The air was crisp as the wind blew through the cedar trees. The fog was just lifting out the valley as I loaded extra feed in the side by side to take to the ewes with new lambs. Normally the grass would be enough but it was slow getting started that year so I was supplementing them.
Jag, my faithful Border Collie dog, was glued to my side. He was slightly shaking but not from the cool, damp weather. His body trembled with excitement as he knew soon he’d get to do what every fiber of his being was created to do, gather sheep.
Generations of dogs selected for their natural ability to work livestock and desire to please their shepherd led up to Jag. This wasn’t a game to him. It was his life!
As I called him to load up he lept in with the enthusiasm of any good working dog. I gently patted him on the head as he nuzzled my arm. I knew full well what a gift these working dogs were and quickly thanked the Lord again for Jag.
I pulled up through the cedar trees and the ewes weren’t too far so I jumped Jag out and sent him on an “away to me” (counterclockwise) to start gathering the sheep while I put feed out.
The sheep would drop down through a swale and typically be out of sight for a couple of minutes before reappearing not far from me with Jag right behind them.
But today was different.
The ewes were filing in along with the lambs but still no Jag. I waited a bit figuring he must have had a slow lamb or ewe so taking some extra time. Time passed and still no Jag. So I started in with my recall whistle.
Jag was super responsive and always came when called. I knew he’d be along any second now. Nope! Still no Jag.
I started to get concerned so jumped in the side by side and sped up over the hill. I could see him lying on top of the hill so I stopped and whistled him again. No movement. Nothing. He continued to just lay there.
I’m not proud of this but I was starting to get pretty steamed. Was he seriously just laying there ignoring me?! The nerve of that dog!
As I sped up the hill I was getting madder by the second. When I pulled up next to him he still didn’t move or even look up at me. He was focused on…nothing! Just staring at the ground.
The audacity. He really was just ignoring me! I shut the side by side off and got out ready to have a serious talk with him on that hill. But…just then I heard the faintest little baaa. It was a lamb. The cry was coming from underground.
The lamb fell down a hole and was completely hidden. No way to see him and you could barely hear him he was so far down. Yet Jag knew. His keen nose and ears wouldn’t let him leave this little, lost lamb.
My heart sunk. I was yelling at my dog right before that and he chose to ignore the yelling and possible consequences to stay with that lamb. It took a lot of digging to get him out but the joy as I reunited him with his mama was overwhelming. It’s been years ago and it still makes me tear up remembering it.
Jag could have left him and come with the main bunch. They were safe and already on feed. I’d have never known until I noticed I was missing a lamb much later and most likely too late.
But Jag was willing to leave the “99” to go after the 1 in trouble.
Stop here for a second. Take a deep breath and let that settle in for just a bit.
Have you ever read the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15 or Matthew 18? I’d heard it so many times growing up I’d become a bit apathetic towards it. But one crisp morning on a hill out in the middle of a pasture, God made it all come alive for me!
Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. Luke 15:1-7 NIV
As a shepherd in this natural world it can seem foolish to leave the 99 and risk them to find one lost lamb. What if you lose the 99 in the process? Isn’t that an even bigger loss than JUST ONE?? What if…?
But God’s love will go to all lengths to find and bring the lost sheep home. His love is so deep and without abandon it can seem illogical and even reckless. God’s love isn’t cautious. He doesn’t care what it costs Him. He sent His son to die for the ONE!
Did you catch the part about being carried back on the shepherds shoulders? Let me tell you from first hand experience that isn’t an easy thing to do! Not only is the added weight heavy but the extra mass is cumbersome. It’s rare that a lamb has run off to somewhere flat with a sidewalk either. Usually there’s a hill to climb up or down on the way back.
Yet the Good Shepherd never hesitates to shoulder the burden. He’ll carry the weight. We simply need to lean in to Him.
All the angels in Heaven rejoice as a lost lamb is found and carried back into the fold. Can you hear it? Imagine it? Feel it?
Then why do we struggle so much with it? Worried God is leaving us to go retrieve that ONE?
Here’s the thing though, God isn’t abandoning the 99. He knows they’re safe there in the open country. They’re not in imminent danger. He’s going out to BRING the lost lamb BACK!
When I brought that lamb back to the herd I was overcome with joy. That lambs mom was ecstatic and bawled and licked him all over. The rest of the herd looked on (even if just briefly) and made noise at the excitement.
I don’t know about you but that convicts me to truly celebrate the recovery of that ONE!!
There is nothing God won’t do to go after the one. Our mountains of shame won’t keep Him from us. The lies we believe won’t keep Him from coming to get us. All the shadows we hide out in can’t even keep God from pursuing us.
It’s a humbling experience to have God come retrieve you. To search you out when you’re lost. The love and kindness of our Heavenly Father is overwhelming. We sure as heck don’t deserve it but His mercy and grace are beautiful bookends to our story with Him.
Can I encourage you that if you’re the one who’s lost, stop running. God is coming for you! He never stopped loving you. The angels and believers are ready to rejoice with Him as he carries you on His shoulders back into the fold.
Let me also say to those who are in the 99, pray for the one. Cheer on the search for that one. Stay in the open country with your fellow believers championing for the one. And for goodness sake, avoid those holes so Jag doesn’t have to come look for you too!