I remember when I was about 18 years old working on a construction site trying to push a wheelbarrow full of dirt through a sand bed. As I struggled and wobbled through the sand with the heavy load, the contractor I worked for looked at me and said, "Even a jackass has sense enough to pull!" That is all he said and that was all he needed to say!
Well, I have often remembered that lesson even though it was a little humiliating at the time. Not only is it smarter and easier to pull than to push a heavy load, it is also easier to lead than to drive. This is especially true when handling cattle.
We have learned that if we spend a little quality time with the cattle, especially new cattle, slowly, quietly and patiently easing around them, giving them a little feed to attract and calm them, and softly calling them with our special call, they will soon equate our presence with a positive experience they look forward to. Every time we visit them, as we begin our approach into the pasture, we call out to them loudly with the special call they soon learn to equate to our presence and the expectation of feed or a new patch of grass. They soon get comfortable with us and will follow us wherever we go – even when the treat is not provided. Every time we visit them and every time we move them from one pasture or paddock to another, we use the same call with the same rhythm that is consistent and distinguishable. They know, when they hear our call, something good is usually about to happen. Jack or I can step outside, right now, and sound the call, and cows will start mooing in every pasture! They know our voice, they know us!
In our environment, one man the cattle know with a single bucket of feed can do more with the cattle, and do it easier and quicker, than several men on horses, trucks or four-wheelers they do not know. We can move them from pasture to pasture, we can call them into the catch pen, or we can lead them across the road or even down the road whenever we need to.
I remember an occasion years ago when Jack and I rented a place several miles from home. By the time we got the call that our relatively new herd of cows were in the road, they had already strayed a half mile or so from the pasture. With just one bucket of feed, we called them with the familiar call and led the whole herd back down the road and through the gate back into the pasture. If we had had to drive them, they would have scattered like a covey of quail and we would still be rounding up strays!
Just recently we helped some friends gather up their cattle for working. The pasture was not cross-fenced and there was a large area of woods right in the center. The catch pen was on a hill in the middle of a fence row with no way of crowding or guiding the cattle to enter the pen. We felt sure there would be trouble when we drove into the north end of the pasture and watched the cattle on the south end head for the woods! As soon as they saw us, they headed the other way. Had there not been fences, they would not have stopped until we quit pursuing. Out of desperation, Jack tried to call them with the same call we use on our cattle, but they did not know his voice and the call meant absolutely nothing to them, so they just ran all the harder. After 30 minutes or so of herding them on foot and with motorized vehicles, running back and forth to cut off the escape routes, we finally drove them into the pen.
While this approach worked, it was a onetime shot! If they had gotten away, we would have most likely had to wait until another day to do what needed to be done that day. We were stressed, the cattle were stressed and you can bet they will be even harder to catch the next time. With just a little bit of consistent conditioning to build trust and relationship, the cattle would learn to follow instead of having to be driven. One man could most likely do in 15 minutes what it took four of us to do in 30 with much less stress for both us and the cattle.
While the principle "it is easier to lead than to drive" is true when it comes to cattle, it is also true when it comes to dealing with people, whether it is leading a large group or raising children. It is also the way God desires and has set in place to relate to us as His children. He desires to spend enough quality time with us and us with Him, so we get to know Him and know His voice. As we spend time with Him and learn to follow and be led by Him, we learn He is a trustworthy, capable and loving Shepherd whose desire is to bless us and not to harm us. Wherever He leads us will be a place where we will experience His presence and blessings, though the journey may be hard and seem uncertain. Whenever we stray and find ourselves outside His will, He is the One who seeks us out and wants nothing more than to lead us back to where we need to be. The more we spend time with Him and follow Him, the better able we are to distinguish His voice from all the others who are calling out to us - most of whom desire to do us harm.
Jesus said in John 10 (NKJV), ".... He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. And when He brings out His own sheep, He goes before them; and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of the strangers …. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand."
The most used Bible verse at funerals is the 23rd Psalm. This whole passage deals with the Lord being our Shepherd who leads us, who restores our soul, who makes us righteous, who protects us from our enemies, who comforts us, who showers us with goodness and mercy, and who prepares a place and a way for us to dwell with Him for all eternity!
I do not know about you, but I am glad I belong to the Good Shepherd who lovingly leads me instead of driving me with the crack of a whip! I am glad I can rest knowing that wherever He leads me will be the best for me. I can have peace knowing He has gone before me to make sure everything I need is along the way, He has already provided! I am glad I know, whenever I stray and get lost along the way, and I will, that He will lovingly and faithfully seek me out and restore me! Lord, help me to know Your voice and give me the faith and the will to willingly follow You.
Glenn Crumpler is is president of Cattle for Christ International, Inc. He can be contacted at 334-393-4700 (home), 333-4400 (mobile) or www.CattleforChrist.com.