When I think of what it means to be a father, I think of a shepherd, and I think of sheep.
I talked to my mother-in-law this week on the phone. She grew up on a farm. They decided one year to raise sheep. So they went out and bought about 800 to 1,000 sheep. She told me the story of how there was one particular weekend where her parents went out of town and left my mother-in-law and her brothers and sisters to tend to the sheep. Rather than pitchforking hay out of the hay loft every day, what they decided to do was pitchfork as much hay as they needed for the entire weekend into one big heaping pile. Of course, they put it into a spot where the sheep could not get to it. It was a huge pile of hay.
The next day as she and her brothers and sisters went out to check on the sheep, to their horror, instead of a pile of hay, there was a pile of sheep. On top of that pile were bloated sheep, just eating themselves to death. In the middle of that pile were sheep barely alive, being smothered by the sheep on top, also eating themselves to death. And on the bottom of that pile were dead sheep, smothered to death.
The Bible uses sheep more than any other animal throughout scripture to describe you and me. In fact, we have a little lamb at home. Take a look at this video. [Video plays] At nine months old, I don’t know who taught our son to eat like this because his mom and I do not eat like that. There are moments when he takes both hands and just shovels it in. Without a shepherd, he would eat himself sick.
This idea and image of the shepherd and the sheep came to me at night when I have the most precious moment of any part of my day—when I put our son Landon down to sleep. It’s Daddy/Landon time and it’s the moment when I get to hold him in my arms. I sit and rock him to sleep. I pray over him. I pray for wisdom and stature. I pray for strength and courage. I pray he would come to know Jesus at an early age. I pray for his wife. I pray for his wife’s family–particularly that we would like them.
I also picture myself there. Because as Landon is 100% dependent upon his mom and me for everything in his life, I’ve learned that I am 100% dependent upon my Heavenly Father for everything in my life. In order for Landon to learn that Jesus is the hero of the story and not his dad, he has to realize that I experience the Father as my Father and that I am dependent upon him.
Two weeks ago, I left Landon and Christi and I traveled to Virginia to teach some courses. While I was away, and any time I am away from Landon for that matter, was he any less of a son to me, relationally? Not at all. But when I got home from that trip and I picked that little boy up into my arms and I held him in my arms and he reached out and touched Dad’s face, experientially, it is different. I want Landon to grow up knowing that my relationship with my Heavenly Father is experiential, that it’s different.
The problem is: We are all sheep. I think we give lip service to God as our Father, but we don’t really live it. My mother-in-law told me this week about moments where she would literally watch sheep die because dogs were running around the fence, trying to get to them. Even though those dogs couldn’t get to them, the sheep would literally fall over dead from worry. Some of us in here today have bills we can’t pay, we have teenagers who have gone astray, we have marriages in disarray, and all we want to do is get away. I’m feeling a little charismatic today. In fact, look at the person next to you and say “What dogs do you have running around your fence right now?”
The dogs running around our fence worry us. We are skittish. We are sheep. Do you know what happens when this takes place? We mosey on back to the hay pile every time. My mother-in-law said the most frustrating part about that hay pile was when they got there, they were literally throwing sheep off of the hay pile, trying to save their lives, and the sheep would waddle on back to the hay pile, not realizing they were walking back to their demise. The hay pile will smother you every time.
I think more than any other parenting technique, it is the posture from which we parent that matters more than anything. In 1 John 4:19 it says We love because he first loved us. Your ability to love your kids, your ability to love your spouse, your ability to love anybody horizontally, is directly proportionate to your ability to experience the love of the Father. In order for Landon to know Jesus, He has to see that I experience my Father.
[This blog is an excerpt from Josh’s Father’s Day message at Woodland Hills Family Church in Branson, MO. You can watch the message in its entirety here!]