Good Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:1-3

Sometimes we read Psalm 23 and we can think of the Lord as a gentle but weak shepherd. Can you picture it? He’s guiding the sheep along quiet waters and gently caring for them as they lie down in green pastures. It’s a very calming picture, but we might not immediately call this kind of shepherd “powerful.”

Yet, as we continue to read the Psalm, we run into the next verse which says, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” And since we don’t come from a shepherding culture, we may have no idea what it’s talking about here. The rod was for the protection of the sheep. It was used to fight off predators. The staff was meant to corral the sheep. The hook at the end of the staff was used to pull sheep back into the flock.

A modern, modified way to read verse 4 would be, “I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your shotgun and Your cattle prod, they comfort me.” In other words, the Psalmist was comforted by the Shepherd’s power to protect him and power to correct him. This kind of power is comforting. It means we don’t have to try to muster up strength that we don’t have. In John 10:11 Jesus identifies Himself as the “good shepherd.” And the only way for a shepherd to be a good shepherd was for him to be a powerful one.

We see this truth in the early life of David before he became king. David was about to fight Goliath. King Saul told David that Goliath had been a warrior from his youth. David proceeds to give King Saul his resume. And the only thing on his resume was “shepherd.” David went on to explain that his training as a shepherd was as good or better than Goliaths training as a warrior.

But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

1 Samuel 17:34-37

In order to be a good shepherd, David had to be a powerful one. You can’t be a good shepherd and a weak one. They are incompatible. John 10:11-13 goes on to explain that a hired hand will run away when a predator comes after the sheep, but a good shepherd will stay and be willing to lay his life down for his sheep.

So, next time you read Psalm 23, remember that the Lord is our shepherd, and though He is gentle with us, He is not weak. Our Good Shepherd is powerful! Part of what it means to be a good shepherd is to be a powerful one. His power to protect us and His power to correct us brings us rest and comfort. We don’t have to live in fear because He is near.

Until They Enter Rest

Your wives, your children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan, but all your fighting men, ready for battle, must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites. You are to help them until the Lord gives them rest, as he has done for you, and until they too have taken possession of the land the Lord your God is giving them. After that, you may go back and occupy your own land, which Moses the servant of the Lord gave you east of the Jordan toward the sunrise.”

Then they answered Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go…”

Joshua 1:14-16

This is the passage of scripture that God gave me for this week. This is the life of a follower of Jesus. We have been given rest. We have been given our inheritance of salvation and continue to receive more and more of the inheritance of the Kingdom of God.

Now our role is to help others take possession of the land that was given to them. We are to fight for others so that they may enter this rest. We are to fight for others as they set out to take possession of the land that was made ready for them by God. For any part of our inheritance that we’ve recieved, we help others recieve it. For any part of our inheritance we have yet to recieve, we allow others to fight for us as we go after it and take possession of it.

And as we go our heart-cry is the same as theirs. We say to Jesus, “Whatever you tell us to do we’ll do; wherever you send us we’ll go!” This is not just the life of ministry. This is the life of every believer. This is what every follower of Jesus is called to.

The apostle Paul said it this way to the Corinthians:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Who are you fighting for? Who are you helping to take possession of the land that was set apart for them? Who can you comfort today with the comfort you’ve received from the Lord?

Comfort and Mystery

“I, even I, am he who comforts you.
    Who are you that you fear mere mortals,
    human beings who are but grass,
that you forget the Lord your Maker,
    who stretches out the heavens
    and who lays the foundations of the earth…

Isaiah 51:12-13

So often we comfort ourselves by using the tool of “comparison.” We feel like we are struggling financially and so we compare ourselves to someone with less and say, “At least I’m not that poor.” We feel like our career has stalled and so we compare ourselves to someone who got fired and say, “At least I have a job.” This is often how we comfort ourselves when we are facing a hard time.

But using comparison to bring comfort has an ugly side to it. When you are the one completely broke, when you are the one who lost their job, when you are the one with a terminal illness, comparison only leads to more despair. Far from bringing comfort, comparison brings feelings of deep pain and hopelessness.

God makes it clear that He alone is our comforter. We need to take our pain to Him and let His presence exchange our sorrow with joy. Psalm 16:11 says, “…you will fill me with joy in your presence…” It’s in the presence of “the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles“(2 Corinthians 1:3-4) where we find comfort and a lasting joy that can’t be taken from us by hard circumstances. Comparison can never do this!

The Lord recently revealed something to me in regard to mystery. We humans tend to be hypocrites when it comes to what mystery we’re comfortable accepting. We ask questions regarding the mysteries of pain and suffering but never ask the same questions about our blessing and provision. We don’t wrestle through why we were born into a country with freedoms, a strong economy, job opportunities, clean water and sanitation. We know it is a mystery as to why we were born here and others were born into countries with none of these things. Yet, we accept this mystery often without a second thought.

However, we love to ask “why me” when we get an illness, or have a financial crisis, or troubled relationships. We embrace the mystery of blessing just fine but can’t bear to embrace the mystery of suffering. If the answer to the question “why was I born into a middle-class family in the one of the greatest countries in the world” is above my pay grade, then certainly why my friend got cancer is above my pay grade. Both are mysteries and both are beyond my understanding. To accept one as mystery and demand answers for the other is hypocrisy.

The healthy response to suffering in our life is to take our grief and our pain to the Lord. We take it to Him and allow Him to comfort us. When we think we have to make sense of it and figure it all out, we step out of our role as trusting sons and daughters of the Father. Embracing mystery and trusting the Lord with things that are beyond our understanding is a part of living in a broken and fallen world.

What mystery in your own life is the Lord asking you to trust Him with?

What do you need to take to the Lord to receive His comfort?