I was raised in Montvale, New Jersey – a small town just 40 kilometers (25 miles) from New York City. The only sheep I had ever seen growing up were in pens at a petting zoo and I most certainly had never met a real, live shepherd.
So while Psalm 23, with its lovely poetic verses, spoke of God’s tender care for me, there was little to identify with in the analogy of a shepherd and his flock.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
When we moved from Italy to Portugal in 2007, I began to have my first experiences with these wooly wanderers and their caretakers. Back then, we lived in a small neighborhood 20 km (13 miles) from Lisbon and I still recall my great surprise when, while walking my son Isaac to school, we came upon a flock of sheep grazing in a small, empty lot sandwiched between a house and an apartment building.
Yet despite my exposure to these furry flocks… the ability to truly relate to the Lord as my shepherd continued to escape me.
Until Eva came along.
Eva is the youngest of our three dogs and although she represents a melange of breeds, her dominant genes are most certainly those of a herding dog. Eva has the instincts of a shepherd… and she teaches me about the heart of my Father.
When we walk through the fields behind our house with Eva, her sole concern is for our protection. She races ahead, leaping over obstacles with agility, to ensure no threat of danger lies before us. Hurrying back to our sides to ascertain our well-being, she then loops behind us to ward off lurking assailants. And the cycle repeats itself. She guides us along the right path, and never rests until we return home safely. With Eva by our sides, we never feel abandoned to chance.
If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? (Matthew 18:12)
This brand of economics that we read of in the Gospel of Matthew never seemed very logical to me… but the heart of the Father is not to maximize gains but to seek and save the lost. Eva’s keen sense of protection for every member of our family is only compromised when one of us decides to “wander off”. She will quickly leave behind the remainder of her charges resting securely among “the herd,” to pursue that one. Her determination to dig holes beneath the fence that separates our property from the great unknown is evident from the patchwork of repair jobs that litter its base. Eva will not rest until all have been saved from peril and reside safely where they belong.
Eva daily teaches me so much about my amazing Savior. How great is the heart of Jesus for each one of us! He is not only the tender Shepherd we often see portrayed, gently returning home with the lost lamb nestled around his neck. He is also the determined pursuer, the tireless hound of our hearts, the fierce protector, the unfaltering petitioner. His longing for the lost one, for reconciliation with the broken is relentless. And I am compelled to know Him ever more intimately.