About a year ago I had a rather vivid image while I was in prayer after receiving Communion during Mass, (an image is something that comes interiorly as a strong 'picture' in our mind as we are listening with our heart). The image was that of a trusty sheep dog running up to top of a hill to sit beside Jesus and wait for His next instruction. As I continued to ponder this, I sensed that God was asking me if I would let Him use me, in the most loving way, as His little sheep dog. He wanted me to be a faithful friend to the loving Shepherd, and use me in the most hidden ways to help Him in gathering the many, many lost sheep. I loved the analogy, and kept it in prayer for a few days after, but then sort of moved on to other things, etc., etc. He wanted to make sure that I didn't lose the teaching here, however.
Less than one week later, another prayer group leader in our area shared some of his journaling with us through email, and I couldn't believe the image that the Lord gave him in prayer. It was the image of a sheep dog ! He also received a very similar understanding - that the Lord needed his faithfulness and readiness to do His work in the fields in the way that a sheep dog is faithful to his Master's commands. It blew me away !
Interestingly, there are many times that the sheep dog is sent out among the sheep without the Shepherd physically by its side. This trusty companion is sent to round up the flock, hunt down the wanderers, and even stand between the wolves and the sheep.
Author Caroline Woolley had this to say, (http://www.allaboutsheepdogs.com/):
"A well-trained working sheepdog is the shepherd's best friend. I guess this is obvious to most folk because if a working sheepdog is properly trained then it will cut the shepherd's workload and save time, but, as a result, save money too. It is not work to these animals - more of a joyful expression of what they do best. They thrive on approval from 'the Boss'. This in turn enables the shepherd to carry out his work with a dog he can trust and one with confidence."
The word that continues to come to me when I contemplate the work of the sheepdog is FAITHFULNESS. A faithful companion of this type doesn't look for rest, or get bored with doing the same job week after week, month after month. They jump at the chance to serve well, and do it with great zeal.
I felt it was quite comical a few weeks ago when my attention was drawn to two different scenarios within 24 hours of each other, both involving reluctant dogs. I was up at the water's edge by a local lake with my family and friends on a Sunday afternoon, and my nephew's fiance had her dog on a leash down by the water. She was trying to get the little guy into the water to cool off - which he would normally jump at the chance to do - but for some reason he wouldn't budge. As a matter of fact, he was being so stubborn that she literally had to drag him into the water by his collar. I couldn't believe how he was digging his heels in, even though he was panting from the heat and obviously bothered by the 90 degree day we were experiencing. His owner knew what was best for him, but it took extreme measures to convince the dog.
The very next morning while I was driving to work I noticed an elderly gentleman walking a small dog along the side of the apartment complex where he lived. Even though the man was walking at a snails' pace, the dog reluctantly trailed behind on his leash, looking almost annoyed at his owner - head down, dragging his feet, as if he to say, "Why don't YOU just go for a walk ? I can wait back at the door....."
It was all too noticeable for me to ignore, and I found myself asking, "Is that me, Lord? Do I force You to drag me to those places where I need to go? Am I the lazy sheep dog who wastes too much time looking for the easy way out, and not enough time herding? How many sheep are still wandering in the wrong field because I have ignored Your requests to work beside You on so many occasions ?"
My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pray for those gifts of zeal and faithfulness. Let us choose to never, ever complain - knowing that God allows or makes all things happen for our good. If our days are filled with joy and light work, praise God! If our days are filled with trials and difficult labor, praise God! On either occasion, He will use every ounce of work or rest as a stepping stone for our journey toward Heaven.
May our glorious God of all creation be the reason for our hope, the beginning and the end of everything we do - yesterday, today and forever !