“The Lord is my shepherd.” This simple statement opens the most well-known psalm in the world–Psalm 23. Even unbelievers know these words. Books, movies, and television shows quote these verses. Sometimes when a phrase is repeated often, it loses its meaning. It’s edges become worn down from use, becoming dull. How often do people say, “The Lord is my shepherd,” without registering its true intention?
Recently, after some heavy searching about God’s call for me, he brought Psalm 23 to mind. I reread all six verses with fresh eyes. What an impact on my soul! I plan to share thoughts on this psalm over the next few weeks. Today, I’ll start with the first sentence.
What does it mean to say the Lord is my shepherd? I’m a teacher and a writing nerd, so I’m going to give you definitions. I looked up the term shepherd and found, “One who tends and rears sheep.” That was a bit vague for me, so I searched for synonyms. I told you I was a nerd. The following terms relate to shepherding.
A shepherd directs his sheep. Basically, he tells them where to go and when. He does this by physically guiding with a staff or with voice commands and whistles. God directs us the same way. The Bible physically reminds us of our Father’s instructions for our lives, and the Holy Spirit leads the way in our daily walk. When I say that he is my shepherd, I declare that I will follow where he leads. As Proverbs 3:6 states, “Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.” Taking the path he recommends is the hard part. It requires laying down your own desires for his. It requires resignation.
In order to manage a flock, a shepherd must do more than direct; he must also keep the sheep in line. Without attention, they can wander into danger, eat poisonous plants, or drown in rushing water. Some can be easily prodded back into the fold; more stubborn sheep need to be pulled back. That’s why there’s a hook at the end of the shepherd’s staff. The Shepherd keeps us in line through correction in his word, from brothers and sisters in Christ, and by the Holy Spirit. Saying that he is my shepherd means that I agree to heed his correction. This stubborn, Southern American girl doesn’t always appreciate the input or the feel of his hook on my neck pulling me back in line. But God’s correction protects me and shows his love for me. “For the Lord corrects those he loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights.” Proverbs 3:12
From birth, the shepherd oversees every aspect of a sheep’s life. He determines where it goes, what it eats, and where it drinks. He shears his sheep, applies medication, and, in some cases, inseminates. Likewise, our heavenly shepherd wants to work in all aspects of our lives. He desires to remove our baggage and heal our wounds. He wants to help us grow more in our faith and make us more like Christ. But he won’t do it, if he doesn’t have permission. When I call him my shepherd, I’m allowing him to work in my messy life. “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2
The Lord is my Shepherd
The first sentence of Psalm 23 is a bold statement. It affirms that God can direct, manage, and work in a Christian’s life. It is a declaration of surrender. But it is also a declaration of confidence. It’s the framework on which the rest of the verses hang. Once I submit to The Shepherd, I also receive all the beautiful blessings that come from following him. The remaining verses outline all of the rewards of walking in his path. We’ll talk about those in the next few weeks. Until then, ask yourself, “Is the Lord truly my shepherd?”
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