You’ve seen it by now, right? The video of a young boy gently grabbing a trapped sheep by the leg to pull it out of a trench. Set free, it flails and runs a few yards away before leaping and landing itself right back in the same ditch!
Sheep may not be the smartest creatures, but they’re God’s favorite object lesson for teaching us about ourselves. Our fluffy friends show us how easy it is to wander and get lost. How prone we are to follow the trending crowd. Sheep can’t get themselves to lie down and rest when they’re agitated, unhappy or afraid. Can you relate? We all know what that’s like!
That’s why the poor sheep in that video has become a favorite meme—we can laugh and say yep, that’s me! All we, like viral sheep, leap back into entrenched thought patterns and cognitive ruts.
I know I shouldn’t worry, but …
I should be more patient, but …
I want to forgive, but …
We need our Shepherd.
We need His rod and staff to lead us and pull us out of the emotional ditches we instinctively run toward.
A shepherd’s rod functions as an extension of his own arm. He uses it to discipline, to correct, and above all to protect his sheep from predators.
That’s a perfect illustration of God’s Word, isn’t it? It teaches us what’s true, shows us what needs to be corrected, and trains us in right living (2 Timothy 3:16). It was the rod of God’s Word that Jesus used to fend off the temptations that Satan tried to use against Him (Matthew 4).
A skilled shepherd keeps his rod in hand, always alert to dangers, seen and unseen. I’m not trying scare you, but there are predators in your mind, ready to pounce and devour you, every chance they get! Here are three to watch out for.
That inner critic who constantly reminds you of every flaw and failure. She knows your weak spots and baits her snares with flair.
Then there’s the worrier who hides under rocks, rustles in the weeds, howls in the distance. You never actually see her, but she will keep you on edge all day and rob your sleep all night.
Last and most dangerous, is the troublemaker. She lives in your memory, stirring up old wounds and planting emotional landmines everywhere—and I mean ev-or-ree-where.
Memory is a curious and powerful thing.
When something triggers a thought, it sets off a chain of neural sparks that travel through our brain at the speed of light that explodes into fireworks. That’s not always a bad thing—fireworks can be exhilarating and awesome to watch. But the troublemaker wants to wreak havoc in your soul and burn your relationships to the ground.
Thank God for His Word—where would we be without it? Do you know the Scriptures, are they hidden in your heart? We say that memorizing Scripture is too hard, but I promise you there is no substitute for the Word of God to free us from the trenches of fear, worry, jealousy, and anger.
Growing up, we were taught not to interrupt (a habit we should practice more as adults) but that’s terrible advice when it comes to toxic thinking.
Let the truth of Scripture pull you out of the ditch!
Some of my personal favorites:
- “Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:3-4).
- “You will keep in perfect peace those whose thoughts are fixed on You” (Isaiah 26:3).
- “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look around you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
A shepherd’s staff is the most identifiable thing about him. He uses it to draw his sheep together, keeping them close to each other and right by his side.
In his book, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Philip Keller explains how a shepherd will use his staff to gently lift a newborn lamb and place it next to its mother. When the path is unfamiliar or difficult, the shepherd’s staff gently prods the sheep in the right direction and pulls it away from danger.
What a beautiful illustration of how the Holy Spirit comes alongside and leads us through life. He nurtures and draws us together in fellowship. The Holy Spirit is our Comforter, giving us a deep sense of belonging to each other and to Him. And He is our Helper, always ready in tenderness and compassion to come to our rescue, and pull us out of the ditch…again!
* * *
The Lord has appeared from ages past, saying,
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore, with lovingkindness I have drawn you out,
and will continue My faithfulness to you.”
Jeremiah 31:3 AMP
Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable,
and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.
Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
Philippians 4:8 NLT