It was marvellous to be a newborn member of the Shepherd’s flock. The pastures were so lush and green that, even though many sheep were sharing the same meadow, it took no effort at all to find the softest, juiciest grass to eat. And, when she had eaten her fill, there was plentiful water to drink: water so still and clear that even a young lamb felt safe bending her head to drink from it. She ran and leapt and giggled with the other young lambs, but, just before the point where her tiredness would begin to make her disagreeable, the Shepherd would be right there (how did He keep watch on each one of them individually?) and He would make her lie down and rest. It was the most beautiful place, the happiest life, and she would gaze at the Shepherd in grateful adoration for the life He had given her.
Imagine her shock when, one day, the Shepherd said that it was time for the flock to move on. Looking around she realised that the grass was all cropped and the waters were growing muddy. She accepted, reluctantly, that she must follow the Shepherd away from this tranquil place.
But the route he took were like nothing she had expected. There were no rich pastures here. That was all gone. Oh there was enough, she didn’t starve, but there was never the more-than-enough which she craved. The paths were long and narrow, and it was hard to stay obedient to the Shepherd – to stop when the Shepherd said to stop, to keep going when the Shepherd said to keep going, to not wander off and munch on those tempting green plants which the Shepherd said would only do her harm. She wasn’t always obedient, but the Shepherd was always there to protect her when she most needed saving from herself. And in the journey she grew stronger, and learned to trust Him more, though she still longed for the rich pastures which had gone.
She needed that strength. For now the Shepherd led them through a terrible place, and she trembled for her very life. The drops were sheer, the paths were narrow, and there was a great darkness hovering over every hesitant step she took. Some sheep whispered that it was called the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It took all the obedience she had learned to keep going. But whenever the danger was greatest, somehow the Shepherd was always there to rescue her, and to shield her from destruction.
Eventually the nightmare was over. Many times she longed for the green pastures, but there was no going back. Now they had reached a flat and level place, and the Shepherd told them to stop. Yes there was rich grass here, but there were other plants growing among them which would kill the sheep. He must root these out before they could safely eat. And the sheep, impatient with hunger, huddled close together as they heard the howling of wolves in the background. They knew that their Shepherd was a match for any wolf, but it is a frightening thing to be in the presence of your enemies.
Eventually they ate richly, while their Shepherd stood guard. He walked among and checked them for the scrapes and sores from their difficult journey, pouring healing oil upon their wounds. She looked up at him with love. No, the journey wasn’t over yet, and difficulties and dangers probably lay ahead, but she no longer had regrets. She understood enough by now to know that the Shepherd was leading her through these things because He was taking her somewhere better, to a pasture that would never fade or fail, where she could drink forever from the water of life.