“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Psalm 23
It’s too bad that shepherding is so far removed from my millennial, suburban life. Unfortunate that I can’t drive down Michigan Road toward Indianapolis and call out to the backseat gang, “Looks like those shepherds have some rich pasturing after all that rain, right?” The entire meaning of shepherds and their work can become lost or simply assumed on us, yet scripture isn’t just relative to one time in history. So, I’m thankful for author Phillip Keller and his book, A Shepherd’s Look at Psalm 23, that he uses to expose scriptural realities through the lens of an understanding herdsman. It helps the minivan-driving, modern latte-drinking sisters like myself can have a chance at knowing the depth of who our Shepherd is and why it matters that He fills this role in our lives.
“The Lord! But who is the Lord? What is His character? Does He have adequate credentials to be my Shepherd—my manager—my owner? And if He does—how do I come under His control? In what way to I become the object of His concern and diligent care?”
When my natural tendency may be to believe a shepherd can quaintly sit on a hill and snooze while his unobserved sheep fend for themselves, Mr. Keller uses not one book, but three, to paint word pictures of what sheep and shepherds actually look like. Painstaking measures do these caretakers extend themselves to know their sheep, cultivate green pastures where they are fit to graze, foresee their needs, vigilantly ward off threats to the flock, each in due season since the needs of the hot summer months are vastly different than what it takes to make a flock thrive in winter. No, sheep cannot care for themselves. But they are needy creatures.
“When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” John 10:4, 11, 14-15.
Is this not absolutely life-altering? No doubt the Father and Son are tighter in love than anything in the universe. That same knowing love between them is for us? That we would belong so closely to our Shepherd that it is the same belongingness as Son Jesus to Father God? We long to be loved! We long to be known and cared for! Oh, and we are!
“So when the simple—though sublime—statement is made by a man or woman that ‘The Lord is my Shepherd”, it immediately implies a profound yet practical working relationship between a human being and his Maker. It links a lump of common clay to divine destiny—it means a mere mortal becomes the cherished object of divine diligence,” Keller writes, “I belong to Him simply because He deliberately chose to create me as the object of His own affection…But in his usual magnanimous manner He took the second step in attempting to restore this relationship which is repeatedly breached by men who turn their backs on him…Thus, in a second very real and vital sense I truly belong to Him simply because He has bought me again at the incredible price of His own laid-down life and shed blood.”
We are beloved of Him twice over because He carefully and wonderfully created us and He painfully and purposefully purchased us. What absurd laughter of my soul should come because silly little me, I am His dearly loved sheep.
This tricky phrase, “I shall not want.” Sigh. But we do, don’t we? We’re needy folks, lets all just agree to that. My material needs are met in stupid abundance. See? I’m writing to you on my own laptop, so by and large, my needs are met. So there was a long while when I was prayerlessly silent about my heart’s longings, not accessing God as a generous and giving Lord because I truly believed that to see Him as a Shepherd meant I don’t ask for more. That my desires are innately sinful. Like an orphan lamb, I let it fester in my heart, shamed for wanting and confused about why others had, but all the while not talking to the Good Shepherd at all.
Until I realized how small my view of Jesus was becoming. “He is not generous, He doesn’t even see, so better to lower my expectations to gain contentment.” The eerie silence with God was building a wall of distance. Taking into account the whole counsel of God was mighty freeing for my heart, starting by simply coming to Him. I’m reminded of Moses in Exodus, who spent much time with El Shaddai, God Almighty, that his face radiated the glory of God. After a particularly salty interaction with grumbly nation Israel, you know the whole golden calf incident? God lovingly renewed His covenant with them and offered to send them into their promised land, their heart’s desire. And Moses declined. He said he would prefer the presence of God over their perfect place. In essence, Moses said “Thanks, but no thanks. I would rather be where You are, God.”
Which brings me back to the Shepherd. The asking, done with a humble and sincere heart, draws me closer to my Shepherd. He already knows my desires. But have they become demands? The question is how do I respond when He says no? Oh, that I might draw near to Him again and trust He loves me and I belong to Him. That we might lay in the fold of His arm, our hearts quietly resting in His gentleness for His daughter sheep, and say, “You are my Shepherd, that is plenty.”