“The Lord is my shepherd” Psalm 23:1
David’s psalm about God as our shepherd is among the best known and most loved of all David’s writings. Yet it was never meant to be a nice poetic thought. It was David’s reality. It is meant to be our reality too.
If God is our shepherd, then what are we?
“Know that the LORD is God, he is the one who made us, we did not make ourselves. We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” Psalm 100:3
Jesus, our Lord, described all of His followers as sheep, calling Himself the good shepherd, thus putting Himself in the place of ‘The Lord’ of Psalm 23:1.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” John 10:11
“I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and My sheep know me. Just as the Father knows Me I know the Father, and I lay down My life for the sheep.” John 10:14,15
Like it or not God thinks of you as a sheep. Thankfully you are not a goat, since that has rather unpleasant connotations in the Bible. You are one of God’s sheep, or you’re supposed to be.
I once had to catch an old goat on a large farm. Several goats had to be rounded up and they split in different directions. I set my target on the old hairy goat named Abraham. He was a wiry creature and I chased him around about 100 acres of the farm. He found hiding places and he could get up more speed than I could for short bursts, so I must have followed him around for over an hour. Finally, as we both tired, he stood in the long grass and, as I approached, simply dropped out of sight. I wasn’t fooled and managed to get right to him.
But that’s when the real fun began. He was as stubborn as anything and I had to get help just to pull him back onto his feet. Then to pull him toward the trailer we had waiting for him took all the energy I had left in me.
In my pastoral years I have encountered some people like that too.
When we had finally dragged Abraham onto the trailer I realised I was bleeding in several places from various falls and scratches over the previous hour. I was so focused on capturing the goat that I did not realise how bruised and bleeding I was.
I’m glad that normal pastoral life isn’t about chasing goats all day.
Sheep, on the other hand, are normally compliant, even silent when they are being sheared. Sheep know what they like and don’t like, and they can be a handful when you have to manage them at close quarters, but in general sheep are cooperative and easy to handle.
In Biblical times shepherding had a significant difference to what we know today. Today we focus on ‘big is better’ and have moved away from hands-on farming in many ways. Today sheep are processed in large flocks, with automated systems.
Biblical shepherds knew their sheep and their sheep knew them, not just the sound of their motorbike or truck. Biblical shepherds were with their sheep, caring for them, and carrying them if need be. The sheep were regularly counted and the shepherd would pursue the lost sheep.
So it is with us and the Lord. We are not just a number, with a computer chip on our ear, but we get God’s personal attention and care. Our shepherd walks with us, leads us personally, and has his rod and staff close at hand to assist us.
All that said, the point I want to make is that we need to see ourselves as sheep. That speaks of us trusting our Shepherd and allowing Him to lead us.
Goats have a mind of their own and will doggedly resist compliance. But as God’s sheep you are challenged to give up your selfish independence and pride and allow God to set the direction for you. As a sheep you are led to places the Shepherd chooses. You don’t get to pick and choose your own preferences.
That means you allow God to take you into dark places, like the Valley of the Shadow of Death, spoken of in Psalm 23. That’s not a place you would choose to go. But you go through it, because that dark place is simply on the path to where the Shepherd wants you to go. The Valley of the Shadow was not the destination, but part of the scenery on your journey. We walk ‘through’ it, not to it.
“Truly, 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 comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
We fear dark and challenges places but as sheep we find our comfort in our Shepherd. The fact that He is with us and that He has equipment to protect us causes us to be completely free of fear. “I will fear no evil”.
So we see that as sheep we come to a place of trust and of relationship with our Shepherd, and we come to a place of peace and security, knowing God has everything under control and is with us in our darkest moments.
The prophet Jeremiah reveals the benefits of being sheep, when God described godly shepherds and the impact they would have on the flock.
“I will set up shepherds over them which will feed them: and they will not be afraid any more, or be discouraged, and neither will they lack anything, says the Lord.” Jeremiah 23:4
With Christ as our shepherd these are the benefits we enjoy as well.
So let me try this little test on you, to help you see if you are a good ‘sheep’ or not.
Do you trust in Christ as your Shepherd, resting in the assurance that He has everything under control?
Do you look to the Lord every time you feel unsettled or in danger?
Do you find your comfort in Him?
Do you find that the things you really need are being provided, and that life is filled with real blessings, even if not with the things you might want or others might taunt you with?
Do you find that you can face each new day with a sense of peace, joy and purpose, knowing whatever the day brings it is in God’s plan for you and God will provide all you need to work through the challenges and issues of the day?
If you can answer ‘Yes’ to those questions I would say you’re pretty good at being a ‘sheep’. And that’s good, since that’s what you are and what you’re meant to be.
If you are stubborn, insisting on your own way and your own wants, resenting what God is giving you and where you have ended up, then I’m guessing there’s some ‘goat’ in you which you need to repent of.
May the Lord, Who is your Shepherd, lead you into wonderful relationship with Him, where He can hold you, comfort you, lead and guide you, and take you wherever He wants you to go, and you can enjoy being His forever.