The Sheep Know My Voice

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John 4:1-18

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing 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. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Yesterday was a hiking day, my first D5, rated so for elevation gain, speed and distance, 13.7 miles to be exact. There were 11 in in our group. Our trip leaders were a husband and wife team, Margaret and Paul*. I rode with them to the trail along with two others and we got to know eachother a little bit on the way there. It was a gorgeous morning, a perfect day to be in the North Georgia mountains. Mid-40’s, clear, breathtaking. Early on in the hike we split naturally, the die-hards in the front and the slightly-slowers in the back. For a good 4 miles or so I was right in the middle between the two groups, a little lonely at times, but maybe I spared a few people the sound of my heavy panting. It was during the second half of our trip, after about mile 9, did Paul and I start talking. He and Margaret both had two grown children each and had originally met hiking when they took it back up after their children were grown. For three weekends in a row, part of three different hiking clubs, they ran into eachother. The run-ins blossomed initially into a friendship and the rest is history.

The two of them had nicknames for the other, it was pretty sweet.  When close on the trail, they would occasionally yell, “Marco, Polo” to one another.

The trail was difficult, but for the most part clearly marked, however, around mile 11 we reached some tricky water, the forging of some streams, and really the only part of the hike where I had a very brief chance to stop and take a few pictures (that came out badly anyway), fortunately, I was able to keep up with the slightly-slowers–thank God I did. We reached tail of our lollipop route at around 4:30. We were done. And grateful. The first group was hanging out leisurely by their car changing shoes, while the second group took a pit stop and changed as well, but we were missing someone: Paul. We had someone check the bathrooms, there were multiple calls to his cell phone that went directly to voicemail. No sign. No word.

We waited at the trail head for several minutes and I went with Margaret to speak with the park ranger, about five minutes after that, they dispatched a small atv and Margaret geared back up to go find Paul. It was getting darker, colder. Three of us stayed in the car and waited, watched, and prayed. Twenty minutes ticked by, with the sun setting, temps were dropping quickly and I didn’t want to assume to the worst, just concerned that there might have been a fall. Thirty minutes…forty minutes, a camp volunteer offered a warm place for us to wait at his mobile home, we thanked him for the offer, but said that we would wait another 10-15 minutes.

Five minutes later, we spotted the two of them and I let out a cheer. Paul looked flustered and exhausted, but thankfully, was in one piece. It wasn’t until we were on our way home that we heard the full rescue story:

Margaret went back to the tricky water part and started yelling, really, really loudly. Paul had indeed taken a wrong turn at the water and dropped his phone, that quickly disappeared in the brush. Paul responded with a whistle from his back pack, she yelled again, went up on a ridge, away from the rushing sound of the water and continued to yell. She heard the whistle again, but now further and further away, she bushwacked, and yelled , bushwacked, yelled, he whistled and eventually she found her husband. I was blown away. She didn’t give up, she didn’t let the cold, and the threat of darkness and her own safety deter her.

She. Kept. Yelling.

He kept whistling. It struck me to the heart, #1 because God and I had been speaking to eachother all day, especially around the various falls that cascaded through the valleys. I can’t even describe the beauty of these falls, I was in awe, a natural response would have been to drop to my knees in gratitude, but at one point, I felt Him saying, “Rachel, this is merely the tip of the iceberg. This beauty is NOTHING compared to the beauty I have in store for you.”

And when Margaret told us that when she first started yelling and heard a whistled response, she wondered if it was really Paul or someone playing a trick on her. But she kept going anyway, what else did she have?

And #2, this passage from John 4 immediately came to mind…the sheep listen to his voice…But we’ve got to be on the same frequency, we’ve got to know how to hone in, to focus on the shepherd. So many things creep into our conscious that threaten this communication, that bump us to a different wavelength and move us off track. So what can we do to stay on track?

1) Read his word, frequently, carefully, and expectantly.

2) Pray. This is a direct form of communication with the father, anything He says will be confirmed by scripture.

3) Weed out the noise. Media, friends, etc. All fine things in and of themselves, but we should not let them trump our final authority.

The result? Greater peace, clearer direction and full surrender to Him means that there is much less on our own shoulders.

We have no idea the beauty He has in store.

*names changed

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