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.

Learn from Jesus

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Unlike the Pharisees, Jesus’s yoke of teaching was not a heavy burden. To take on Jesus’s yoke–his way of living in the Kingdom–is not about laboring to perform for God. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. We get to come to Jesus, off-load our shame, guilt and sin, and receive from Him peace, joy, comfort and love. It’s an incredible exchange that we have available to us every day because of the price Jesus paid on the cross.

Many of us have read this passage a number of times and found encouragement and comfort from it. Life in Christ was never meant to be wearisome. If the burden of following Jesus starts to get too heavy, it means we are carrying too much. It means it’s time to take a trip to the cross where we can lay our burdens at Jesus’s feet and allow Him to carry them for us. When we spend time with Jesus we can find rest for the deepest part of our being–our souls.

One thing that is important to notice is that Jesus doesn’t say, “Take my yoke upon you and learn about me…” No, He said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me…” Jesus is alive! Jesus rose from the dead and now sits at the right hand of the Father. When we read scripture, we don’t just learn about Jesus. We learn from Jesus.

Learning about Jesus is an important first step, but learning about Him is confined to what Jesus did in the past. Learning from Jesus is about imitating Him with our life today. Learning from Jesus is allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to us now. It is about hearing from Jesus about our lives today. We will never find rest for our souls if we are only learning about Jesus. Rest for our souls comes when we learn from Jesus.

When we allow Jesus to teach us and guide us today, in the present moment, when we learn from Jesus, we’ll find that He will lead us beside quiet waters as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11).

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.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will 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 anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

Psalm 23