The Shoulder Ride

“Perverse and foolish oft I strayed and yet in love He sought me
And on His shoulder gently laid, and home, rejoicing, brought me.”
-Henry W. Baker,  The King of Love My Shepherd Is

Years ago, while preaching on the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15) my pastor made a point I’d never considered before: the shepherd had to have been tired from his search, but for the joy of finding his lost one, he also found the strength to hoist the animal up and tote him back.

As often happens when you’re hearing a good sermon, one important point sparked another. It occurred to me that the shepherd could have easily just let the sheep walk. Nothing in the story, after all, suggests it was injured or lame. But rather than lead it back, or even chasten it a bit along the way with his rod, he chose to carry it.

It wasn’t enough to just get the wayward one home. He also got a
shoulder ride.

Where Seldom Is Heard Such Encouraging Words

 Four verses come to my mind when I envision the joyful shepherd marching back to the flock with his prize:

 1. “I know the thoughts that I have towards you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace,and not of evil, to bring you to an expected end.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

2. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

3. “He who began a good work in you will perform it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)

4. “You, who are kept by the power of God.” (I Peter 1:5)

Encouraging words anytime; all the more so when we’ve strayed.

So yes, it’s crucial to be in God’s will. Get lazy about that and you’re setting yourself up for a miserable existence. 

But it’s likewise true that every one of His sheep wanders, sometimes not so far, sometimes galaxies away. And when we do, He never sits passively watching. He moves, acts, calls, seeks. I should know, having been on the receiving end of His search. Unable to walk home on my own, He scooped me up.

A Willing Transport

So sometimes we get the shoulder ride because there’s simply no other way we’ll get there. But I’ll bet there are other times the Shepherd actually prefers hoisting us up, even when we’re capable of walking on our own. 

There’s something intimate about being carried like that, close to the head so ongoing conversation can happen, and lodged on the shoulder, a sturdy and reliable body-part invoking feelings of safety for the rider.

I can almost hear Him murmuring to his reclaimed one as they move along, “Now I’ve got you. Comfortable? Look, it’s not too much further. Good grief, I’ve missed you! There’s a meal and a warm bed waiting.”

I need that reminder. I need the surge of assurance and revitalizing energy that comes when I remember that the multitude of stressers life throws me might leave me feeling lost, unable to solve the list of problems demanding solutions, and too tired to fight my way back home.

That’s when I’m spotted by my Good Shepherd, who yanks me up, first by giving me the strength and wisdom to meet the day’s challenges, then strides home while I kick back on His shoulder, led over paths that I would surely have gotten lost on had I tried to take  them alone.

Because, thank God, the shoulder ride is not just for sheep who’ve gone way off track. It’s also for the rest of us who get exhausted, disappointed, overwhelmed by too many let-downs; too much responsibility; too little light at the end of the tunnel. Our feeble “baaas” catch His ear, and He comes charging towards our voices until we’re safely caught up in the
everlasting arms.

So we can ask Him to reassure us today, and to help us better understand our value in His sight. We can ask the Holy Spirit to, as Paul said, bear witness in our hearts that we’re the children of God. (Romans 8:16) We can logically and confidently pray for peace that passes understanding (Philippians 4:7) boldness to approach the Throne of Grace (Hebrews 4:16) and the confidence to assert that yes, indeed, the Lord is my Helper. (Hebrews 13:6)

I’m grayer and slower than I was 35 years ago when He scooped me up. But, unlike the teacups at Disneyland or the carousel at the beach, the Shoulder Ride is something I’ll never, never be too old for.

And re-rides are free.


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