EARTH: Testing The Boundaries by Francine Rivers

Reflections on How God Speaks Through Nature

Testing The Boundaries by Francine Rivers

From: Earth Psalms

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.
All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
(Matthew 25:31-33)

We’ve seen that scripture often compares the people of God to sheep. But some of those same scripture passages go on to compare people who aren’t following God to goats – and the comparison isn’t flattering. How are goats different from sheep?

While sheep graze primarily on grass, goats will eat anything they can find: clothes off a line, dog food (a favorite), toys, grass, vegetables, cardboard, and even some toxic plants.

Goats are extremely curious and intelligent.  They’re easily trained, but they’re also known for escaping pens.  They test fences and will climb on or push through barriers.

Rather than staying together like sheep, goats spread out.  They seldom feed side-by-side.  Goats fight, butt, make a lot of noise, have turf wars, and play favorites with their kids or abandon them.

It’s not hard to recognize human behaviors in these characteristics.  We all know people who will “eat” anything, who are always looking for new ideas and new relationships.  They have an off-with-the-old-and-on-to-the-new way of thinking, but some of those new ideas are poison to the soul.  These “goats” may look full and rich, but they are really only harming themselves, heading toward life without God.

Testing barriers?  Some people feel trapped by rules meant to protect them from harm.  They rebel and push away any restraint in order to experiment with drugs, alcohol, sex, crime, or whatever appeals at the moment.  Sometimes they suffer the consequences.  Often they cause those around them to suffer as well.

What about fighting with each other instead of functioning as a community?  I could name a few politicians who fit that description.  A few church leaders as well.  That kind of conflict is rooted in selfishness and a “me first” attitude that keeps people from remembering that we’re created to be part of a flock.

We’ve already seen that sheep have more than their share of defects.  But even with all their struggles – their wandering, their timidity, their tendency to follow the crowd – they have one characteristic we need to embrace wholeheartedly: they listen to their shepherd.

I’d rather be a sheep gazing in the pastures of the Lord than be a goat nibbling the chaff Satan feeds his flock.  How about you?

O, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let that grace, Lord, like a fetter,
Bind my wand’ring heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it;
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it;
Seal it for thy courts above.
(Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing)

REFLECT

Why are we so prone to desiring new things, testing barriers, and fighting for our own territory?  How can we combat those tendencies?

APPLY

Identify one way you push the boundaries, compete with others, or continually look for new ideas.  Ask God to help you respond like a sheep rather than like a goat.  Reflect on the idea of following the Good Shepherd.

CONNECT WITH GOD

Good Shepherd, help me to remember that you have my well-being in mind.  The boundaries you set are not to frustrate me but to keep me safe.  Keep me from following my own way.  Teach me instead to follow you like a sheep, always listening to your voice and knowing that’s how I will find my way to you.

He led his own people like a flock of sheep,
guiding them safely through the wilderness.
He kept them safe so they were not afraid;
but the sea covered their enemies.
(Psalm 78:52-53)

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