The Lord is my Shepherd
Laura Sharrett | April 18, 2018
I don’t know about you, but I have been in need of my Shepherd this week. I have found myself wandering from my Shepherd’s care, independently seeking my own pastures. I have felt weighed down by the anxieties of to-do lists, living as if it was all up to me. In the face of sin, growth in grace often feels more like groaning then celebrating. This tension has cropped up in my conversations with Emory students this week. In our hearts, we rejoice in God’s grace for weary sinners, but in our flesh, we kick against our exposed weakness and lack of control. We’d much rather not be weak, but it is exactly what the Lord calls us to.
Psalm 23 has changed the way I pray because it offers me the picture of prayer as life by my Shepherd’s side. The shepherd-sheep dynamic teaches me that when I have a posture of independence, seeking to be competent and in control, I do not pray. It has taught me to delight in my weakness and to rest in dependence upon him.
The Lord is My Shepherd.
Psalm 23 opens with an exclamation about the character of God. The God of the Universe has claimed me as his own (Psalm 95:7). He identifies himself with the job of a shepherd that requires constant care and attention of the sheep. The language of Psalm 23 is incredibly relational and speaks of the Shepherd’s care, companionship, and abundant provision. Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I am his sheep. This tells me that my fundamental human experience is being weak and needy. It positions me as prone to wander and completely dependent upon his care. God knows that I am his sheep and he does not despise me in my weakness. Isaiah 40:11 says, “He will tend his flock like a shepherd, he will gather the lambs in his arms. He will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are young.”
God as a Shepherd showcases the humility of Christ. The Son of God came to earth to seek out his lost sheep! Isaiah 53:6a says “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned –every one –to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him [the Messiah] the iniquity of us all.” He is the Good Shepherd who laid down his life and took it up again so that the sheep might have life abundant with him (John 10). This means that though I wander and seek independence, he calls me to himself. When my heart is cold and indifferent to the glories of the gospel, he draws near and makes himself known by his Spirit. The more I know my sheep-ness, the more glorious Jesus’ forgiveness is to me. Because of his mercies, my heart can’t help but be humbled and melted to love through repentance. The more I know my Shepherd, the more confidently and quickly I will return to him.
Praying like a sheep.
Prayer can be hard because it is easy to let shame and guilt keep us from praying. But the picture of nearness to our Good Shepherd replaces the distorted view of a God who is disgusted with our sin and far off. The Lord is my Shepherd means that my God is near. He is attentive and tender to those who draw near to him in repentance, confessing their wanderings and sin.
Philip Keller, a Shepherd by trade, says that a lot of factors go into making sheep rest. They will not lie down if they are hungry, afraid, or in conflict with other sheep in the flock. But when the Shepherd is in the midst of the flock, any anxiety or tension within the flock melts away and the sheep’s attention is turned toward the Shepherd. This is what prayer does, shifting our perspective to our God who is powerful, wise, and good. When I feel the groans and brokenness of this world that casts a shadow of death, he is with me. With him in my sight, I am not alone.
A shepherd’s staff has many uses – it is used to discipline the straying, to guide the flock, and to fight off predators. It can be used as an affectionate way to keep a favorite sheep by the Shepherd’s side. The rod is also used as a tool of examination to part the sheep’s wool to search for disease. This is like God’s Word! It gives words of discipline that lead to the peaceful fruit of righteousness. It makes known the paths of life and is a weapon of truth against the enemy. It is a comfort, treasure, and the vehicle in which the Spirit examines our hearts. Because I am his sheep, I know my Shepherd’s voice (John 10) and his Word comforts me. It always goes hand in hand with prayer, with living by my Shepherd’s side.
Seeing God our Shepherd helps us with the why of prayer. We pray because we cannot help but respond to Our God who has drawn near – for we know his voice, though we do not see him we love him, and one day we will see him face to face. Seeing ourselves as sheep helps us with the how and what of prayer. Because we are sheep, we pray in expectant dependence, humbly acknowledging our weakness and pursuing the rhythm of confession and repentance. The more we see ourselves as sheep by the Shepherd’s side, the more we will want to know our Shepherd. Our prayers will become less concerned with doing or fixing and more about knowing Jesus.
Philip Keller calls Psalm 23 a picture of divine diligence, and I would add that it is also a vision of delightful dependence upon the Lord. This is prayer. Psalm 28 closes with a request for the God of Israel to “be their Shepherd and carry them forever.” Amen.
This blog was written by Laura Sharrett currently serving as Campus Staff at Emory University.
* Philip Keller, A Shepherd’s Look at Psalm 23 (Zondervan, 2007).