Donkey & Sheep

In order to share with you the gripping epic of Donkey and Sheep, I must first set the tone of the story so that you know where I'm coming from. Visualization of one's environment and background can have every sort of impact on the intensity of pretty much any story ever told. So without further ado, allow me to begin.

Every Saturday afternoon around four o'clock, my boyfriend and I feed all the horses at the barn. Not a big deal, right? Before you go making a judgment call, though, let me detail for you what this task includes. To start with, one must bring all the mares (female horses) in from a large pasture located about two hundred feet away from the barn, down a steeply sloping hill. It takes at least two people to do this job with relative ease, considering how the horses will stop in mid-run and eat grass and proceed to dodge the handlers trying to herd them to the top of the hill. The next step after taking all the mares back to their stalls is dumping grain for the horses. Large metal cans are used for storing both the grain and buckets for feeding the horses; there are about 30 horses to feed, and they are not all in one barn. Magnolia Farms has three barns and three pastures, all of which have hungry horses in them.

After dumping all the grain into their feed buckets so the horses can eat, you have to refill each bucket accordingly for the morning feeder. This isn't quite as simple as just scooping grain out, either...it's measuring the exact amount each horse needs, along with supplements. This is actually one of the quickest jobs available when feeding. Next  you throw down four bales of hay from the hayloft, break them open, and cart all the hay around to refill the hay racks. Watering means using two different hoses - one for the outside barn, and one for the inside barn, then yet another one for watering the pastures. By this time the job is almost complete...all that's left is turning the geldings out for the night. For this purpose, a paddock is located directly behind the main barn. It's here that we put all the horses before releasing them to go down the hill to the big front pasture.

The same aforementioned paddock is also the permanent home of a little gray donkey and a half-sheared, wadded-looking sheep. Recently, the owner of Magnolia Farms decided that Sheep and Donkey's barn wasn't good enough...so he ordered it torn down and rebuilt. The fence connected to the old barn, so along with a huge gap where the building is being replaced, there is also about a ten-foot section of fence missing on that side of the paddock as well.

 The use of heavy equipment plays a role with these construction workers. The construction workers put up three strips of bright yellow caution tape to serve as a makeshift fence until new posts and boards could be installed. However, due to extenuating circumstances, the plastic tape has been tied and untied many times, and is now hanging rather haphazardly in a crooked sort of "X".

Alright, the tone has been set. You now know what I was doing at the time this story took place, you know what the surroundings look like, and hopefully you're wondering where this story is going! Read on...

If you've lived even half as long as I have, you probably already know approximately the size of a donkey. They aren't very tall. Donkey at Magnolia Farms stands about up to my waist, and Sheep is even shorter than Donkey. Because of their small stature and how cool it is to see a donkey and sheep in a horse pasture, Donkey and Sheep get free reign of the place...they are allowed to graze in any pasture they want, eat anything they find, and sleep anywhere they choose to lay their heads. On Saturday night I was busy turning the geldings into that little paddock when I noticed Donkey and Sheep grazing...on the other side of the fence! I asked a bystander, whom I believe was the mother of one of our boarders, if the two of them were supposed to be over there. She reassured me, saying that Donkey and Sheep had been out front when she got there, so it must be okay. Although I felt somewhat out of sorts about just leaving them alone like that, I continued to get the horses out of their stalls and didn't query the matter any further.

I later heard Gretchen, one of the girls helping feed, call my name in a panicked voice to tell me that Donkey and Sheep were out! Following the sound of her voice until I found her, I spotted  the two fugitives ripping up grass on the other side of the main barn, up by the well house. I now knew that the person that told me earlier that Donkey and Sheep were allowed out was dead wrong. In order to escape looking stupid, I merely suggested that we both grab lead ropes and try to get the animals back through the gate and safely into their pasture again.

Donkey and Sheep were very content to graze on the lush green grass and had no inclination to move away...until they saw two girls advancing. It was as if they suddenly realized that their freedom was in jeopardy, because both of them took off. On a good day, neither of these animals are easy to catch. Sheep is very skittish and runs away from the mere sound of a human voice, even to the point of waking from a sound sleep. Now as for Donkey...forget it. He's not in any way mean, but he's flighty and will hardly let you get close enough to lay a hand on him.  Thinking quickly, I ran around the other side of the well house to motivate them to go back the way they came, towards Gretchen and the gate into the pasture. Gretchen was standing ready to block them from running down the driveway, which eventually led out to open road.

Thankfully, Sheep was smart enough to duck through immediately. Once he realized he was back where he was supposed to be, he turned and "Baa-ed" to Donkey. Donkey, in the meantime, had dodged past Gretchen and headed back up the road on the opposite side of the well house. This was not a good thing, let me tell you. I chased after Sheep to chase him through the next set of gates into a different pasture that didn't have a flimsy, makeshift fence on one side. Gretchen went after Donkey while I finally succeeded in getting the wooly creature over to the other side of the gate, where he stood anxiously looking for Donkey. I turned around to see Gretchen, hand outstretched and full of grain, leading Donkey by his nose towards the gate. Actually, maybe I should say she was leading him by his stomach, because she wasn't touching him! She was putting the proverbial carrot before the horse.

She got him over to the gate and there Donkey stopped. He refused to cross the threshold and go back into his pasture. I opened the other gate that led to the other side of the barn and ran through the aisle to get behind Donkey, in order to give him further incentive and pressure to go through the gate. He made up his mind on his own, though, and strode into the pasture of his own accord. Gretchen and I chased him and Sheep into the large pond pasture, which we knew had sound fencing all around. And that's where the story ends...for now.

You may now be asking how this story relates to Christ.  Let me fill you in. Hopefully once I'm done, the analogies I put forth will make sense to my readers. For one thing, although this is not the point I'm trying to get across, God takes good care of us each and every day. He makes sure that our needs are met, from food and water the way we feed the horses, to ensuring our good health by seeing to it that we have plenty of opportunity for exercise. In the same manner, we enable the horses to stay healthy through exercise when we turn them out every day. But that's not the point of this story.

We as Christians are sometimes like Donkey and Sheep. We are led away from the green pastures, surrounded by fences meant to keep us safe. Thinking the grass is always greener on the other side, we wander farther and farther away from where we are meant to be. Temptation is the hand that leads us there, and helps us to believe that there is no danger lurking beyond the safety of the rules, the fences in our lives. Many times the escape is rather unintentional, merely because we are so caught up in living our lives that we don't even notice how far we've strayed until someone comes after us. We go a little farther, and a little farther, until we can barely see the pasture and we look back and wonder how we got that far. The temptation, or the greener grass, may come in the form of an extramarital affair, cheating on a test, gambling, working excessively to make a lot of money, slandering others, hating people, stealing, and many, many more things that we so easily get caught up in.

Satan provides the holes in the fences for us to slip through unnoticed. He blinds us so that we can't see that we're leaving the safety of what God built for us, the fences around the beautiful pasture of which He's given us free rein. Rarely do we intentionally turn our backs on God, telling Him "Forget you - you're not good enough for me." Instead, it's a rather inadvertent slipping away, turning to what the world has to offer instead of eating the bread that brings life. We choose the ways of the world over the ways of Christ. As 1Corinthians 3:3 says, "You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?" So we see that jealously, quarreling, hate, anger, slander, etc are things of the world, not of God. James 1:17 says "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."

It isn't the Father that leads us away, but our own sinful nature and desires. Romans 7:18 says "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out." So it's not only the people of this day an age that have a hard time living right. It's everyone, everywhere, for every time and place. We are slowly led away by our sinful desire to places where we never should have been.

Temptation is just what happened to Donkey and Sheep. They ate closer and closer to the fence and suddenly found themselves outside it, not even knowing how they got there. Boy, then they found what they figured was freedom! All that lush green grass, plenty of room to move, new things to see and hear and explore. Being dumb animals, they couldn't have known the danger lurking around every corner if they were able to roam unprotected around the farm. The driveway led to open road, cars were driving around, sharp objects were there to get hurt on...but Donkey and Sheep didn't know that.. They only had eyes for what was right in front of them, what had drawn them out of their safe pasture in the first place. Psalm 37:3 tells us "Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture."

So often we do the exact same thing Donkey and Sheep did. We end up in compromising situations, we can't see the danger we're in, or how it's not a good thing that we've gotten out of our pasture! God set forth a lot of rules in Scripture...such as "Do not lie" "Do not Steal" "Do not covet your neighbor's house" "Love one another" "You cannot serve both God and Man" "Place no other gods before Me" "Do not sleep with someone you're not married to", and more. Those rules are meant to keep us safe...to keep us from undue heartbreak, the consequences of sin that so often befall us as we realize our unfortunate mistakes. God has built a safe pasture for us where we have everything we need to be safe and happy, yet we are unsatisfied; otherwise, why would we turn to the world? Why can we not be satisfied with Christ alone?

The Bible has a lot of interesting things to say about this topic. Romans 8:5 says "Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires," and Galatians 5:16-17 says "So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want."  So it is in our nature to desire something other than Christ. We stray outside the fence lines, searching for something better. But we won't find it outside the pasture.

When we step outside the pasture, it seems so much better than the world we were living in. We take another step, and another, exploring our new-found "freedom".  Eventually, though, someone is going to come after us. They see that we're doing things wrong, and that we're not where God intended us to be. That's when people will come to you and tell you, in one way or another, that you're messing everything up. Generally, though, people react to such an approach quite negatively, and become offended, rather than seriously assess the situation and take the other at their word. Just like Donkey and Sheep ran away when they saw us headed towards them, we tend to back away or turn and flee when people try to help us, because we figure they're just jealous or don't like us. Such is usually not the case.

Donkey and Sheep didn't understand that their safety and well-being depended on the security of those fences; still all they could see was the grass and the adventure of being outside that boring pasture they knew so well. We react in the same way when we are exposed to matters outside the world we're used to. But outside of the pasture, which is God's love, grace, mercy, and kindness is a world of hatred, anger, sin, filth, and rage. The Devil sugar-coats the world so it looks inviting, like something that it is not. By that means he draws us farther and farther into his evil scheme until we're cannot get back out without a great lot of help.

God sends people to us to help us when we're outside our pasture. More often than not, at least in my case, pride takes over when someone tries to tell me I'm doing wrong, or if I'm hurting other people. My immediate reaction is to strike back, and explain how I'm right and why they are so wrong. It takes a temperate attitude and a whole lot of humility to keep my mouth shut and listen. Christ wants us to come back to His safe pastures, where he can reach us easily and we are following His will for our lives. If we turn our backs on him and reach out to the world, He will not force us back.  He wants us to come back to Him of our own free will, because we realize our mistake and turn back to seek His face. Force generally does not work, and nearly always fails in the end.

Look at how Gretchen coaxed Donkey back into the pasture. She didn't force him to go back... she offered him something he wanted, and then led him back the way he had come from. He followed willingly. He didn't have to go back in; he could have chosen to run away from us, or continue to graze, or try to fight us. But he didn't, because he not only knew that he was going to be safe again, but he was offered an incentive to go back. For us, that incentive could be finding the purpose of our lives, why we are here, why we were born, what course our lives will take, find peace, or have that deep-down joy that nothing can ever uproot or ruin. It's remembering where we came from, and how safe those pastures were. We were safe there - nothing could hurt us, nothing bothered us by telling us we were in the wrong place.

Sometimes, like Donkey, we'll go up to the gate and then just stop. We're not sure if we want to cross that threshold again. We're hesitant to go back for fear of facing restitution, shame, and unforgiveness. Safety and familiarity beckons from inside the pasture, from inside God's will. Outside is danger and adventure and plenty we don't know about...which is the longing of our hearts (but that's another story). That's when your friends and family are there to back you up, to give that extra boost you need to make that last step to safety. They are behind you all the way, just like I was behind Donkey, protecting him from turning back to the danger behind him. People that care about you want to see you back in God's arms again, back in the safe pasture. Finally, finally you cross the line back over to the secure side, and you're safe and sound again. You're back where you were always meant to be, probably sorry you ever left and thrilled to have returned. God is ecstatic to hold you again, and you know in your hear that you are forgiven without even having to ask.

I guess the moral of this story is to stay inside the pastures at all times. If you follow God's will ( which can easily be found by reading the Book He wrote for us), you'll find that, as Psalm 55:22 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." Follow Christ. The only way to do that is to get to know His voice. And the only way to get to know His voice is to listen to him...spend lots and lots of time listening to Him. Talk to Him, listen for His answer. Psalm 119:105 says "Thy  Word is a light unto my feet and a lamp unto my path." That's what God wrote the Word for...as a light for our paths, a guidebook for our lives. Stay with God...don't stray away and follow the temptation being offered to you daily. Turn away from it!

Do you know what God has promised for those that are His sheep, for those that remain in His pastures? in 1 Corinthians 10:13 He says "No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it." What a promise that is! He will ALWAYS provide a way out, no matter what. All we have to do is follow Christ.