The past two weekends I’ve found myself high up in the mountains, getting to enjoy the Lord’s creation and the great things that he has for us. The first weekend was camping with a group of men and we had a chance to climb a mountain that was 16,500 feet above sea level, which was an awesome experience.
The second weekend was a trip with classmates to a very beautiful and popular tourist area to contend with the crowds and take lots of pictures.
Besides the mountains, the common thread between the two places was yaks. There were yaks everywhere. On the side of the road, on the mountains, hanging up in stores in town, and on my plate. I had a good time thinking about yaks and telling my friends yak facts that I’d just looked up on my phone.
Like other bovine animals, yaks are herbivores and need to move around in packs eating grass. They’re usually herded by nomadic herders who keep them from overgrazing and destroying their chances for more food.
As we climbed the mountain last weekend, my friend Ben and I followed trails that had been presumably trodden by yaks, thanking them for knowing the best way up the mountain. Along the way, however we kept coming across bones and skulls, often several at a time, indicating that they’d become a meal for something (probably a wolf, bear, or snow leopard). This made for spooky photos, dumb jokes, and kept me coming back to a weird spiritual lesson about community that I think I’ve learned from studying Psalm 23.
My line of thinking was that Christian living is a lot like being a yak. You get to go to a lot of really cool places, see awesome stuff, go up high and go down low, but you can’t really do it on your own. In order to survive, yaks need to be constantly fed and watered (in addition to physical food and water we need spiritual food and water). The yaks whose skulls we were coming across had been separated from their herd somehow, and whether because of disease, foolishness, stubbornness, or poor herding, they became an easy target for the predators.
Much like yaks, we need our herd. We need to stick together to keep from getting lost, hurt, eaten, or wandering away and falling down a cliff. We’re able to do so much more and be much better followers of Christ when we do it in community. In 1 Thessalonians 5:14 Paul gets onto the yak herd theme, saying, “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”
Being a part of herd keeps yaks safe from danger, but I imagine it also helps them to get the things they need. Much like yaks following each other to water and grass, we as Christians are able to teach, encourage, guide and love each other as we seek to follow Jesus.
A lot of times in scripture Jesus refers to himself as a shepherd, and we’re referred to as sheep, but I think with my rudimentary understanding of them, this picture continues to work when we replace sheep with yaks.
Jesus calls himself the good shepherd (herder) who looks after us, and comes after us when we get lost, working to restore us to him and to his flock (herd) because he loves us. When one sheep gets restored to his flock, he is pumped, he rejoices about it because they’re back(Luke 15).
These are things I know, and things that I love and appreciate, but so often forget. I think I can coast on my own and be good to go because I think I know how to feed myself or protect myself, but in reality if I don’t stay with the herd, and follow the shepherd and allow him to feed and water me, I’ll end up a pile of bones on the side of the mountain. So today I’m rejoicing and thanking God for yaks, because they serve as a reminder about the nature of God.