I am not a shepherd. Well, some days I feel like a shepherd. However, my flock are of the human variety between the ages of eight and ten. They have their own interesting and peculiar needs. But I am not a shepherd of actual sheep.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Psalm 23:1-3 (NIV)
God as my shepherd is a common theme throughout Scripture. Herding sheep was a familiar occupation. David was a shepherd. His ability to make the connection between his occupation and how he saw God moving and acting made complete sense. A shepherd in David’s time was on duty all day every day. The sheep were needy and not the most intelligent creatures God created. It was the shepherd’s job to lead his flock out from their overnight camp. He needed to find the sources of water for the sheep. He ensured that none of the sheep wandered away and he did role call at the end of the day making sure that none had gone astray as they made the journey home at the end of the day. The shepherd would also guard the sheep fold at night because predators are not just busy during the day. In the care of a good shepherd, the sheep were well supplied. They had food, water, rest, and care. They were not in want.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4 (NIV)
Watching a sheepherding demonstration was eye-opening. The dogs listened very carefully to the commands of the shepherd. Each dog had its own set of commands so that the dogs would be able to work as a team, each doing its own job in order to move the sheep from one location to the next. Without the shepherd giving the commands, the dogs were not helpful and the sheep would move wherever they so chose. Sheep are in need of constant care. They are easily susceptible to predators who threaten them. They are easily exhausted if they are having to run for distances to escape. A shepherd must be constantly vigilant to protect his flock. Sheep are also prone to health problems. They need care especially of their eyes and ears because insects commonly take up residence there. A good shepherd watches and knows his flock intimately in order to keep them in good health. He is not afraid to act on behalf of his sheep in order to ensure their welfare.
I am very much like a sheep! I am in need of constant care. I don’t like to admit it but it’s true. I attempt to take care of myself. But if I am honest, I need a great deal of help and support. Like sheep, my feet will wander down different pathways in attempts to make the best choices. Sometimes the path of least resistance is the path with the most traps hidden on it. These moments of failure and frustration are a constant reminder that I am a poor guide. I am in constant need of the good guidance that my Father gives to me. When I undertake things on my own ambition and strength, I am almost guaranteed failure.
I am in need of godly protection and comfort. My tender spirit is susceptible to all sorts of influences. I easily believe lies that masquerade as truth. The Liar, Satan is a master at disguising himself as truth. He is only too happy to use repetition to get me to believe the lies he whispers. I have believed him too often. I forget to stack up the lies up against God’s Word. I neglect to refute the lies with truth. And I swallow the lie believing it completely. God knows how vulnerable my spirit is and He uses his rod and staff as the means to call me back. They reveal truth to my soul and then I must go through the process of renouncing the lie and claiming truth. I am in need of constant protection.
Because the presence of God is always with me, I do not need to live in fear. He desires to draw me closer to His side where I can walk in the comfort of His shelter and care. He aches for me to walk in the ways of truth so that my spirit is guarded and protected. Regardless of the circumstances that come across my path, no joy or sorrow can remove me from the certainty of His presence.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:5, 6 (NIV)
You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing. Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life. Psalm 23:5, 6 (MSG)
The shepherd ensures there is enough food for the sheep to forage. The shepherd also checks the land ensuring there are no harmful plants which could poison the sheep. Sitting down to a family meal is a treasured event. Today, it is Thanksgiving Sunday and many families will gather to enjoy turkey with all of the trimmings. Blessings abound at a holiday table. Blessings are part of the Shepherds table too. Goodness, love and beauty are part of His table experience. I love how The Message says that beauty and love will chase after me. Chase seems more active than follow. Chase has a purpose – to catch the one ahead. This is not a chase after experience when I am attempting to evade the one who is “it.” Rather, I want to be caught by the beauty and love of Christ, my Shepherd. I want to be surrounded by His presence. I want the delight of who my God is, who my Shepherd is to characterize my life.
I may not totally understand all it means to be a shepherd, but I am so grateful that my God shepherds me!