Everyone who has ever owned and operated their own farm, especially when livestock or poultry are involved, knows that good rest is hard to come by! It does not matter what day it is, what time it is, what your plans are, what the weather is like or what everyone else is doing, there are some things that just have to be done and cannot be put off until another day or a better time. For our Cattle for Christ herds, this is especially true in the fall and winter months when the daylight hours are not only shorter but also when all of the livestock are totally dependent on us to meet their daily needs.
This is when our cows are calving and when we have to be there to handle the inevitable problems sure to take place – whether it be an improperly aligned calf (a leg stuck backward, a head turned sideways, breach presentations, etc.) or one that is just too large for the pelvic area. So far this year, we have had two breached calves (coming tail first that in itself is pretty rare), one set of twins (a tangled-up mess with the back leg of one calf and the front leg of another trying to pass through the birth canal at the same time) and three calves trying to come out with one front leg straight out like it was supposed to be but the other one looped over the top of its head making it too large to pass! Either we have to be there to intervene or will most likely lose the cow and the calf, which no good cattlemen or shepherd would let happen if they could prevent it. The prior year alone, we assisted deliveries at midnight, during a severe thunderstorm, during a birthday party, during a Saturday night dinner with friends and even on a Sunday when we had planned to be in church.
Wintertime is also when Jack has to hand-feed various groups of cattle on a daily basis. Mature cows can get by with just water, hay, mineral and a free-choice, liquid protein supplement. Younger mothers (2- and 3-year-olds) that are still growing themselves and nursing their calves need these same basics in addition to other protein and energy supplements such as cottonseed (because our winter grazing is so delayed due to the extended drought we went through from late summer until mid-December). The weaned heifers we are saving as replacements require a different ration to help them grow and be ready to breed in December and January. The bull calves we are saving need even more energy than the weaned heifers to grow and reach their potential so they can be put out with a few cows as yearlings. If you do it right, every group is given what they need for their age and their various nutritional requirements.
Jack and I were both once in the broiler house business back in the days when we had to fill water jugs and swinging feeders by hand twice a day. By the time you got finished with the third or fourth house, it was time to start over in the first house. And you know what? They all had to eat and drink seven days a week! Though technology has made the broiler industry much, much easier, it still cannot work without some qualified and dependable person being physically available at a moment’s notice.
Though neither of us have done it for a living, we both grew up around the dairy industry and it is not any different either! No matter what type of livestock is involved (especially in the numbers considered as a legitimate business), if you are a good shepherd, you have to be there to do whatever is needed to take care of them seven days a week to ensure they not only survive but they also reach their potential.
I have learned ministry is no different from running a cattle, poultry or dairy operation – except the task is more important and the consequences of not doing your job is much more costly and consequential! Instead of just your livelihood and a few animals being at stake, the health, lives and eternal destinies of human beings are at risk. If rest is hard to come by doing the day-to-day operations of a livestock operation, how much harder is it to rest when the needs of literally billions of men, women and children are lacking the physical and spiritual necessities to survive both now and in eternity?
I am comforted to find that Jesus and His disciples had the same dilemma. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke record the event when Jesus sent out the disciples two by two to minister to the needs of people. He gave them power to cast out evil spirits, heal the sick, raise the dead, call people to repentance and to preach the Gospel of Jesus the Messiah. Not only did He command them to go but He instructed them to leave everything behind when they went. He would work through others to meet their needs. Some would accept them and their message and would provide for their personal needs, but most would not. He had prepared them for this rejection and the persecution they would face by teaching them that even in His hometown, among His own friends and family, Jesus himself was received without honor and was rejected by those who should have known Him best and loved and believed in Him the most.
As He commanded them to go, they went. When they returned and told Jesus all they had experienced, He said to them, "Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while." (Mark 6:31 NKJV). There were so many people coming and going to be ministered to that His disciples had not even had time to eat. They climbed into a boat and headed for the quiet place where they would finally get some much-needed rest, but the multitudes saw Jesus departing with them and they came from all the surrounding cities and ran to where they were going to rest – arriving there before Jesus and his disciples reached shore. Verse 34 says, "And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began teaching them many things."
As the day went on, His weary disciples came to Jesus and suggested that, since it was late in the day and the people were hungry, He should send them away so they could go to the surrounding villages and get something to eat. Instead of the physical rest His disciples were needing, looking forward to and expecting, Jesus told them, "You give them something to eat." The disciples were already tired, as was Jesus. They too were hungry. They did not have any food for themselves, much less the money to buy enough food for the multitude of 5,000 men (not to include the women and children who were present); yet Jesus commanded them to do what they were not able to do and to give what they did not have to give.
They searched the crowd and found only five loaves of bread and two fish and brought them to Jesus. He took the loaves and the fish and looking up to Heaven, He blessed them and then divided the five loaves and two fish among the 12 and told them to feed the people. The disciples did what He said, not seeing any way possible to accomplish the task with only the few fragments in their baskets, yet when they were finished distributing and all the people had eaten, they gathered up 12 baskets of leftovers!
Jesus knew He and his disciples, who had been working so hard and faithfully, were physically and spiritually exhausted, but, like us, they too did not always find it easy to get away and get the rest they needed. The need is always overwhelming, heartbreaking and greater than we are capable of meeting on our own. Therefore, when we are facing seemingly impossible tasks and demands, we need to do all we can do and ask God to do the rest. He may just see fit to make the impossible happen. We may not always get the physical rest we need, but He will give us rest for our souls – the rest most needed and the rest He promised.