God Our Shepherd
What comes into your mind when you think about God? What character qualities and images enter your mind when you think of Him? What we believe about God is important because it determines virtually everything else about us. It determines what we believe about right and wrong. It determines what we believe about the purpose of our life. It determines how we respond to the struggles and trials of life, as well as to life’s so-called “successes.” It determines how we feel about life after death . . . and so many other things.
Many influences determine our beliefs about God and what He is like: our experiences in life, our relationships in life, and even our own desires and preferences. But if our relationship with God is going to be a genuine elationship, our beliefs about Him must be based on the way He truly is—the way He has revealed Himself through His Word.
The Bible reveals the nature and character of God in many ways. For example, we learn about God through His actions described in scripture. We learn about God’s character through the names given to God in scripture.
And scripture further reveals the nature of God through the use of colorful metaphors. God, described as our Rock, speaks of His stability, God is our Refuge speaks of safety, God is our Strong Tower speaks of security, and God as a Consuming Fire speaks of His righteous judgment.
Perhaps the most endearing and frequently used metaphor for God is that of Shepherd. God is described as Shepherd 80 times in the Bible. The first person to speak of God as Shepherd was Jacob, a man whose name means “deceiver”— not the kind of person we would likely think to be among the Lord’s sheep. Yet he said, “God…has been my shepherd all my life to this day.” Beneath Jacob’s manipulating ways, he had a hunger to know God and be blessed by Him. Jesus also spoke of Himself as the “Good Shepherd” who “lays down his life for his sheep.”
David, the shepherd boy who later became king, wrote a beloved Psalm exclaiming how God had faithfully cared for him, as a shepherd cares for his sheep. The Psalm was likely written when David was driven out of Jerusalem by his enemies, away from the place of worship and fellowship with the Lord. Yet in the midst of trouble, David reflected on the Lord’s faithfulness in caring for him.
The Theme of Life
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
David affirms that no matter what is happening to him, no matter how he feels, the Lord is his Shepherd. Because this is true, he knows he is in good hands. He knows the Lord will supply what he needs in life, just as a good shepherd provides for his sheep.
When we call the Lord our Shepherd, it is really a humbling admission—for we acknowledge we are no different from sheep, and the Bible doesn’t speak of sheep in flattering ways! Jesus saw people as “distressed and dispirited, like sheep without a shepherd.” A professor of philosophy at Bethel College used to say that sheep are prima facie evidence against evolution and the “survival of the fittest”—because sheep could never survive without a shepherd! Without a shepherd, sheep are helpless—easily frightened and distressed. And that is what we are like without a shepherd to guide us.
To call the Lord our shepherd is also greatly encouraging. In the ancient near east, kings were called shepherds. Their duty was to protect and provide for their people. But our Shepherd is no mere human; He is God Almighty. He is the One who made us and knows each one of us by name.
David, in his Psalm, explains three major ways the Lord shepherds our lives.
The Daily Rhythm of Life
He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Sheep, in their daily cycle of life, spend time in pastures and along pathways. In the pastureland, the sheep are rested, nourished, and watered by the shepherd. As a result, the sheep are restored, refreshed, and strengthened. Just like sheep, we too need to be restored in our spirit, soul, and heart. Spiritual nourishment comes through daily disciplines of prayer and worship, silence, and fellowship. It comes, too, through reading and meditating on God’s word. The Psalmist says, “Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still” (Psalm 30:15). We must see these disciplines of the spirit as absolutely necessary to our spiritual life and health. We must spend time in the pastureland.
The other side of sheep’s daily life was spent traveling the pathways. When it came time to seek out a new location for grazing, the shepherd knew exactly where to find it, and he guided his flock to that place. So it is with God as our Shepherd. He guides us along the pathways of life.
When we need guidance in life— which is all the time, the Lord grants us His wisdom. He is faithful to provide the guidance we need to live lives that are righteous, in keeping with His character and will. And He does it for his name’s sake . . . for the sake of his own name or reputation as our faithful Shepherd. When we are in need of wisdom to do the right thing in life, we can count on Him to guide us one step at a time as we surrender to Him, depend on Him, and stay alert to His voice. He does this primarily through our prayerful meditation on His word, and through the counsel of godly friends. That’s how we gain a heart of wisdom. Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.
The Seasons of Life
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Often, just like sheep, we find ourselves either “in the shadow” or “in the sunlight” enjoying God’s blessings. In order to lead his flock to better pastures, the shepherd would guide his flock through dangerous canyons and ravines, often with predators lurking in the shadows. To protect his flock the shepherd carried a rod, a short instrument used to fight off such predators. He also carried his staff, a long pole that he used to guide his sheep and redirect them when they wandered off.
In life, inevitably we find ourselves navigating some dark valleys. And when we do, it is tempting to think that perhaps we have missed God’s direction for our life. But to be going through a dark valley in life is not necessarily a sign that we are out of step with the Lord. Of course, it is possible that we are in such a situation because we have wandered off from the Lord. And if so, He will let us know and will guide us back. But it is likely that we are “in the shadows” because that is exactly where the Lord has led us. Scripture records examples of this:
As soon as Abraham arrived in the land promised to him by God, there was a famine. Shortly after Jesus was baptized by John, the Holy Spirit led him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. It is not uncommon for God to shepherd us into difficulty, in part to test and purify our faith. God always knows what we need.
But during the season when we are “in the shadows,” the Lord promises us His Presence. The Lord is always with us, but in times of trouble, the Lord makes His presence especially known to us, guiding us, providing for us, comforting us. During these times, our relationship with the Lord can change. It can become more personal and meaningful, because we gain a sharper awareness of our total need for God’s faithfulness and ependability. We learn that the Lord is bigger than any trouble we face.Job said, after his season of suffering, “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now (after having been through his trials) my eye sees You” (Job 42:5). It is often in the valley that we see the Lord in a new way, and truly come to know Him.
But there comes a time when God leads us through the valley out to a season of blessing.
The Psalmist describes the season of blessing as a time of feasting at table with Him, perhaps in celebration of the defeat of our spiritual enemies encountered in the valley. It is a time of refreshment, a time of abundant provision. The cup of blessing overflows—the outcome of remaining faithful during the dark seasons of life. And this promise keeps us going during the tough times in life. When we are in the valley, it is tempting to want to flee, to turn and run. But when we run away from the Lord during times of difficulty, we forfeit the blessing that may be enjoyed as a result of following Him through the valley. We forfeit the deeper relationship with the Lord that can be gained by following Him through to the end—when something new and fresh emerges in our life.
The Rest of Our Life
Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
What emerges out of our experience of following God in the daily rhythm of life, and in the seasons of life, is the perspective of hope for the rest of our life. Just as the body cannot live without food and water, so our soul cannot live long without hope. Our God is a God of hope, both for this life and for the next!
Hope is described asGod’s goodness following us all of our days, and when our days on earth are over, we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. This includes our hope of eternity in heaven with the Lord. And this is not just “wishful thinking.” It is an attitude of anticipation and expectation of God’s faithfulness all the days of our life. Why? Because this is God’s character. He is the Good Shepherd.
Prayer: Lord, may we have an increased awareness of our dependence on You as our Shepherd—the One who nourishes and restores our souls, who guides us in living righteous lives, who comforts us in trials, and relieves our fears. Thank you for providing for us seasons of blessing and giving us hope in your goodness and love… each day of our lives…for the rest of our lives, and for eternity to come. In Jesus’ name. Amen.