It echoes in my head sometimes. Ofttimes.
It was rebuke, as I stood at his side, waiting for orders, instruction, invitation…
One time or a hundred, he may as well have made a maxim of it, printed it out bold and hung it on walls: livingroom wall, diningroom wall, hall wall, my bedroom wall…
Such power lies in parental words! It may have been but a fleeting phrase flung out in mindless impatience, but for some reason, it seems to have haunted me all my life.
The why might have more to do with the fleshly me than the dad who said the words. Nevertheless, here perhaps roots my idol of busy accomplishments: “Make yourself useful.”
And so I have endeavored.
By doing. Doing. Doing. All kinds of doing. “See what I’m doing? See what I did? Am I not useful?”
However, is all that doing what really makes me useful?
I am thinking of one very useful sheep.
Burdock. Yes, that’s his name. I wanted to pretend it was Barnabas. That sounds so much more useful. But, as God would have it, Burdock is probably more appropriate, because it classes him as an ordinary sheep that meanders where he ought not, fallible and blundering. But still… useful.
Unfamiliar with burdock? It’s … well, dock, with burrs! Those seeds that cling, more stubborn than Velcro, to clothes you wear in the field, and stick your finger when you try to remove them. Spinning wool filled with burdock can be torture.
But still, Burdock (the Sheep) is probably the most useful in his flock. Because Burdock is halter trained.
This means his shepherd can approach him in the pasture, halter in hand, and slip it over his head, fasten it in place, and lead him by it—all with no resistance.
Typical untrained sheep resist with gusto, skittering all over the field. And once you get the harness on them, they like to twist and turn and roll themselves over in the dirt, and maybe drag you along with them. The only way to lead them individually is with your arm crooked around their neck in a head lock, your hand forcing their face skyward. Somehow they can’t resist that and go where you strong arm them.
But… if you have one good sheep trained to the halter, pliable to the master’s hitching and leading, you can move the whole flock effortlessly.
The LORD is our Shepherd who leads us. Beside still waters. Out into green pasture. In paths of righteousness for His name’s sake (Ps 23).
He led His people out of Egypt under Moses,
kept them, before that, in Egypt during famine, under Joseph,
led them within a kingdom under David…
And all these men, though fallible and failing, and sometimes prickery, had one thing in common: They were all halter trained to the Shepherd’s hand, submitted to His “yoke,” and followed meekly where He led. After them, the whole flock followed. And so all three became lead sheep. Leading by example.
Very useful indeed.
So there, I see, is how I make myself useful.
Lord, my Shepherd, please make me a very useful, halter-trained sheep.