Are You an Outlier?
Dictionary.com defines “outlier” as:
This week I am spending some time in the beautiful 23rd Psalm. Sometimes I can’t get past the first verse – there is such richness and significance to ponder.
I love the imagery of the Shepherd and His flock.
The Shepherd – strong yet tender. Capable, knowledgeable, and alert. Guiding His flock to the best pastures, to the safe watering holes. Faithfully watching over them and protecting them from dangerous predators, sharp rocks, and sometimes from themselves.
And the sheep – big sheep and little sheep. Brave sheep and timid sheep. Mischievous sheep and shy sheep and that little guy who’s always hungry. All the personalities and quirks and sounds and smells that make up a flock.
And as in any group, there are some who press in toward the center and some who hang back and make their home in the periphery. Outliers.
What kind of sheep are you? What kind am I?
Do we press in close to the Shepherd, craving His touch and attention? Do we determinedly stay in His presence no matter what we have to do to make that happen? Do we listen attentively to His voice that we may never miss His guidance and commands? Do we show Him our love by quickly obeying and by loving those He loves?
Or are we outliers? Hanging back in the periphery, never getting too close? If so, what keeps us back there? What holds us back from pressing in?
Virginia shepherd Craig Rogers, in his article on Modern Farmer, says this of sheep:
Over the years I have often been told, generally by non-sheep people or someone with 10 or 20 sheep that are fed from buckets, how dumb sheep are. However, if you pay attention, you can not help but be impressed by how smart they are to have survived domestication since 10,000 B.C. Although many think of their flocking instinct to be a sign of “dumbness,” it is in fact a community-based survival mechanism where they have learned that their strength is much greater in numbers and their comfort and survival is enhanced as a group rather than as an individual. Not a bad lesson for all of us.
~ “10 Things I’ve Learned From Lambs”
Those of us living in the Western culture that prizes individualism would do well to learn this lesson.
Not only do we need our Shepherd, but we also need each other.
Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 that each member of the body of Christ is interdependent on every other member. Our connection is organic, vital, and part of God’s plan.
There is great beauty in functioning the way God designed, embracing our mutual dependence, and looking to the Shepherd to meet our every need.
There is great peace in dependence.
Think about it – acknowledging our dependence takes all the pressure off to provide things for ourselves. We choose instead to trust that because the Lord is our Shepherd, we shall not be in want of anything that we need. His care for us is perfect.
Living the life of an outlier – not fully engaged with the community of believers and not pressing into the presence of the Shepherd – robs us of that beauty and peace. What we hope may keep us safe from having to be too vulnerable – from having to need others – actually compromises our safety, leaving us more open to attack from our adversary, who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8, NIV).
Yes, I too have been hurt by other sheep, sometimes deeply. But I understand that even in that, God’s plan for the Body of Christ remains unchanged. In the painful seasons, there have been victories to win – unforgiveness to conquer; growth to be had in speaking the truth in love; trust in God alone to be gained. Greatness grows from great suffering and great submission. I am not there, but I hope to be one day.
Dear friend, you are tenderly loved by your faithful Shepherd. His arms are open today, warmly inviting you to come closer and fully engage in joyful relationship with Him and with the Body of Christ. There is great fulfillment in that place, and your brothers and sisters in Christ need you.
And when they see us functioning in unity, not as a bunch of separated outliers, the world will desire to know our Shepherd…and that’s what it’s all about.
With faith, hope, and love,