SHEEP respond better to a man walking ahead of them, looking out for them and leading them, than they do to a man forcing them ahead from the rear. I know this from my boyhood farm experience. Perhaps that's one reason why, in the Gospel of John, Christ Jesus speaks of himself as our ''shepherd.'' He says many comforting things about his role as ''the good shepherd.'' One of the most encouraging to me is his statement ''And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice'' (10:4).
It's that phrase ''he goeth before them'' that stands out to me. It calls forth a wonderful image of God's guiding love, in the person of Jesus, leading his flock--leading us--forth and ensuring that the path ahead of us is safe. Though the man Jesus is no longer with us, the spirit of love and truth that he so clearly embodied comes to us directly from God. This is the Christ, and it remains with us forever. Jesus showed us what the Christ is and does both in his gracious and powerful words and with the unquestionable authority of healing.
This God-given authority is important. I know that when I press ahead in my own affairs, sure that I know best what to do, I am generally mistaken. I sometimes have to retrace my steps and even to undo some misdeeds. But when I admit my need for God's guidance and am willing to follow it, things turn out quite a bit better! I'm safest--and happiest--when I'm being most like the sheep that Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, describes in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. She writes of sheep as representing ''innocence; inoffensiveness; those who follow their leader'' (p. 594). When the Christ-spirit is leading me forward, the way is always right.
Jesus made clear that his spiritual authority rested in the power and presence of his Father. His Father, of course, is our Father--is God, our heavenly Father-Mother. Isn't it clear from reading the Gospels that Jesus saw and heard and felt the voice and guidance of God right at his side every moment? And what his Father was telling him about life and good and health and man was far better than even the best of the world's view.
Christ Jesus healed instantly such things as leprosy and blindness because he drew his power and authority from God. And isn't it logical that when we follow Christ in our day-to-day lives, we have a leader we never need doubt.
Because Christ's leading rests on the nature of God, we follow better when we understand more of what God is. God is infinite Spirit. And since man is His likeness, man is spiritual. It's only natural that God creates only spiritual things. Matter or materiality is really not in the question here. But a material life full of turmoil, hurry, danger, is not the life God creates. If we look deeply into the lives and stories of the Bible, we see the triumph of life based in God, Spirit. We see also the central role of Christ in this victory. This is really what the Bible is about.
Following Christ can and should be the starting point in our own lives and puts our days on the solid ground of life in Spirit. Yes, we still have paths to take, decisions to make, demands to meet. But when we go forward with a glimpse of God as Spirit and of ourselves as the children of infinite Spirit, we have Christ as our guide as we move ahead.
This is not to say that we won't sometimes feel pushed by worldly thought. Ego, worry, selfishness, and the like can appear to be what's driving us forward. But when we look to those qualities of thought associated with Christ Jesus--meekness, gratitude, love, forgiveness, charity, generosity, and nobility, for example--and allow them to motivate us, we'll find ourselves rejecting worldly motives and being led safely by Christ.
Still, the question ''How can I know when I am really following God's guidance?'' can remain. Perhaps the answer lies in Jesus' promise ''and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.'' We can quietly observe our own thinking about what we are doing. If it is characterized by the peaceful yet clear elements of Christly thought, we are hearing God's voice. He will not fail. He is the good Shepherd, and He is always at His post.