But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.
When I was little I got lost one day at a water park. I was spending the day with my family and we were having a great time. Towards the back of the park there was a new water slide I wanted to try. It was a gigantic green jungle of loops and water. I asked my parents permission to go, they said yes and said they would wait for me right where the slide seem to let out. Little did we know the multiple curves and swoops meant there were multiple places a rider could be let out.
I hurried up the slippery stairs, waited my turn, then jumped feet first through the green portal. I love that feeling you get when you’re flying on amusement rides, but it didn’t compare at all to the stomach drop I felt as soon as I exited the slide and looked around to find my parents.
They weren’t there. What’s even worse, I had no idea where I was. Had the slide actually teleported me somewhere else in the park? (I was a kid infatuated with sci-fi so give me a break)
So I did what any kid who grew up on Barney would do: found an adult with a uniform and asked for help. The two of us began to jog towards the entrance of the water slide to see if my parents were still there. During this time my parents had figured out what happened and had themselves began running around the waterslide to see where I ended up.
A few minutes in something happened. I caught a glimpse of my mom’s voice. Instinctively I began to run towards it. The uniformed guy I had been with also began to yell for me, “Hey kid stay with me, don’t get lost again.” But I kept running in the opposite direction towards the voice I knew.
I picture this scene when I read this verse. But I am also very aware of how I have failed to live it: they will never follow a stranger. How many times have I followed unfamiliar voices because of what they promised me? How many times have I stumbled off track because I chose to listen to something easier, something more natural?
This is why it is so vital to learn to recognize the voice of our Lord. What could have happened to me if I had followed some stranger when I was lost, if I had not kept my ears attentive towards my parents? He is the good shepherd and when he is shouting out our name its usually for our own safety.
On the other end, we must also guard ourselves from becoming familiar with strangers’ voices. If we become careless about what we hear and what we allow ourselves to dwell on, it won’t be long until this verse becomes tragically inverted. If we do not practice hearing God’s voice eventually he will become the stranger, the voice we flee from.
I have hidden you word in my heart that I might not [forget] you. Ps 119:11
It seems that getting lost can be a fortunate opportunity if used correctly. We pray hard when our needs are vibrant. We seek God diligently when we need an answer soon. And so it is with our listening. Sometimes it takes us getting lost in order to want to hear his voice again and be found.