Today when I take the chickens their daily rations, my big Brahma hen tries to lead a prison bust, making a break for the door with half the flock at her heels. I dutifully block the doorway. A stiff north wind rushes down through the pine grove and across the small pasture (if you can call the unique blend of weeds growing out there pasture). The snow isn’t exactly “falling.” It’s racing horizontally across the barnyard, endlessly restless.
When we first moved to the farm, my cousin snuck through the yard and left eleven feathered friends in our newly-acquired coop (despite our protests). Had he not always been one of my favorite cousins, we might have protested more loudly. We knew nothing about keeping poultry.
We learned that first winter that chickens are prone to pneumonia… and that their combs freeze and turn black… and that their eggs freeze and crack. The coop was large and the flock was small. Even heat lamps couldn’t combat the cold. Nearly half of our layers died.
So, today I keep my ward of two dozen layers, and the body heat they’ve generated, imprisoned. Well, that’s how they see it anyway. They’re accustomed to their freedom, wandering through the yard at their leisure, consuming anything not fenced off. They resent their boundaries. However, today doing what they want will put them in harm’s way and could even prove deadly. If only they understood I’m trying to protect them. Of course, that would be expecting a great deal from a creature whose brain could fit inside a ping pong ball with ample room to spare.
I leave food and water in their cell and bolt the door behind me. The wind grabs me from behind and shoves me toward the house. As I race along with the snow, God calls me to consider how chicken-like I often am.
Like the chickens, I grow accustomed to my freedom, wandering about aimlessly doing what I please, saying what I please, eating what I please, spending money as I please… whenever I please. Yes, a few small fences keep me from total indulgence, but there is so much out there to feed the flesh: media, music, entertainment, gossip, endless and meaningless chatter, junk food, lazing about, obsession with our physical appearance, new décor, better and faster technology, big toys, little toys, you know, stuff. Stuff that, when left unchecked, will put me in harm’s way and may even prove deadly.
So, God gives me boundaries. He makes His will known in the living Word, the Bible. His commandments are life-giving. When I walk in obedience to them, His boundaries protect me from Satan’s fiery darts, and free me from my own flesh’s desires (both of which are hell-bent on my demise). David captured the paradox so well in Psalm 119:44-45, “So I will keep Your law continually, forever and ever. And I will walk at liberty, for I seek Your precepts.” I enjoy the greatest freedom when I willingly submit to God’s lordship… when I walk in obedience.
Too often I’m like that silly bird, foolishly trying to escape God’s protective care under the delusion I’m a prisoner. I try to make a break for it, knowing that satisfying me is a great deal of fun. Well, at least for a while. Then I begin to see sin taking its toll on my body and soul, putting me in harm’s way and leading me toward death. If only I understood He is trying to protect me. Intellectually I do understand, but my choices often betray my heart.
If my brain could fit inside a ping pong ball with ample room to spare, running after my own desires would be understandable. I’d just be following my natural instincts. But unlike my hen, I’m created in the image of God. I have the ability to discern my options and the will to choose whom I will serve, my Friend or my foe. I need strength and wisdom to use my freedom in Christ to the glory of God.