The very first time I heard of the adjective “sheepish”, I wondered why such a word was being used to describe a person’s action and why people should be likened to animals. If the animal were a lion or an eagle, maybe, it could be acceptable. But a sheep? I don’t appreciate the comparison. This prompted me to study further the characteristics of sheep and why they were being used in the context as stated earlier. In this article, I will share one of those characteristics and how they relate to us as God’s children.
The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English defines sheepish as “resembling a sheep; being meek, timid or stupid”. Secondly, it defines it as “affected by or showing embarrassment caused by a consciousness of a fault.” Sheep are known to be very clever, yet unassuming and willing to follow the leadership of their shepherds without being opinionated and hard-headed. Unlike goats which never listen, obey or relax, sheep are level-headed and sensitive to the voice of their shepherd. For the sheep, the shepherd’s voice is very instrumental to its well-being, hence, it recognizes that voice and makes it its guide.
In John 10:1-5, the Scriptures record an account of the sheep’s relationship with its shepherd and emphasize the power of voice recognition and followership—a skill displayed by the sheep.
“I assure you and most solemnly say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the sheepfold, but climbs up from some other place [on the stone wall], that one is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep [the protector and provider]. The [a]doorkeeper opens [the gate] for this man, and the sheep hear his voice and pay attention to it. And [knowing that they listen] he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out [to pasture]. When he has brought all his own sheep outside, he walks on ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice and recognize his call. They will never follow a stranger, but will run away from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
Jesus, having shared this analogy between the shepherd and His sheep, calls himself the Good Shepherd. David who had been a shepherd to his father’s flock understood this relationship between a shepherd and his sheep. He referred to God as his shepherd (Psalms 23:1), as is our theme for this year at Gateway International Church. When we acknowledge a certain personality of God, He reveals Himself to us that way. However, the question is, do we respond to Him the way we ought? Knowing He is our shepherd, do we live like His sheep or do we choose the path of goats?
From the Scripture in John, one very obvious quality of sheep is their ability to recognize and follow the voice of their shepherd. If we are God’s, then our ability to hear His voice and follow His leading is what makes us true sheep. Sadly, not many believers hear, recognize or follow God’s voice. God is not often silent, He speaks to us in various ways but just as we understand that recognizing the shepherd’s voice is a skill for the sheep, recognizing God’s voice is a skill for His children. Without this skill, our walk with God could seem like a sham.
How can this skill be developed?
- Stillness: Many times, the voice of God is heard in stillness.
In the case of Prophet Elijah in the book of 1 Kings 19:11-12, the Bible says that a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. An earthquake also took place: After the earthquake, there was a fire but God was not in the midst of these things. Again, after the fire, came a gentle whisper. One of the strange happenings that has crippled the Body of Christ, is the mindset that God has to be dramatic whenever He needs to communicate with us. Very often, God requires us to be still and quiet. In Psalm 46:10, He urges us to be still and know that He is God—the Shepherd who leads us beside still waters (Psalm 23:2). Indeed, our strength as children of God lies in our ability to be led in stillness (Isaiah 30:15).
- Practising the presence of God and actively listening f1or His voice
Your desire to hear the voice of God would often demand a certain level of self-discipline which would require you to intentionally separate yourself from distractions and wait in God’s presence. The Bible narrates that Jesus often took time to commune with the Father before He got too busy. He did this throughout His ministry by going into secluded environments like the mountainside to commune with God. Mark 1:35 is one of many instances. Even before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus went to Gethsemane where He communed with the Father. If Jesus who was perfect saw the need to keep in touch with God, how not you and I? Practising the presence of God, however, is not just about talking to God, it’s about having the consciousness that prayer is communication and its effectiveness is dependent on how well the intended message is received by God (who in turn responds). When we make it a regular practice to prioritise our time with God and listen for His voice, He would be obligated to speak to us in return and make His will known to us.
- Studying of the Word and meditation
One of the key areas through which God speaks is His Word. Many times, we get confused as to whether we heard God or someone else. To discern whose voice you hear per time, the Word of God becomes crucial. The Bible in John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Word of God is God Himself. It is God personified in black and white. To be able to hear God’s voice through His Word, you also need to master inner promptings through the art of meditation. Your inner prompting, which is the voice of the Holy Spirit, often directs or leads you to the particular Scripture that addresses a particular issue. As you pay attention to this Scripture and meditate on it, you gain clarity about what God is saying to you via His Word. Many times, you not necessarily be asking God to speak to you about anything in particular. You probably are just studying your bible (which should be a daily practice for the believer) and suddenly, a verse or story comes alive in your spirit. Many times, in such moments, it is God speaking to you and revealing His will to you. Learn to pause and pray in the Holy Ghost when you have these experiences.
- Testing all spirits
Your ability to discern spirits plays a very significant role in helping you hear the voice of God. Negative spirits can give accurate prophecies and even quote Scriptures but they are not of God. Recall when satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness. Aha! It is important to test every spirit because even after negative spirits have spoken or implied accurately, the end always ends in doom and destruction. If you lack the spirit of discernment, you will find it extremely difficult to differentiate between the voice of God and any other voice. Ask the Holy Spirit to sharpen your ability to discern. He is the only one who can give this gift to you. Ephesians 5:18 enjoins us to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Again, be grounded in God’s Word. Jesus was able to compare Scripture with Scriptures, hence, He could discern that though the devil quoted the Scriptures, he wasn’t speaking of or from God (1 Corinthians 2:13, 1 John 4:1).
- Obedience and submission
Your determination to walk in obedience and submission to God should be established even before you begin to seek His will. God will speak expressly when He knows you are obedient and submissive to His will. What’s the use of hearing God’s counsel on a matter when you won’t obey Him or accept what He has said? God is not talkative. He is not bored. One of the reasons people can’t seem to hear the voice of God is because they already have their will. If you are stuck in an unadventurous walk with God, it’s probably because you’re not walking in obedience and submission. God’s plan is for us to have an expected end, not pain and anguish (Jeremiah 29:11). Trust Him to lead you.
- The multitude of counsellors
Very many times, through the multitude of counsellors, an individual can sense the voice and leading of God. Even when you can’t hear the voice of the Lord for yourself, it is usually advisable to seek the counsel of other godly people around you, such as your pastors, trusted and born-again friends or parents, Christian leaders, etc. God will put in the mouth of at least one person whose counsel will guide you in the path that you should follow. Proverbs 11:14 says, “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.”
I am quite sure you are reading this article because you desire to be that sheep that is led by the Good Shepherd. Do whatever it takes to make the most of your relationship with the Shepherd.