John 10:3 To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
In Israel at the time of Jesus it was customary for the shepherd to place the sheep in a communal pen near town every night, a sheepfold. In the village fold the sheep would be mixed with the sheep of other local shepherds overnight. When the gate was opened in the morning, the sheep wouldn’t stampede out like cattle but would need to be called by a familiar sound or voice of their own shepherd.
From birth onward, endless hours are spent by the shepherd with his sheep. No wonder they would be in tune with his call and his unique voice. The shepherd, in turn, knows them well enough to name them: Joshua, Grumpy, Ruth, Frisky, Sam, Fluffy, Precious, Slow-poke. Special names or nicknames are given out based on circumstances, appearance, character, the opinion of the shepherd.
In addition to using his sheep’s names, the shepherd would call them in his own distinctive “voice” using certain words in his unique way. Sing song perhaps, with clucks of his tongue, interspersed with whistles, each shepherd having a signature sound. Each sheep would recognize that “voice,” hear its name, emerge from the fold, and follow the shepherd.
The shepherd gets a few leaders moving and the whole flock follows. He calls the stragglers by name, too.
God’s names for His people are tender and kind, though we do not deserve them. We are works in progress, but He sees us complete in Him, as we someday will be. We will even have a special heavenly name that God will give to us on a white stone, a promise to the overcomers (Rev. 2:17).
I believe our special names will be the culmination of our life’s work and journey, like Faithful, Loving, Patient, Merciful, Fearless, Compassionate, or Hopeful. I sometimes think of what my name might someday be, a mix of my life’s challenges and how I met them, perhaps.
May we listen for and respond to the Shepherd’s voice. May we live heavenly minded, in a manner consistent with a heavenly name that God will someday give us. We might even add “Became…” before those names, whatever good thing God is working out in our lives.