One of the most beloved and well known Psalms is Psalm 23. Most of us no longer live in an agrarian society, yet there is almost universal comfort in the thought that “The Lord is my Shepherd.” The words are so reassuring throughout the Psalm, speaking of His provision, protection, and presence, His leading and loving, restoration and refreshment. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil for you are with me”—is there a solace more reassuring than that?

The understanding of God as Shepherd goes all the way back to Jacob, who mentioned it twice when blessing his son, Joseph. He noted that God had been his own shepherd all of his life, and that the Shepherd had enabled Joseph to remain steady in the midst of all he had to deal with in his life (Genesis 48:15; 49:24).

David takes up the theme of shepherd, not just in this Psalm, but in that he had been called by God to be the shepherd of Israel (2 Samuel 5:2; Psalm 78). Through this office, David becomes a type of Christ—a forerunner of Jesus’ eventual fulfillment of the role, as foretold in Micah 5:2-4 (see also Matthew 2:6). It is a title, a name, He keeps into eternity, for there we read, “For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water’” (Revelation 7:17a).

Where David speaks of the Lord as a Shepherd leading him beside the still waters, John notes that the eternal Shepherd will lead us to springs of living water. This living water was something prophesied in the Old Testament (Jer. 2:13; 17:13; Zech.14:8), and that our Shepherd, Jesus, promised to give to those who believe (John 4:8,10,11; 7:38). Those of us who have already received this promise of living water may find it hard to remember or imagine what it is like to be without a Shepherd to provide for us. It is a hopeless state that so moves the heart of God (Nu. 27:17; I Ki. 22:17; Is. 13:14; Matt 9:36) that He was willing to send the Son to be the Shepherd, One willing to give His very life for His sheep, so that we would not be alone, defenseless, destined to perish (John 10:1-18).

Let that thought of Shepherdlessness sink in. The sad truth is that most sheep don’t realize when they are Shepherdless, they aren’t smart enough to know they even need one. They just wander around, nibbling here or there, until trouble strikes. They run out of the provision of grass, or the waters are too troubled for them to be refreshed, or they fall in and their wool, heavy with water, pulls them under. They are suddenly faced with the wolves of life and are defenseless, alone. Our Good Shepherd delivers us from all of that. He provides, He stills, He leads, He protects us with His very life. He even stirs us with His own compassion for those who are Shepherdless, moving us to tell them of the wonders of having such an amazing Shepherd in our lives.

Jesus said that He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him. They hear His voice and follow Him. Think of this! The God of the universe, our Creator, the Lord Almighty, the name above all names takes time to know us! Us—little specks on a planet that’s a little speck in the galaxy, that’s a little speck in the universe. He knows us. This is essential, for He says that there will come a day when He will say to some, “Depart from me, for I never knew you.” What terror! It is one thing to think we know Him, but what is most crucial is that He knows us. The sign that He knows us is that He speaks to us. And the sign we know our Shepherd is that we hear His voice, recognize it, and follow Him. We won’t follow the voice of another shepherd. When He speaks through His word and His Spirit, do we obey? Then we are His—He knows us and we know Him. Further, we must ask ourselves: Are we in His word? Are we reading to hear Him? Are we responding to His convictions and leadings with obedience?

That is the sheep’s sole responsibility. We are not responsible to find pasture, or still water. We are not responsible to protect ourselves, to pick our own path, or lead the way. We are responsible to stick close and obediently follow His lead. It sounds simple, but that is actually a tall order for sheep. Sheep are actually a bit silly, even stupid. Wandering is a way of life. Shepherds were known to break the leg of a wandering lamb, then carry them close to their hearts as the lamb healed, feeding them by hand. The lamb would then so fully bond to the shepherd that it would not wander anymore. Have you ever felt that sort of breaking in your life, that sense that the Shepherd was carrying you, attending to you in personal ways? Did that help you to listen and walk more closely to Him, and not feel so prone to wander? How well are you attending to your responsibility to stay close, and obediently follow? Have you wandered a little too far away? Are you being stubborn and not very responsive to the voice you know is His?

The best way to stay close to the Shepherd is to constantly remind yourself that He not only was willing to lay down His life for you, He did just that. He is that committed to you. Remind yourself of how often He has provided for you. Take some time to make a list. Do an inventory of your Shepherd’s interventions in your life: for what has He forgiven you? How many times has He delivered you from danger—whether spiritual, emotional, physical, relational? How many times has He led you by still waters—times of refreshment, times of peace in the midst of turbulence? How many times has He led you through the valley of the shadow of death, when fear would be normal, but He enabled you to get beyond fear? For those of us who are “not of this sheep pen”—the Gentiles, the nations beyond His people, Israel— we should be awed and humbled that He would bring us to Himself, and make us of one flock, a flock of the redeemed.

This is the wonder of our Shepherd! As you take inventory, allow yourself to pause and worship, repeatedly. Confess your wanderings. Recommit to listen for His voice and follow Him more immediately and obediently. Our Good Shepherd is amazing, indeed!

by Sheri Cook, Director of Special Ministries