“Be a bellwether!” You don’t see that on motivational posters hanging in classrooms. You don’t hear it in pep rallies or board meetings. But you should!
In its present day vernacular a bellwether is a trendsetter, an indicator of the future, or a gauge for future trends. (e.g. the Apple corporation is the bellwether for technological advances). By this definition, I am, by no means, a bellwether. I might be one of the latest adapting humans I know. I still own an iphone 4. I like paper calendars. I listen to CDs in my car.
However, the term actually came from a shepherding practice used in the Middle East and Europe.
When leading their flocks full of personality, some shepherds actually learned to lead through a few sheep. They trained a few particular sheep to listen closely to their voices and to be attuned to their location. Eventually, the shepherds placed a bell around the neck of these “wethers” (thus, the term bellwether). The bellwether served as twofold help to the shepherd. First, the shepherd could listen for the sounds of the bell which would indicate the location and his flock. Secondly, other sheep would follow the bellwether as it followed the shepherd.
This original definition of a bellwether has become a beacon for my heart and soul. In a culture full of influencers, this is a kind of influence I can wrap my heart around. David, the Shepherd-turned-king of Ancient Israel, knew a thing or twenty about leading stubborn animals. His expertise leading animals colored the way He saw the Lord as His own Good Shepherd, as seen so obviously in Psalm 23, but also in Psalm 32.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eyes upon you. Be not like a horse or mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord (Psalm 32:9-10).
This entire psalm describes the blessing of being forgiven through honest confession and walking in constant humility and dependence. David knew a thing about being a horse or mule without understanding, as he had stubbornly ignored the Lord and forcefully gone his own way into adultery and murder. He uses his painful experience to call others to stay rather than stray, to invite God’s people to be humbly led by their Good Shepherd.
Stay close to His staff, for He leads to still waters even through valleys shadowed by death. Be attentive to His Spirit’s gentle nudges and slight course corrections. Allow yourself to be led. Make it easy for your Savior-Shepherd to guide you. Be a bellwether whose life helps others find and follow their Good Shepherd.
A Psalm of Life
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.