The prophet Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)
That of course was written some 2,700 years ago in the context of an agrarian culture, where pretty much everyone was aware of the typical behavior of sheep. Even today, one of the most important jobs of a shepherd is to round-up and rescue the sheep that have unknowingly wandered away from the protective eyes of the shepherd.
But most of us today are unfamiliar with agrarian realities. As urbanites and suburbanites, our exposure to sheep is limited to things like the animated Shaun The Sheep series.
Perhaps we are not as different from sheep as we would like to think. But we often don’t grasp the Old Testament comparison of people to sheep, other than perhaps feeling it is a bit of a put-down. So, let’s be clear about what the phrase, “we like sheep have gone astray” really means.
Sheep are not wary. They naturally wander without giving a thought to where they are headed. They blissfully browse for things to eat. They don’t see the dangers around them, consider the risks they might be taking or anticipate any consequences for what they do. And because sheep simply do what they do without thinking about it, their survival and welfare depend on the shepherd who watches and cares for them.
“Dumb animal” behavior is a natural thing. But for humans, the Creator has provided a supernatural Shepherd to save us from our natural wanderings. Isaiah called those wanderings “iniquities”, which like immorality or wickedness, is just another word for sin.
Sin is a red-flag word. Some people associate sin with the feeling of guilt or the breaking of some religious rule. And some people consider such rules arbitrary – just something someone else made up. Still, others follow the rules so religiously that they proudly consider themselves morally superior.
None of these attitudes are accurate. Sin isn’t a matter of rule-breaking. It’s simply our natural behavior causing us to wander away from the Shepherd. And since “the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all,” we can remain safe by staying close to him. Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).
So here is the reason we pray. It’s how we stay close to the Shepherd. We cannot abide in Christ without prayer. We cannot walk in his light unless we stick close to him. Maintaining our relationship with him requires a lot of prayer.
When we pray we stop our natural wandering and begin to allow the Shepherd to show us the way. He does this by teaching us to develop the wisdom to make the best choices. The LORD is not a relentless taskmaster with a whip, forcing us to submit to his will. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. Our Shepherd’s rod and staff are a comfort to us, not an affliction. That’s why he invites us to come to him: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Seeking the LORD, walking with the LORD, learning his ways and trusting in him with all our heart requires constant prayer. Consider for a moment what that means, and what it does not mean. Prayer isn’t just putting into words what is in our hearts or minds. God does not expect our prayers to be a sort of religious explanation or analysis or announcement or commentary that comes from our human wisdom or insight. He wants us to be constantly staying close to his love and protection, looking for his guidance, seeking his wisdom.
Christian prayer is not about following religious rules. It’s about maintaining a close relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. When we do not make prayer our regular practice we fall back on our natural inclinations, we wander off on our own, we lean on our own understanding, and we tend to forget we need the Shepherd’s loving presence.
1 Corinthians 8:2 tells us, “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.” We always need to temper our knowledge with God’s love. No matter how well we think we’re doing in our Christian walk, we always need to stay close to God and keep the conversation – and our relationships – going. So, lets not live like straying sheep, but remain in him through prayer, praying both privately and together as a body.
Verses for meditation:
Psalm 37:5-7 http://biblehub.com/psalms/37-5.htm
Psalm 37:23 http://biblehub.com/psalms/37-23.htm
Psalm 86:11 http://biblehub.com/psalms/86-11.htm
Psalm 119:133 http://biblehub.com/psalms/119-133.htm
Psalm 139:23-24 http://biblehub.com/psalms/139-23.htm
Proverbs 3:5-8 http://biblehub.com/proverbs/3-5.htm
1 John 1:7 http://biblehub.com/1_john/1-7.htm
Acts 1:14 http://biblehub.com/acts/1-14.htm
Colossians 4:2 http://biblehub.com/colossians/4-2.htm