The pastures used by shepherds would have been crisscrossed by many different paths leading to many different places. The shepherds would use these paths to lead their flocks from one good pasture to another. No doubt, David had these paths in mind when he said that the Good Shepherd leads us in the paths of righteousness. He knew by experience that these crisscrossing paths did not all go to the same place. The right paths would lead safely to the next green pasture. Others would lead towards cliffs, where a sheep could easily stumble and be killed; or into the mountains or wilderness, where the sheep would get lost and become easy prey to predators.
The valley of the Christian life is crisscrossed with many paths. They do not all go to the same place. Some paths lead to harm, heartache, and hardship. They lead
into a wilderness existence not fit for the sheep of God’s pasture. They lead to real danger. The Shepherd never takes us down these paths, but will lead us down trails that lead to safety, sustenance, and security.
As the Shepherd leads us forward faithfully, we should be aware of the dangers involved in such times of transition. The fact is that transition times are the most dangerous stretches in the Christian life.
- Some sheep don’t want to move, and refuse to do so. The Shepherd calls, the flock begins to move, the seasons are changing, and it is time to go to a new pasture. The Shepherd calls to many Christians that it is time to move forward, it is time to grow, to mature, to take on new responsibilities, to get more involved, and yet they do not want to leave their present field. They are content. This is a great danger. It means losing fellowship with the Shepherd; it means missing out on the spiritual growth opportunity that is needed; it could cause others to stumble; it discourages spiritual leaders in that Christian’s life; it may, if the Christian is influential, keep the entire church from going forward in the will of God.
- Some sheep tend to wander away down the wrong paths during times of transition. Here is a sheep following along, with his nose to the ground, and suddenly he is following one of those wrong paths that crisscross the paths of righteousness. He was not intentionally looking to get away from the Shepherd; but in a time of transition, he got off course.
- Sometimes, a sheep is stubborn and runs away intentionally.
- Sometimes, one rogue sheep will mislead two or three others. Sheep are natural followers; they will follow whoever is in front of themselves – even off a cliff! If one sheep becomes stubborn and takes the wrong path, it is likely that two or three more will follow along. Certainly, this is true among Christians. If one family gets upset at the pastor and leaves the church, it is very likely that two or three others may leave as well. They have been misled by their friends. It is also true among teenagers and children. If a “cool” or influential teenager lives for God, he may lead many others to do the same. But if that same teenager swerves off on the wrong path, he is just as likely to take his followers with him. Be careful, Christian, who you follow! This truth is especially sad when it concerns little lambs who are misled by their parents. How sad, that Christian parents should take their children away from the Shepherd! How tragic will be the eventual outcome!
Many Christians do just fine resting in a green valley of life. The greatest dangers come in times of difficulty or transition. Abraham was doing fine, newly arrived in Canaan (see Genesis 12). He was enjoying the green pastures – until famine came. When paths crossed, he took the wrong one and went into Egypt. There, he lied about Sarah, was publicly humiliated, and picked up a servant named Hagar, that eventually became a snare to his house. The Shepherd did not lead him into Egypt. He went there on his own. When paths crossed, he leaned to his own understanding instead of acknowledging the Lord (Prov. 3:5-6).
Transition times are dangerous! The transitions of age: from childhood to teenager, teenager to young adult, young adult to midlife, midlife to old age. The transitions of status: single to married, student to career or ministry, etc. Ministry changes; new responsibilities; stepping down from positions long held. Decision times in life, times of transition, or times of difficulty, times when the Shepherd is leading us forward spiritually, can be dangerous! So many paths, crossing each other, leading who knows where. How many forks in the path we come to! Which way is right? Which way is safe? Oh, how we need to stay on the heels of the Shepherd!