What it means to be shepherded by God

by Nov 9, 2011

Every Christian is a shepherd, to one degree or another. Husbands shepherd wives, parents shepherd their kids, community-group leaders shepherd their groups, and prayer-partners shepherd each other. There are many places to go to find practical instructions for shepherds (such as Paul’s message to the elders in Ephesus in Acts 20), but the best way to learn how to shepherd is to live under the Good Shepherd himself.

That’s what Psalm 23 is all about. It starts out with this simple but powerful declaration: “The Lord is my shepherd.”

That says a lot about God, but it also says a lot about us: if God is a shepherd, that makes us sheep. Most of us haven’t spent a whole lot of time around sheep, but a pastor and former shepherd in East Africa named Philip Keller says we’re a lot like them.

Just like sheep, we tend to have a mass mind (in his words, “mob instincts”). We tend to have lots of fears. We can be stubborn and stupid. We easily pick up self-destructive habits.

And just like a herd of sheep, unless we have a shepherd, we’re going to wander through the wilderness just barely surviving. We’ll be finding little tufts of dead grass to eat because we’re starving. We’ll be slurping up muddy, disease-ridden water because we’re so thirsty, instead of allowing our shepherd to guide us to the best feeding grounds and the purest rivers.

I’ve seen this tendency in myself. When I go on a vacation, I like to (literally) wander like a sheep. I want to go somewhere, and just find a hotel once we get there. Wake up every morning and decide on the spur of the moment what we’ll do that day. This has worked well for us… once. Cyndi and I flew into Beijing, and when we landed at the airport I got us a room at the hotel where president Clinton stayed… for 50 bucks. Somehow I got us hooked up with the communist party VIP tour of the Great Wall. We cruised around all day with party officials on a luxury bus… for free!

But most other times, it hasn’t worked out so great. For our first anniversary, I took Cyndi to San Francisco. We flew in, and I found us a hotel called the Pickwick Manor. We got all our luggage onto the bus, and rode downtown. We checked in, and went up to our room. I opened the door, but it would only open about 12 inches. I poked my head in, and saw why: the room was about 7 feet by 9 feet. The door couldn’t open all the way because it was bumping into the bed!

Cyndi gave me one of those looks, but it was too late. We got into bed, and that’s when we realized that we were right next to the elevator. That thing grunted like a sumo wrestler all night long. Then we started hearing a plastic bag crinkling in our luggage. I got out, opened it up, and there were 3 rats going for her M&M’s. Most of the trips I’ve planned have been something like that, because I’m stubborn and refuse to find a tour-guide shepherd to guide us.

We’re sheep who need a shepherd. And one of the reasons why this Psalm is so popular is because it’s so clear that not only is God a shepherd, he’s my shepherd! We can rest in the fact that God is leading each one of us personally in an individual relationship.

But in our individualistic culture, it’s easy to go overboard with this idea, and start to assume that if God is my shepherd, that means he belongs to me, and he’s there to serve my needs, whatever I define them to be.

Pretty soon, God becomes nothing more than my own personal butler. My own personal therapist. My own personal cheering squad. Kind of like this classic commercial:

[youtube width=”467″ height=”350″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow6lg2tAqsY[/youtube]

You’ve got to admit – it would be pretty epic to have your own 80’s glam rock band following you around to pep you up. And that’s how some of us view God – someone who’s mostly around to cheer us up when we’re feeling down.

But when David says that the Lord is my shepherd, he doesn’t mean that God belongs to me, he means that I belong to him. Since he is my shepherd, he owns me.

He purchased me with his blood (Acts 20:28), and that means he has the first and final say over what I do in my life, like a shepherd guides his sheep wherever he wants them to go.

If I’m going to effectively shepherd others, I first need to be under the sovereign control of the Good Shepherd.