One evening, after speaking at a church gathering in Akron, a woman came up to me with an unusual request. She said, “You seem to really like stories…would you mind if I shared one with you?”
I emphatically responded yes, and she began. She mentioned a woman in her Bible study group who lived in a rural area in southern Ohio. This woman and her husband raised sheep. Every morning, they let their flock out to graze on the hillsides during the day, calling them into the barn each evening for protection. The barn was located several miles away from their homestead, yet morning and evening, they faithfully attended the sheep in their care.
One morning, they arrived at the barn to find the sheep missing. They contacted the local police authorities to file a report and were told their sheep had been “rustled” (the official term for stealing livestock). Apparently, several other flocks in the area had recently been rustled, too. The authorities shared little hope with them. They said, according to their experience, the flock had probably already been taken to a slaughterhouse.
The woman was bereft. She loved those sheep. Crying out in anger, she bitterly conceded to her husband that they were completely lost. Her husband would not yet agree. He told her there was one more thing he needed to do before he would accept such a devastating loss.
Each Saturday, a livestock auction took place in this rural county in a neighboring town. Auction arenas are large and generally structured, with holding pens around the perimeter that contain each auction lot of animals. The Saturday following the theft, the hurting couple were in attendance. Right before the auction, the husband walked into the center of the arena and began calling his sheep by name. His sheep rushed the gate of their holding pen! The thieves were caught, and the flock was returned to its owners. The sheep truly knew their shepherd’s voice.
John 10 explains a fascinating aspect of the shepherd metaphor, which is used so frequently through Scripture. Jesus says sheep know their shepherd’s voice and follow that voice. They will not follow a stranger’s voice. As discerners facing a world of modern media, we know that who we listen to has much to do with how we think. How we think, in turn, powers where we go: physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.
So many of us struggle with the competing voices inside our own heads, the ongoing whispers of our internal dialogue. If we stop and truly listen, we can usually identify at least two different kinds of expression. The voice of our Savior speaks hope into our lives, affirming his love and assuring his presence. His motive is to give life, and life that is wonderfully abundant (John 10:10). Often, however, we listen to the voice of our Enemy, whose desire in every context is to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). Each speaks according to its heart motive. The way we interact with our world depends on which voice we listen to. It is essential that we distinguish between voices before we follow.
Some time ago, I attended a presentation hosted by a working shepherd. He showed how his two small herd dogs could seamlessly move a large flock of sheep around a field. The shepherd whistled, but the dogs did not bark. They crouched down low and showed their teeth to the sheep. Fear moved the sheep wherever their natural predator wanted them to go. The analogy was not lost on me. I thought about how many times I’ve been led by fear and intimidation. My Enemy seeks to steal, kill, and destroy and uses the very same tactics.
Conversely, when a good shepherd leads, the sheep follow because they love and trust him. His demonstrated affection motivates them. Believers are called to tune their ears to Jesus’ voice. When listening to him, we will not act out the negativity we feel. We will not hurt others when an accusing voice rails at us. We will not twist in lies and confusion or feel disillusioned when we can’t clearly see the path ahead. We will learn to wisely follow our Savior’s voice.
Reading the Gospels prepares us to recognize Jesus’ voice. Jesus does not disrespect those he interacts with or diminish their personhood. He speaks truth in love that is designed to give life. His voice doesn’t discourage but instead helps us see beyond our present circumstances to who, through his resurrection power, we can be. On the other hand, our Enemy, also known as the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10), is on a seek-and-destroy mission. When we weigh words in terms of motives, it’s easy to figure out who’s talking. Whatever voice we listen to will get louder and have a deeper impact on our lives.
When sheep hear the voice they trust and notice it moving in a distinct direction, they fix their eyes on the back of their shepherd's robe and follow. That’s our goal also. At Fieldstone Counseling, in every session, support group, and seminar, we encourage others to listen to Jesus’ voice first and foremost.
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Crystal is a Christ-follower, wife, mother, counselor, and friend. She is passionate about connecting others with the truth of God's miraculous power and sustaining presence.