My wife, Deb, and I became shepherds to a small flock of sheep more than thirty years ago. We both have always had other jobs to support ourselves, so we needed help on our farm. This help for us has come in the form of a dog. The breed of our dog is Maremma. It’s not a herding dog, but is considered a livestock guard dog. We prefer to call her a shepherd dog. We’ve had three different dogs in our years as shepherds, and they all have had the same relationship with us. This is the story of Arya, our current shepherd dog. Her example as a shepherd, our partner on the farm, has taught me more about the selfless devotion of the Holy Spirit than I could have learned anywhere else. Most stories about shepherds in the Bible are in the Old Testament.
The Holy Spirit is discussed, but the true meaning of the Holy Spirit isn’t fully understood in this section. The true understanding is that the Holy Spirit is fully released in Christians through Jesus Christ at Pentecost, to live within us and guide us. “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’” (Acts 2:38). Arya’s life is much like the original shepherds—simple and single-focused. I see Arya’s actions and devotion as representations of how the Holy Spirit functions in my life. Through her innate behaviors, she serves as a daily reminder for me to keep the Holy Spirit close and to be an essential part of my life.
I’ve watched her do it probably a hundred times, but it always amazes me. On a fall evening, when it wasn’t quite dusk yet, the sheep were out in the west pasture. I went out to do chores and Arya ran up to the yard to see me. After I petted her, she looked perplexed. She knew I was going into the barn to do chores, and at this time, she would usually guide the sheep in so she could go off-duty for the night; but her sheep were still out away from the barn. She walked away to go with them, and I went into the barn to do other tasks. Our ram, Mulligan, is separated from the ewes most of the year with his own pasture. When I go in to do chores, I bring him in and close him in his pen for the night. By then Arya has the ewes in, and she is ready to come out to the middle barn area.
After getting Mulligan in for the night, I glanced out the back door of the barn. Arya was walking toward the barn and all of the sheep walked right behind her—following her. She went to get them, somehow letting them know it was time to go in, and they stopped grazing and followed her without question. She got up to the door of the barn and the sheep went in, while she stood outside watching. Then, when they were all in, she went in also. Follow me; it’s a familiar phrase that Jesus said to His disciples, and they dropped what they were doing and went with Him without question. They knew somehow that by following Jesus, they would have better lives. Arya is the sheep protector on our farm. The sheep know it and show, time after time, that they trust her, listen to her, and follow her. The Holy Spirit is the protector in our lives. When we take time to trust, listen, and follow Him, we have a better life not only in heaven, but here on earth. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
The Presence Of The Holy Spirit
Arya is a large, white dog. She can physically be an imposing presence, but more than that, she has a comforting presence that can be felt. When I accepted the Holy Spirit in my life, I started feeling a presence that protected and advised me. Arya’s relationship with the sheep provides an insight of what that may look like. When Arya is in the pasture where the sheep are grazing, she makes her presence known to them so they can feel safe. I think of it as a similar way that the Holy Spirit watches over us. Arya has a sense of where she needs to be at any given time. She can feel if there is any danger lurking. Most of the time, I can’t tell by her position near the sheep if she’s sensing danger or not, because she masks her emotions. She will look calm, which calms the sheep, until she notices something to be alarmed about.
She understands that her job most of the time is to help the sheep feel at peace. The sheep feel that sense of peace and depend on her to announce if there is danger. Otherwise, they go about their day grazing in the pasture or off a large hay bale. Sometimes she is lying on the ground between the sheep and toward whichever direction she senses danger may approach. She may be on the higher ground of a hillside, where she can see all of the sheep and they can see her. That also gives her a view of anything that can be approaching from a distance. Sometimes she is at rest in the middle of the sheep while they are grazing. However, in any of these cases she is usually on watch—looking and listening for any possible trouble. The sheep stay largely together, but sometimes they spread out over the entire pasture. In either case, Arya will periodically walk through the flock. She will calmly wind back and forth among them to make her presence known. There are times she’ll be a short distance away from the sheep because it’s hot, and she needs to be in the shade of trees or a building.
She seems to only do this when she feels there is no imminent danger, and she understands the sheep feel her presence and can be calm. The key is that the sheep have accepted her and have complete trust in her as their protector. They feel her presence and know she will let them know if there is any danger, or if they need to go somewhere for protection. The sheep live life without worry, because they know Arya will warn them and protect them from danger. I always feel the Holy Spirit is near; there’s a peace and calmness in my life when I feel that closeness. The sheep are at peace in their lives probably ninety-eight percent of the time, but they know Arya will let them know what to do in that other two percent. It’s the same with me; I don’t feel the Holy Spirit needs to talk to me constantly, giving me advice. He trusts that I’ll control my free will to do the right things, but when guidance is needed, I will hear from Him. There are times when He provides me with wisdom—insight about a situation so I can make the right decision. Often, it’s a feeling that I get, but sometimes it’s a voice I hear. The most important thing, however, is that because I have accepted the Holy Spirit, I can approach any circumstance with confidence and peace. “The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (Psalm 121:7-8).