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Lessons From A Sheepdog was written in 1982 by Phillip Keller. I picked up a copy about 10 or 12 years ago at a garage sale and it has sat on a shelf ever since. A couple of months ago while perusing the books in my library and working on a list of books I intended to read in 2013, Lessons From A Sheepdog caught my eye. Now that I've read it, I am convinced that it was God who directed my attention to that book on the shelf.
At first glance, it may seem odd to try to draw lessons about the Christian life from a sheepdog. After all, Christians are called sheep, not sheepdogs. But you can rest assured that Mr. Keller is not trying to change the biblical designation of Christians as sheep. Indeed he makes reference all through the book to this very distinction. However, just as a shepherd often uses a sheepdog to help care for the flock, we who are servants of Christ have the privilege of co-laboring with God to help lead and guide His flock. But this doesn't mean the book is only for pastors or those who are church leaders in some official capacity. Since every believer who is biblically living out their faith will have some measure of influence on others, this book can encourage and strengthen Christians of all ages and situations.
In the first chapter, Mr. Keller tells the story of how in his younger years he was starting a new sheep ranch and was in need of a good sheepdog. He answered a classified ad from an individual who sounded desperate to get rid of a very bad and surly dog. Mr. Keller loved dogs and couldn't stand to see this one destroyed by its incompetent owner, so he agreed to take the dog. Eventually the dog became a loyal and faithful servant to Mr. Keller and was a huge asset to his work as a shepherd. The story presented in that first chapter is well-told and heart-warming in and of itself, but it gets infinitely better in the ensuing chapters as Mr. Keller uses his relationship with his dog to illustrate our relationship with God.
I do have one minor criticism of the book in that the part of his story that was supposed to represent salvation was very ambiguous to me. He told one story about when he chose the dog (and actually took ownership of it) and another story about when the dog (who hated him at first) chose him. It was hard to tell which of those two accounts was his idea of salvation. But other than that one criticism, the book was excellent, convicting, and helpful. Here are a few of my favorite parts.
1. I love his description of the dog's life prior to his change in ownership.
Keller reminds the reader that just as the sheepdog was specially bred for a specific purpose, so likewise man was created to fellowship with and serve our God. Even since Adam sinned in the garden, each subsequent human has been born in their sins, unable to fulfill God's original purpose. Instead, their lives are wasted on sin and self and worthless pursuits. As an illustration, Keller pointed out that the dog, as long as he still belonged to the previous owner, was wasting his life chasing cars and running off after boys riding bikes. What a great example of the wasted life of a person without Christ. Created for a higher purpose, and yet wasting away their life on things that are ultimately of no consequence.
2. I love his description of the dog's joy in obeying his master.
Keller speaks over and over in the book about the fact that once his dog got to know him and learned to trust him, he would obey every last command of his master, not grudgingly, but with joyous excitement. This section of the book was quite convicting. Here's a brief excerpt:
The greatest delusion any man or woman can ever come under is the idea that it is a "drag" to do God's will. Just the oppostie is true! Yet our old natures, our strong, selfish, self-interests, our sensual society, our arch-foe Satan - all endeavor to deceive us into believing that it is a bore and bondage to serve the Master, to carry out His commands in glad-hearted cooperation.Here is one more excerpt to nail the point home:
Ultimately, finally, our love for God is demonstrated not by some soft, sentimental emotion, but rather in implicit obedience to His will, expressed in our loving cooperation with His commands.
When we comply with His wishes in happy cooperation, our walk with Him, our work with Him, our way with Him become a deep delight. Not only is He immensely pleased, but so also are we.
It never ceased to amaze and stimulate me to see how thrilled Lass was in her whole-hearted obedience. Her eyes would literally sparkle, shine and snap with pure pleasure. Her tail would wag with joy. Her beautiful body was electric, charged, vibrant with ecstatic satisfaction.
This is what she had been designed to do. This is what her breed had been developed to achieve. This was the purpose for which she was placed upon the planet.
And precisely the same held true for me in my personal relationship with Christ. The question was, did I realize this?3. I love his description of the different ways he would communicate with his dog.
Keller makes a tremendous distinction between the spoken commands and the hand signals that he would use with his dog. When he was first training his dog, all commands were given orally. But since there were many times that they were working on opposite sides of a field or valley from each other, eventually he taught the dog to obey his hand signals. The parallel that he draws here is very astute:
For this sort of command to work well between us, Lass had to learn to keep me in view and give me her constant, undivided attention.
The parallel relationship in our own walk and work with our Master is most important. For as we mature in our spiritual lives we come to understand clearly the providential "hand" of God guiding us.
Early in our experiences with Christ it is imperative always that we discover and determine His will for us in and through the "Word spoken." In time, and with constant application, this word grows so familiar, so well established, so much a force within our wills that it becomes natural and normal for us to comply with His commands.
We then move on to the position where we sense and detect His will being expressed to us by the providential handling of our lives. We actually begin "to look for God's hand" in all the details and events of our days. We become acutely sensitive to His presence. We find our minds, spirits and emotions concentrated on Christ, eager to do His bidding.
This does not happen overnight. Nor does it take place in one short burst of devotion. As with the long months it took Lass to learn hand commands, so it takes us years, in some cases, to sense the unmistakable hand of God active in our affairs, leading us surely, directing us in every details of our personal pilgrimage.These are just three examples of the great points that Mr. Keller makes in this challenging book. I have a hard time imagining anyone reading this book without being convicted in the area of commitment and faithfulness to our Master. I heartily recommend it!