Meet The Flockers: What We Can Learn From the 99 Sheep

“Please God, let us again have a fire for you as we did when we first knew you.”
This has been spoken into church microphones countless times since I first found my faith. If I had the microphone I surely would have said the same prayer because that desire has repeatedly wrestled with my heart, but I’m coming to understand this prayer may be in vain. On the surface it’s one of the best prayers – to be fantastically infatuated with God’s beauty, or the warmth of his love. We want God’s love to be rolling around our minds all the time, or to look at everything through the crystal clear lenses of faith. And then we wonder what’s wrong with us when this isn’t happening.

However, here’s an argument that perhaps that’s by design.

Ninety Nine Sheep

Last week my church discussed the parable about the 100 sheep in Luke 15, which follows:

“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’”

I’ve been that one sheep that wandered away. The shepherd dropped everything to chase after me and I’ll never forget my joy when he hoisted me on his shoulders. He called his friends to rejoice. Of course I want to feel that again, it was the greatest feeling of my life.

But the other 99? I’ve played that part, too. In fact, that’s where I’m currently at.

Infatuation vs. Certainty

Every time I read this story I wonder why those sheep stay. They are in an open field with no one watching them or holding them back from making a break from it. But upon further investigation, perhaps I should understand.

They don’t leave to go find their lost friend, but let the shepherd take care of it. They don’t wander away like their friend because they must’ve known the woods can be dangerous for a lone, wandering sheep.

Once we’ve been found and celebrated, we must recognize that we’re no longer the one, but the 99. Like the sheep in the parable, me must stop romanticizing being the one, and recognize we have a role to play.

When Tasha and I fell in love our phone conversations zigged and zagged until we checked the time and realized we’d been talking for two, three, four hours. She was constantly on my mind and I was always on hers. And it felt great.

But what’s easy to forget is that our infatuation wasn’t contained to only the warm, fuzzy stuff. Fears and misconceptions were also prevalent. What if she’d lose interest in me? What if we wouldn’t agree on everything? Or if my friends didn’t like her or her friends didn’t like me? What if we’d break up, just like all my other short-lived relationships?

We survived those fears and got married, and we continue to develop trust in each other, which is fantastic.

I’m therefore coming to realize the best marriages don’t showcase infatuation as much as certainty. While I sometimes miss the luster of our early relationship, I talk to plenty of people in new relationships who on Monday are bubbling over with excitement, but Tuesday are about to crack. On Wednesday they’re overjoyed because they found their soul mate, and by Sunday they’re wondering if true love even exists.

Let’s not be fooled to think marriage is therefore the pathway to easy street. Even if it cultivates certainty, some people grow tired of this and want to recapture the fire. The quickest, easiest way to do that is to go outside of the marriage for a new connection, which consistently proves disastrous. Very often the adulterer woes their choice because of what they gave up: certainty.

So let’s not mimic this in our faith.

Keep The Wool Out of Your Eyes

To be one of the 99 may not have the dopamine rush of infatuation. At least not to the degree of “having the dire we had when we first believed.” However, this argument isn’t that “faith is supposed to be boring, so get used to it(!)”. Instead, it’s that a sheep won’t survive on its own in the wilderness, that’s a death wish, so the backdrop of this parable isn’t one of safety versus adventure, rather, life versus death.

And it comes with wisdom. Wisdom to not go out on our own to save the one, but allow the shepherd. And to not wander away in hopes of being found, because otherwise we may never be found again.

  • Anthony Golden

    Right on brother!
    I have to say, I really liked the analogy made about one’s relationship with God and one’s relationship with one’s spouse. To think that the emotional rush of a new relationship is all that is to be had will indeed cause one to fail and to search for the next exciting thing.
    Our relationships like all of nature had seasons, cycles, and we remain steadfast and faithful though the hardships of winter knowing that the joy of spring is just around the corner.

    I think of the 99 sheep who didn’t run away. They weren’t sheep without a shepherd. They would come up to the shepherd and enjoy being in His presence. They may not have the exhilaration of being rescued, but they did have the peace of being secure.

    • Matthew Rennels

      Hi Anthony, thanks so much for your comment. Sure, new relationships are exciting, but don’t measure up to the comfort and peace we have to just be ourselves, like we have in a long term relationship of marriage. I suppose we can hope for both, but if we can’t attain both, we need to know that God’s provision is just.
      About the 99, I hope to remain one. Sometimes I want to wander. Here’s to the peace that we have as the 99. Perhaps we should make a T-shirt of a sheep crossing his arms with running shoes next to him, stating “Not running,” and on the back stating simply “99 sheep.”