If you had told me last week that the world would look as it does today, I would have said that you were out of your mind. After all, we don't live in a time when disease runs rampant anymore -- that's a nightmare of the past, not present.
Admittedly, I was wrong.
Things escalated quickly to say the least.
Schools shut down, grocery store shelves were emptied, churches chose to stream their services, and now the phrases "mandatory lockdown" and "sheltering in place" seem to be next on the list of the chaotic turn of events.
Some think this is all an overblown media frenzy.
Others think it is our civic duty to "flatten the curve" by limiting unnecessary public exposure.
Still others, want to fight the panic with a resolve to live life as normally as possible until this all goes away.
Regardless of our personal opinions, the spread of COVID-19 is now something that has effected our everyday lives. Your kids are out of school through at least the end of the month...maybe longer. Your hours have been cut at work because your job can't be done "remotely." Your local grocery store is out of basic cleaning supplies or toilet paper. As a small business owner, you worry how you'll support your overhead or sign next week's paychecks if no one is shopping.
The effects are real.
The worry is real.
The uncertainty about tomorrow is real.
Last spring, I had the pleasure of reading through a book with many of our friends: A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23. If you've never read this book, I highly recommend it. It has given me the blessing of viewing my faith through the lens of walking with my Shepherd. It also brought practical lessons from "Old Testament language" that I had often read, but never understood.
Psalm 23:5, says, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows."
I've only seen someone "anointed" once in my life.
It was a traditional, high church kind of practice that was mostly symbolic. Not practical. I got the concept, but I can't say that it moved me in any capacity. So the phrase, "anoint my head with oil" used to not carry much weight to me when I came across it in Scripture.
Until I learned this one thing:
Anointing was a legitimate, common practice among Shepherds to thwart disease and parasites.
And that truth changes everything.
There are two main reasons a Shepherd will anoint his sheep: nasal flies and scab.
During the late spring and into early summer, Shepherds will keep close watch on their flock for the first signs of the nasal fly. They typically appear this time of the year and will buzz around the sheep's head, attempting to lay eggs on the sheep's nose. If they are successful, the eggs will hatch, the larvae will work their way into the sheep's nasal passage, and in advanced cases, into the brain. It's an admittedly disgusting process with intense aggravation and pain for the sheep.
Often times, the inflammation is so intense that the sheep will rub its head against the ground or posts to alleviate the irritation. Or in severe cases, a sheep will literally bang its head against trees or rocks to make it stop. This of course only causes more injury and in worst cases, death.
Because of this, shepherds keep watch for signs of panic in their flock.
As the fly season begins, sheep will shake or bob their heads continuously in an effort to bat away the buzzing flies. They'll stomp around and run themselves into exhaustion through the flock in an effort to escape the danger.
When a shepherd sees the earliest signs of unrest from nagging flies, he will take the most effective action: He will anoint his sheep.
He will cover their heads and nose in a thick balm traditionally made of linseed oil, sulfur, and tar. This concoction repels the flies and prevents the infestation.
The funny thing this, there is a marked difference in the sheep's mood once the balm has been applied. Almost immediately, the panic subsides. They no longer fidget uncomfortably or run from place to place. In fact, they visibly relax and begin to lie down in their pasture.
The second reason a shepherd will anoint his sheep is scab.
This is a common skin disease that typically begins on the head and is extremely contagious.
It doesn't help that sheep are social creatures who tend to show affection by rubbing their heads together. This means that one case of scab could quickly infect the entire flock.
When this happens, a shepherd will go to great lengths to protect the flock from scab.
He will dip each sheep entirely in a tub of this anointing oil, making sure that the head gets fully submerged. This brings healing to those already infected and brings protection against further contamination.
Now that may seem like a lot of "history" to you.
However, I can't help but to see how it relates to our daily walk as believers in this broken world. Especially in light of the current panic and upheaval we're experiencing around the spread of COVID-19.
Let's take a moment to remember that God is our Great Shepherd.
COVID-19 has not surprised Him as it has us.
He is not sequestered in Heaven wringing His hands with worry.
Just as good earthly shepherds do, He has gone before us and prepared a way.
He offers an antidote for fear, for panic, and for the dangers of a "herd mentality."
When we are tempted to succumb to fear and uncertainty -- whether that's immediate health concerns or financial worry -- we are to remind ourselves that we are in the care of a great, all knowing, and most importantly, a GOOD Shepherd.
If you find yourself banging your head against a rock, ask for His anointing.
If you are exhausted from running to escape the danger, ask for His anointing.
If you've "rubbed heads" with the wrong people and find yourself trapped, ask for His anointing.
One anointing will not protect a sheep forever, a shepherd knows it's a process that must be repeated every time danger is near. And so, may we ask again and again for His anointing. When fear strikes, let us humbly ask to be plunged in the antidote from head to toe. Let us ask to be anointed with the Holy Spirit and covered in His grace as we navigate day to day in a broken world.
May this anointing bring healing to us who are already infected with fear, worry, or doubt, and may it prevent further contamination of such dangers.
If you "rub your head together" with others throughout this chaos, may they benefit from the healing balm your Shepherd has placed on you.
You are not alone.
You have a Shepherd who knows all things.
And, most importantly, He has a GOOD heart towards you.