You learn a lot by keeping chickens. I guess when you first have them you have this image of walking out on a fine summer morning and collected still warm eggs from sweet-smelling nest boxes while your charges cluck contentedly around your feet.
The reality is somewhat different.
When you have chickens, you have to go out in all weathers, in rain, in snow, in gales. It’s the mud that’s the worst, and I’ve taken to being fully kitted out in protective clothing. And you soon learn chickens really aren’t that clean. They poop. A lot. In the nestbox, on their eggs, on each other, in fact anywhere they go. As for the eggs, quite a few can end up cracked or broken, or just end up as a sticky mess oozing through the straw.
Now don’t get me wrong – keeping chickens is infinitely rewarding and nothing beats a home-laid egg. But it’s a commitment, and sometimes dealing with all the grime can be pretty grim.
The Bible doesn’t say a lot about keeping chickens. But it says quite a lot about keeping sheep. And although I’ve never kept sheep, I’ve seen enough of them close up on Dartmoor and at agricultural shows to notice the similarity with keeping birds. Looking after sheep involves going out in all weathers. It involves persistence. It involves a willingness to get dirty. It involves skill and care for the individual animal.
So let me suggest next time you say, “The Lord is my shepherd”, that you think what you are saying about God. We have an infinitely patient God who keeps on with us through each and every season, a God who in Jesus Christ was willing to enter the muck and the mess of our human situation, a God who knows what we are like and yet still cares for us individually and personally, and just won’t give up.
And the challenge I face as I go into the New Year is to ask myself, “How close am I to this shepherd?” Because the uncomfortable truth is that sometimes I can be all too like a sheep or a chicken wandering off on my own. Many are the times DW or myself has had to go out into the garden to rescue an escaped chicken who can’t work out how to get back home. Will I learn my lesson and stay close to the Shepherd, so I follow where He leads?
That’s the question I reckon we all need to ask as we head into 2014.