A SHEPHERD LOOKS AT THE GOOD SHEPHERD
AND HIS SHEEP #3
THE SHEPHERD'S VOICE
"And the sheep hear his voice:and he calleth his own sheep by
name, and leadeth them out" (John 10:3b).
THE RELATIONSHIP WHICH rapidly develops between a shepherd
and the sheep under his care is to a definite degree dependent
upon the use of the shepherd's voice. Sheep quickly become
accustomed to their owner's particular voice. They are acquainted
with its unique tone. They know its peculiar sounds and
inflections. They can distinguish it from that of any other
If a stranger should come among them, they would not
recognize nor respond to his voice in the same way they would to
that of the shepherd. Even if the visitor should use the same
words and phrases as that of their rightful owner they would not
react in the same way. It is a case of becoming actually
conditioned to the familiar nuances and personal accent of their
It used to amaze and intrigue visitors to my ranches to
discover that my sheep were so indifferent to their voices.
Occasionally I would invite them to call my sheep using the same
words and phrases which I habitually employed. But it was to no
avail. The ewes and lambs, and even the rams, would simply stand
and stare at the newcomers in rather blank bewilderment, as if to
say, "Who are you?"
This is simply because over a period of time sheep come to
associate the sound of the shepherd's voice with special
benefits. When the shepherd calls to them it is for a specific
purpose that has their own best interests in mind. It is not
something he does just to indulge himself or to pass the time
His voice is used to announce his presence; he is there. It
is to allay their fears and timidity. Or it is to call them to
himself so they can be examined and counted carefully. He wants
to make sure that they are all well, fit, and flourishing.
Sometimes the voice is used to announce that fresh feed is being
supplied, or salt, minerals, or water. He might call them up to
lead them into fresh pastures or into some shelter from an
approaching storm. But always the master's call conveys to the
sheep a positive assurance that he cares for them and is acting
in their best interests.
When my children were young they saved up their few dollars
to purchase their own pet ewes. And it was a delight to watch
them go out to the fields and call up their own sheep. Quickly
these ewes came to recognize the voice of their owners. When they
were called they would come running to be given some special
little hand-out of grain or green grass. They would be hugged and
cuddled and caressed with childish delight. It was something
which both the sheep and the owners enjoyed.
In all of this the key to the contentment of the sheep lies
in recognizing the owner's voice. When the sheep hear that voice
they know it is their master and respond at once. And the
response is much more than one of mere recognition. They actually
run toward the shepherd. They come to him for they know he has
something good for them.
In examining the Christian life we discover powerful
parallels. We find that at some time or other most of us have
heard God's voice. We knew the Good Shepherd was calling. As our
Lord Himself said so often when He was here among men, "If any
man hear my voice," then certain things would happen.
But first the question may well be asked, "How does one hear
God's voice?" "Is it possible for Him to communicate with me?"
The simple answer is Yes; definitely.
He may speak to me clearly through His Word, whereby He has
chosen to articulate Himself. His own gracious Spirit will
impress upon my spirit His intentions and purposes for me as a
He may do this privately in the quiet seclusion of my own
home, in the stillness of my devotions. He may, on the other
hand, do it through some message spoken from a church pulpit,
through a radio broadcast or a television program. Christ may
come and speak to me through a devout and godly friend, neighbor,
or family member. He may call to me clearly through some
magazine, periodical, or book I have read. An everdeepening
conviction and awareness that this or that is what I "ought to
do," may come to me. This great "I ought to" or "I ought not" is
the growing compulsion of His inner voice speaking to me in
unmistakable accents by His Spirit.
The Lord has chosen to articulate Himself also through the
splendor and beauty of His created universe. The psalmist
portrays this for us in exquisite poetry.
"The heavens declare the glory (character) of God; and the
firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech,
and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor
language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out
through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world"
He also communicates with me clearly through the wondrous
character, conduct, and conversation of Christ Himself. He, "the
Word," became flesh and dwelled among us. Through His flawless
life, His impeccable character, His wondrous words I can hear
God's voice. He asserted boldly and without apology, "The words
that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life" (John
6:63). On another occasion He insisted, "I am the way, the truth,
and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John
From the foregoing it is obvious that anyone can hear God's
voice; it is possible for us to be reached. But the burning
question of communication is, Do we hear? By that I mean much
more than merely making contact. This was a perpetual point of
pain to our Master when He was among men. Over and over His
comment was, "Ears you have, but you hear not!"
Hearing is much more involved, much more complex than it
appears on the surface. It embraces more than just being spoken
to by God. It involves three very definite aspects of interaction
If, in actual fact Christ the Good Shepherd has been granted
entry into the little fold of my life, then I will have begun to
become familiar with His voice. This then implies that I do
recognize His voice. I learn to distinguish it from the many
other voices calling to me amid a confused society and a complex
world. I come to that awareness where I am alert and attuned to
the special attributes of Christ's call to me personally. I am
like young Samuel who, in response to the voice of God, replied,
"Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth."
O great Shepherd, I am listening. I am attentive. I am
waiting for Your word to me. I am ready to recognize what You
have to say to me.
The second aspect to hearing God's voice is that I respond
to it. He chooses to communicate with me in order to impress upon
me His intentions and desires. He has good intentions toward me.
They are in my own best interests and it is incumbent upon me
that I recognize this, take them seriously, and respond
The instant sheep hear and recognize their shepherd's voice,
they lift their heads, turn in the direction from which the sound
comes, and cock their ears to catch every syllable. Whether
resting, feeding, or fighting, everything else is forgotten for
the moment because they have heard their owner's call. It
commands their full and undivided attention. Something new and
different is about to happen.
The same should be true of us in responding to God's voice.
It should command our undivided attention. We should never allow
the other interests and demands of our often busy lives to blur
the gentle appeals that come to us from Christ. He does not blow
mighty bugles to gain our attention. We are not hounds being
called to the hunt, but sheep being led in the paths of
righteousness. If we are not sensitive to the overtures of His
Spirit and quickly responsive to the distinct promptings of His
Word, we are not going to go anywhere with Him.
It is often frustrating to a shepherd when he calls his
sheep to discover that though they may have recognized his voice
and responded to it, they still refuse to move. They simply will
not come running when called.
Again and again I have watched a flock of sheep in which
there were a few recalcitrant ones. Standing there stupidly and
stubbornly they simply shake their heads, waggle their ears, and
bleat out a pathetic "blah!" For the shepherd calling them, this
The same thing is too often true among God's people. We
recognize His voice, we respond to it to a degree, but we will
not move. We will not act. We will not run to Him. We adamantly
refuse to comply with His wishes or cooperate with His intentions
Our attitude and actions are as absurd as any "Blah!"
bleated by some stupid, stubborn sheep. We stand still, not
moving a step toward Him who is so fond of us. We appear to be
almost paralyzed ... impotent to move a step ahead in the will of
Now the reader may well ask, "How does a person move toward
Christ? How does he, so to speak, 'run to do His will'?" It is
obvious that if we are to benefit from hearing His voice we must
step out to do what He calls us to do.
This involves much more than merely giving mental assent to
what we may have heard. It simply is not enough just to agree
with what God's Spirit may have said to us. It goes far beyond
even becoming emotionally excited about what we have heard. It is
possible for people to weep tears of bitterness or remorse yet
never move toward God. It is equally ineffective for individuals
to become merely ecstatic about some spiritual issue, for, when
the emotion has passed, they are still standing precisely where
they were before the call came from Christ.
What then is the step needed to move us? It is an action of
our will. It is the deliberate choice of our disposition to do
that which we have been called to do.
We refer to this as the response of faith in action. It is
the compliance of our will to God's will through straightforward
obedience and glad cooperation.
Truth becomes truth to me, and spiritual life becomes
spiritual life to me only when I actually do the thing Christ
calls me to do!
Not until this actually takes place do we move toward the
Shepherd or begin to experience the benefits of His care and
management. We may know all about Him in a theoretical, doctrinal
way. But actually living, walking, and communing with Him in a
personal encounter will be something foreign and unknown.
Unfortunately many who call themselves Christians, who
consider themselves the followers of Christ, who claim to be the
sheep of His flock, are really still strangers to His voice. They
have yet to know the precious and special delight of actually
knowing Him. Our Lord referred to this in a solemn statement He
made in the Sermon on the Mount. It is full of pathos and
poignant pain: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord,
shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the
will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say unto me in
that day Lord, Lord.... And then will I profess unto them I never
knew you" (Matt.7:21-23). The relationship between the shepherd
and his sheep, between Christ and those whom He calls, is one of
personal, profound knowing; for He knows me intimately, He knows
me by name. Only those who are acquainted with the pastoral life
of a sheep owner in the Middle East or Africa are able to grasp
how thoroughly these people know their livestock. Their livestock
are their very life. Sheep, goats, cattle, camels, and donkeys
are both the center and circumference of their entire social
If one goes to visit a village, the order of greeting and
salutation is first to ask how the owner himself is faring. Then
one inquires after the health of his sheep and cattle. Following
that one asks about his children, then lastly his wife or wives.
This is not intended as any slur on his family, but it does point
up the enormous importance attached to livestock. They are the
paramount consideration in the life of the owner.
A second remarkable aspect of the care of animals in these
countries is that each one is known by name. These names are not
simple common names such as we might choose. Rather, they are
complex and unique because they have some bearing upon the
history of the individual beast. For example, an ewe might be
called: "The one born in the dry river bed," or "The beautiful
lamb for which I traded two pots of honey."
During the years when my family and I lived among the Masai
people of East Africa I was deeply moved by the intense devotion
and affection shown by the owners for their stock. Out in the
grazing lands or beside the watering places they would call their
pets by name, and it was sheer joy to watch their response as
they came to the shepherd's call to be examined, handled,
fondled, petted, and adored.
Some of these sheep had literally grown up as members of the
family household. From their earliest days they had been cuddled,
hugged, fed, and loved like one of the owner's own children.
Every minute detail of their lives was well known and fully
A remarkable picture of this is portrayed for us in 2 Samuel
12:3, where the prophet of God rebuked King David for his
adultery with Bathsheba, when he likened Uriah to a poor shepherd
with only one little lamb.
"But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he
had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him,
and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of
his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a
Is it any wonder that such ewes and lambs were called by
endearing names? It is little marvel that every detail of their
lives, every unusual facet of their character was known
This is the picture portrayed for us by Christ when He made
the terse statement: "He calleth his own sheep by name."
Most of us are totally unaware of just how well God really
does know us. We are oblivious to the staggering truth that every
aspect of our lives is fully known to Him. If we examine the Word
of God on this subject we will discover that even from our
conception in our mother's womb all the hereditary factors that
combined to make us each the unique individuals that we are have
been known to God.
A careful reading of Psalm 139 assures us that we are known
far beyond human knowledge, even in the environmental influences
that have shaped us, by God who comprehends our complexities. All
the multitudinous idiosyncrasies which make each of us distinct
individuals are known to our Lord and Master.
The Good Shepherd may well be a stranger to me, but I am no
stranger to Him!
When in the process of time an individual opens the
sheepfold of his life to Christ, he may feel he is inviting a
stranger to enter. Yet the truth is that He who enters is not a
stranger at all but the One who has in fact known us from before
This discovery is really double-pronged. It is at the same
time both reassuring, yet also alarming. It is wonderful to
realize that at last there is someone who does know and
understand me. If I have been the type of person who has played
games with others and pulled the wool over their eyes, I will
find I can't do it with God.
The hypocrisy has to end. I must begin to be open and honest
with Him who knows me through and through - who calls me by name.
In calling to his sheep, the shepherd desires to lead them
out of the sheepfold. Sheepfolds, especially in the East, are not
pretty places. Their names may sound picturesque and romantic,
but the enclosure where the sheep spend the night usually is an
appalling spot. Within the enclosing walls of stone, timber,
bricks, or brush there is a continual build-up of dirt, debris,
and dung. Not a blade of grass survives the eternal tramping of a
thousand hooves. And as the seasons come and go the sheepfold
lies ever deeper in its accumulated dung. The odors can be
atrocious after rain and vile in the heat of the summer sun.
The good shepherd is up early at break of day to fling open the
gate and lead his sheep out into fresh pastures and green
grasslands. He will not allow his flock to linger within the
corral for an hour longer than is necessary. There they can only
stand still in the scorching sun or lie down to try and rest in
the dirt and dung that clings to their coats and mats in their
Gently the shepherd stands at the gate and calls to his own
to come outside. As each animal passes him he calls it by name,
examines it with his knowing eye, and, if necessary, searches
with knowing hands beneath its coat, to see if all is well. It is
a moving interlude at the dawn of each new day: a time of close
and intimate contact between the owner and his flock.
The parallel in our own lives is not difficult to discover.
It is in the little circle of our own constricted living that
most of us feel most secure, most relaxed and perhaps most
But our great Good Shepherd calls us to come out of the
restricted, petty round of our cramped lives. He wishes to lead
us out into fresh new pastures and broad fields, perhaps to new
places we have never been before.
The surprising thing is that many of us are not aware of
just how drab, soiled, and dusty with accumulated debris our
lives really are. We keep milling about in our same little
circle. We are totally preoccupied with our self-centered
interests. We go around and around, sometimes stirring up quite a
dust, but never really accomplishing anything worthwhile. Our
lives are cramped, selfish, and plagued with petty pursuits.
The tragedy of all this is that it can apply to every aspect of
our lives. It can be true in a physical dimension where we allow
ourselves to be cramped within four small walls or within the
narrow confines of a city house or apartment. We can be cramped,
too, in abused and neglected bodies.
We can likewise find ourselves corralled in a moral and
mental dimension. We will not move out into new areas which
enlarge the horizons of our minds or new experiences that stir
and challenge our souls. We cringe from new vistas and fresh
pursuits that will get us off the barren ground of our familiar
Equally so is there a sense in our spiritual lives where God
by His gracious Spirit calls us from and leads us out of our
cramped experiences. He invites us to move out into the rich,
nourishing pastures of His Word. He wants us to roam abroad in
the wide ranges of new relationships with others of His flock. He
longs to lead us beside still waters; in paths of righteousness;
up into the exhilarating high country of the summer ranges where
we are in close communion with Him.
The intentions He has for us are all good. His desires and
aspirations for us are enormous, full of potential for unimagined
benefit to us and others. Because the thoughts He thinks toward
us are thoughts of peace and blessing, let us not hold back! It
is the truly wise one who will allow himself to be led out into
the broad fields of God's gracious blessings and benefits.
To be continued