
I can say with David that I have gone astray like a lost sheep.
Which brings up an interesting question. Just how does a sheep get lost?
Sheep are generally easygoing animals. They don’t tend to get an idea in their head and then execute it. (That would be goats btw.) They mostly stick together and go where everyone else goes. But it does sometimes happen that they get busy eating grass, one mouthful ripped from the ground leads to another, and then to another. Next thing you know, they look up from the grass in front of them, and they’re on their own. The flock is gone. They are lost.
It’s nobody’s fault really, but what are they to do? They couldn’t make a plan and carry it out if they had to. They only know how to follow the guy in front, but right now, there is no guy in front. With no idea where to turn or how to find their way home, they might just as well sit down and cry.
Not very different from us when we sin.
One little compromise, one small step toward distraction, leads to the next.
We lose track of the fellowship of believers in our pursuit of what we deem necessary to survive.
Next thing we know, we look up to find ourselves alone, far from those to whom we belong, not sure how we got there and frightened we may never get back.
A brave sheep might charge off in the direction he thinks leads back to the fold (repent, return, resolve), and may even get it right.
Foolish sheep, of which there are many, put their heads down and keep doing the same thing. They end up wandering further away, getting more and more lost.
Others still, the vast majority of us, sit down and cry.
Strange as it may seem, I think the latter is the best option. Seriously. More often than not, the shepherd finds the lost sheep because he hears it bleat. Stuck, lost, alone, afraid—every sheep will cry for its shepherd.
We have a Good Shepherd, the best Shepherd. He gave his life for his sheep.
He knows his sheep and his sheep know him. He calls us by name, we are his.
We know his voice. We follow him, because he goes before us to lead us.
He knows what he’s doing when it comes to tending his flock.
And when a sheep like you or me goes astray, we can count on him coming after us.
We make ourselves a lot easier to find when we bleat with David, “Seek your servant.”
This is the beautiful, simple message of the Gospel of Jesus.
The elect are God’s people, the sheep of his pasture.
We all like sheep have gone astray, and God has laid on our Shepherd the iniquity of us all.
In the fullness of time God sent his Son to seek and save the lost.
Everyone who calls on him will be saved.
Abraham is the father of our faith, sort of the first sheep ever. His natural offspring, the Israelites, belonged to God because of Abraham’s faith. They bore the brand—circumcision—to prove it.
The Good Shepherd has other sheep too, Abraham’s spiritual descendants, who trust in Jesus by grace through faith. These he also “brands,” with the seal of the Holy Spirit.
Strangely, despite his indwelling Presence, we might still wander from the flock, but never from him. He has his eye on every sheep. Each one matters to him. He’ll come looking for the one lost sheep every time.
The important thing about being a sheep is to recognize when you’re lost. This is most obvious before our first saving encounter with the Shepherd. Separated from him, we followed anything that looked like it would lead us to a place we could belong, anyone who welcomed us even if it was bad for us. We were meant to belong but we didn’t know where or to whom.
Ravaged by corruption and godless philosophies on so many levels, small wonder once we’re saved that we still need to learn to trust our Savior.
We’ve spent a lifetime not knowing how to live in the flock and follow a shepherd who is truly good.
So yes, sometimes we get it wrong.
But here’s where we can learn from David, who started life tending sheep, and interpreted life through a shepherd’s eyes. People act like sheep all the time, getting along, following a leader, not really taking responsibility for their own lives, nor could they. But the Law could teach them how to live before God, as if a shepherd had written instructions to his sheep on how to live like good sheep.
I love that this shepherd king extolled the Good Sheep Manual in a poem of 176 verses!