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Living the Sheep's Life: Choosing Grace Over the Law

     I don’t often think about sheep, but tonight I have sheep on my mind. After all, Scripture continually compares us to sheep, so they are worth considering for a moment.  I don’t know much about them or have much contact with them beyond an occasional trip to a petting zoo, but there is one thing about sheep that is unmistakable--they are unburdened.  Sheep really have only one responsibility in this world and that is to grow hair. 

     Sheep do not wake to an alarm clock and frantically rush around the house to prepare everyone for another hectic day.  They don’t prepare special-order breakfasts and remember that one baby sheep only likes to wear dresses, this baby sheep has Show and Tell at school, and that baby sheep needs his homework.  Nor do they tumble out of the house at lightning speed, race down the road to drop everyone off at work and school and then continue the exhausting job of working, caring for their family, and serving at their church only to collapse in their beds at night and feel guilty for not spending enough time with their Shepherd today.

I’m breathless just thinking about it.

      Instead, sheep are simple beings.  As long as their wool is growing, they are doing their job.  They can simply eat, sleep and trod along after the shepherd.  Even the worries that plague us are taken care of for them.  Jesus identified some of our great fears as: “what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear” (Matthew 6:25, NIV).  Sheep have all that taken care of for them and they will never “be in want” because they are made to “lie down in green pastures” and led “beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:1-2, NIV).

Living The Sheep’s Life

      The connection in Scripture between us and sheep is unmistakable.  John quotes Jesus as saying, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep." (John 10:11, 14-15, NIV).  Jesus stakes His claim as the Shepherd of our lives and asks us to follow Him with unquestioning trust in His providential care.  In exchange, He has laid down His life for us and will care for our every need.

      So, why am I not living the “sheep’s life?”  Why am I not carefree and content with being in my Shepherd’s presence?  Unfortunately, like most women, I wage an ongoing battle against busyness and responsibility.  We carry our burdens and the burdens of our families, jobs, churches, friends, etc. 

     The trouble with all these burdens is that sheep were not meant to be burden-carrying animals. Sheep aren’t pack mules.  Sheep aren’t oxen.  Sheep aren’t cart horses.

     God did not design us to be bear burdens alone and He certainly did not create us to carry the burdens of our families, communities and churches all on our own sheep shoulders.  One of the most precious of Scripture’s promises is worth reading in several translations so the message really sinks in.  Matthew 11:28 says:

  • “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (NIV)
  • “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly" (MSG)
  • “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and I will cause you to rest. [I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.]  (AMP).

 The Disconnect

      Here we are promised rest for our overburdened souls and yet I frequently find myself crawling on my face to my Shepherd, desperately tossing over my burdens like I’m saving a sinking ship.  I seek His rest and I spend some time with Him by quiet waters and in green pastures, only to find myself tired and worn out again the next day. 

     Somehow, I cannot seem to live life as an unburdened being who has learned “the unforced rhythms of grace.”  I find myself continually wearing the “heavy” and “ill-fitting” clothes of commitments and must-do’s and have-to’s.  I try to “keep company” with my Shepherd and yet I cannot say that “I live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30, MSG).  I live in a disconnect between the Promise and the Reality.

     The fault, of course, is with me and not God’s promises.  When I find myself crumpled at His feet, overcome by the burdens I’ve collected, I realize I’ve failed to do one of three things: failed to receive the rest, failed to share the load, or failed to watch my back. 

 Failed to Receive the Rest

      I can unload my burdens all I want, but if I fail to spend time with the Shepherd, I’ve missed out on the rest He offers.  God is not calling us to a life without commitments or responsibilities to other people.  He is calling us to a life in His presence.  Sometimes that requires a full retreat from the daily life.  For me, that means a day away from it all, maybe a women’s retreat, maybe a retreat alone, maybe a half-hour nature walk by myself.  Sometimes, it is as simple as protecting my quiet time as if my very survival depends on me sitting at the table with my cup of tea, my Bible and journal.  After all, my soul and sanity certainly depend on it!  Or it may be the simple reminder to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17, NIV).  No matter how busy we are, our Shepherd goes with us and we can share our experiences—our burdens—with Him all day every day.

Failed to Share the Load

     Not only are sheep not created for bearing burdens, they aren’t created to be alone.  God created us to live in community, fellowship and accountability with each other.  In our churches, we see the devastation of families breaking apart, suicide and substance abuse, and we are shocked when we hear the news.  Our reaction so often is, “I didn’t even know anything was wrong!”  When we fail to live vulnerably, sharing with each other the burdens we carry, then we miss out on the healing and encouragement that God offers us through our fellow sheep. 

      Paul tells us, “Carry each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, NIV).  That doesn’t mean we live carefree lives, tossing our responsibilities onto some other sheep’s shoulders.  Later in that same passage, Paul admonishes the church that “each one should carry his own load” (Galatians 6:5, NIV).  The distinction Paul makes here is that we should each take care of our daily responsibilities, but that we should share with others the crises that are too heavy for our delicate sheep shoulders.  I need to set aside my façade of strength and the “I-have-it-all-together” mask and tell a prayer partner, a small group or friend, “I’m struggling here.  Could you help me out?”  We cannot support each other as sisters in Christ if we do not know what is happening behind the closed doors of our homes and hearts.

Failed to Watch My Back:

     Christ tells us His “yoke is easy” and His “burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).  Yet sometimes the Christian life feels very burdensome to me.  If Christ’s burden is light, then the heaviness of the burden must be coming from me.  I relentlessly hold myself accountable to a standard of perfection that can only be found in the Law and I routinely fail to live in the “unforced rhythms of grace.” 

     Paul tells the Galatians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, NIV, emphasis added).  When I fail to watch my back, I pile on burden after burden until my shoulders cannot take the strain anymore and collapse is imminent.

 I find myself living in a world of:

  • I have to go this meeting.
  • I have to start this tradition with my kids as a good Christian mom.
  • I have to work extra hours this week because no one else will get the work done.
  • I have to keep my house spotless.
  • And sometimes even, “I have to do my quiet time today or bad things will happen.”

      It’s when I reach that last point that I realize just how twisted up in the Law I have become.  Our time with Christ, our relationship with Him, and our ministries to our families and in our churches should not be “have-to’s;” they should be “want-to’s.”

      Living the unburdened life does not mean we refuse to minister to others, decline every request for help in our churches, quit our jobs, and abandon our kids.  It means we are compelled by our passionate love for Christ to spend times of refreshing in His presence.  We commune with Him because we find joy in His presence, not because He will punish us if we miss our quiet time appointment that day.  Then, refreshed by Him, we are ready to pour out to others, knowing that He will fill us up continually, moment by moment. 

     Just as importantly, He gives us the discernment to know when to accept a responsibility and when to decline.  He reminds us that we don’t have to follow every parenting book, earn every promotion at work, be in charge of more ministries than anyone else, or have the cleanest house or smartest children.  Those are standards—burdens—we create for ourselves.  Instead, God offers us a life of grace as His children, His sheep, where we are loved and cared for and where we can remain burden-free. 

Copyright © 2008-2015 Heather King

Reader Comments...
2010-03-02 18:51:47
"All I can say is, "wow." If we are honest, I think any woman can relate to this. Thanks."
        - Victoria

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