Jesus gives us what we actually need, not what we think we need


Jesus had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things. (Mark 6:34)

We live in a rural part of southern England and many of the fields near us are full of sheep.

One day earlier this year we found three lost-looking sheep wandering aimlessly across the back lawn. The hens we keep honked furiously at the surprise intruders; the sheep glared back at them balefully.

Naturally we phoned the farmer and he came and took the animals away. When you live among sheep you quickly discover how obtuse they can be. Wikipedia claims that "if worked with patiently, sheep may learn their names" and that "some sheep have apparently shown problem-solving abilities".

However it then admits that this statement "relies on anecdotal accounts", which sounds like a convenient get-out clause to me. Certainly if I see some sheep either working on Rubik's Cubes or answering to specific names I will let you know.

All in all, I think we understand that when Mark reports Jesus regarding the crowds rushing to him as "being like sheep without a shepherd" he is not being particularly flattering. So here are three surprising things we learn from that imagery which Jesus applies to us.

(1) Let's be honest – we are more stupid than think. We like to think we're pretty smart. We can work a smartphone, drive a car, and some of us (although not me) may even understand why three remote controls are necessary to operate the TV.

But Jesus says: "Actually, you're a sheep. You're prone to wander – spiritually, emotionally – in so many ways." In the nicest possible way we don't even realise how clueless we are. We're sheep, and we're lost. Baa.

(2) Our real needs are not what we think. Oh Jesus, we think, please come and solve all my problems. Please do a quick miracle in this tricky area of my life. Dear Lord, I hope the church service this Sunday will be entertaining and fun and hopefully we can sing some good songs. And Jesus says, "I need to teach you many things."

It is, of course, the essence of a disciple to be one who is willing to be taught. So when we go to church are we looking for a sermon (among other things) which will nourish us, feed us and nurture us in faith? Might we – genuinely – hope that the talks our minister gives become a little longer because of our hunger to learn?

And in our daily lives are we ready to put in the time to "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" the Scriptures? Are we looking for the patterns of the Lord's work in our lives to see what he may be teaching us through our circumstances?

(3) Jesus is there for us far more than we realise. If all the above leaves us feeling somewhat inadequate then the great thing to remember is the huge compassion of Jesus (v34) for people – and that includes us. It is because he is compassionate he wants to teach us.

A modern rendering of an ancient prayer sums it all up so well: "Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have broken your holy laws. We have left undone what we ought to have done, and we have done what we ought not to have done. O Lord, have mercy on us. Spare those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore those who truly repent, as you have promised through Jesus Christ our Lord. And grant, O merciful Father, for his sake, that we may live a godly, righteous and disciplined life, to the praise of your holy name. Amen."

The Rough Guide to Discipleship is a fortnightly devotional series. David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex.