The LORD is my Shepherd
These exhortations were given by me between 1999 and 2005. That was a long time ago, and I have grown a lot since then. They may not reflect my current beliefs.
Sometimes things go wrong. Little things, like having a bad day at work or missing the bus and getting caught in the rain, or big things, like losing your job or being faced with an apparently insurmountable problem. When things go wrong there are times when we all worry about what we are going to do – “How will I get that report in on time?” “How will I get home?” “How will I provide for my family?” “What will I do to solve this problem”
Worrying is something we all do, and it is very easy to get carried away with. I suppose a little worry about some things is good, because it can motivate you to do something positive – a student who is worried about exams will be motivated to revise. Too much worry, or worrying about something we can’t change is pointless, and it’s also very bad for us.
Brother Robert has just read Psalm 3 for us, and it has some very relevant advice on worry.
You are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill. I lie down and sleep; I wake again because the LORD sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side.
Having God to sustain us is all we really need, and it is something that we all have. Ultimately, we dont ever have to worry about anything.
If you follow the daily readings, on Tuesday you will be reading Matthew chapter 6. Christ comments on worry in verses 25 to 31.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry.
One of the most famous passages in the Bible, Psalm 23, contains similar beautiful words.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his names sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 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 goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the House of the LORD for ever.
Doesn’t this psalm make it seem silly to worry?
The LORD is my shepherd, I’ll never get that report completed and it will ruin my life as a result, The LORD is my shepherd, and I’ll never get home The LORD is my shepherd, and my family will starve because I’m unemployed, The LORD is my shepherd and I dont know what to do.
The Psalm doesnt read like that, does it? It is The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. We may be caught in the rain, be having trouble at work, losing our job or faced with some huge difficulty, but we can always say The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
Its really impossible to say “I will fear no evil for I am a strong and powerful person.” No matter how powerful you are there is always something that could do you harm. World leaders may face war, or be assassinated. Business leaders fear losing their customers, or unfavourable government legislation. Accident and illness affect everybody from time to time.
Verse 4 doesnt say that; it says smoothing completely different. I will fear no evil for you are with me. With the LORD as your shepherd, and only with the LORD as your shepherd we can face anything, any problem or difficulty, any sorrow or suffering, with absolute confidence that everything will turn out safely.
Psalm 27 begins in a very similar way.
The LORD is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance towards me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident
This is another magnificent reassurance that with God on our side nothing can truly and wholly go wrong.
There are dozens of examples in the Bible of how God has intervened in the affairs of the world and caused armies to stumble and fall. Perhaps the most dramatic is found in Isaiah 37. Assyria was besieging Jerusalem. King Hezekiah appealed to God, God sent an angel to kill the Assyrian army, and Jerusalem was spared.
Psalm 27 doesnt just refer to armies besieging cities. It applies to individuals as well. The King James version, the New International version, the God News Bible, the New King James version, and most other translations I have looked at all translate verse two in much the same way: “When the wicked advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and foes attack me, they will stumble and fall.” It is probably safe to say that most people never experience attacks literally like that.
The Revised Standard Version translates verse 2 very differently: “When evildoers assail me, uttering slanders against me, my adversaries and foes they shall stumble and fall.” It is probably safe to say that most people have been slandered in one way or another and we are all aware how unpleasant that sort of thing can be. God will sort out personal attacks just as he sorted out the Assyrians besieging Jerusalem.
There is another important aspect to Psalm 27 as well. The Psalmist tells us that the LORD is his light and salvation. He also addresses some comments to God. For example, he asks God that he may dwell in the house of the LORD in verse 4. He asks that God will hear him when he calls in verse 8, and will not reject him in verse 9. Most significantly he writes: Teach me your way, O LORD, in verse 11.
The LORD is our shepherd. He does guide us in the paths of righteousness, but we have a responsibility to learn the way of the LORD. This brings to mind John 10 verses 1 to 4:
“I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.
Verse 14 says I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.
Obviously in this passage the shepherd is Christ, and not God, but the same principle is there. The sheep have to know the shepherd, and they have to listen to him. It is not a matter of the sheep following his voice because the shepherd will punish them in some way if they dont. The sheep follow the shepherd because the shepherd loves his sheep, even to the point of laying down his life for them.
When God protects us he does it for many reasons. He does it for us, but he also does it for his names sake as Psalm 23 verse 3 says. In Isaiah 36 verse 10 it is recorded that Assyrians claimed that The LORD himself told me to march against Judah and destroy it. In the next chapter, verse 20 King Hezekiah prays Now O LORD our God, deliver us from the Assyrians hand so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God. By saving Jerusalem in such a dramatic way, God sent an utterly unequivocal message to the world: the LORD is God, and there is none else.
When Gideon lead the Israelites against the Midianites, in Judges chapter 7, he initially had an army of 32 thousand men. In verse 2, Judges chapter 7, God says to Gideon “You have too many men in order for me to deliver Midian into their hands.” Gideon was told to reduce the size of his army, ultimately leaving him with just 300 men. Verse 2 says that the reduction was “In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her.” By saving Israel with an army of just 300 God again sent the unequivocal message that the LORD is God, and there is none else.
Even though God is surely with us, sometimes we do experience trouble of one sort or another. Im not going to talk about the problem of suffering – it is a very complex topic and it leads to many questions which I cannot answer. However I am going to tell you how I reconcile the statement The LORD is my shepherd I shall not be in want with the observation that life does not always go smoothly for the followers of Christ.
About two years ago my computer developed a series of strange problems. I couldnt fix the problems myself, and so I asked a friend who is a computer engineer about it. His advice, based on a much deeper knowledge of computers that I have, was that the operating system needed to be reinstalled. In mechanical terms, that is roughly equivalent to replacing the engine of a car. It is a difficult process that takes a lot of time, and when you reinstall the operating system it takes time to run in, just as with a new engine in a car.
Although I didnt enjoy having such major work done on my computer, I took my friends advice, and allowed him to reinstall the operating system. Once the whole process was over, my computer was in a better state than it had been even before the faults had developed.
Just as my friend knows much more about computers than I do, God knows much more about us than we do. If my friend recommends that something is done to my computer, then I let him do it, knowing that regardless of the inconvenience there will be a net improvement in the computer. It is reasonable then to assume that if God wants to put us through some uncomfortable or painful series of events then there will be a net improvement in us. We cant always see the benefit of what we are going through, but it will be there, somewhere.
This is what I think Proverbs 3 verses 11 and 12 mean:
My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
Commenting on this passage, Chapter 12, verses 7 to 11 of the letter to the Hebrews say:
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
To conclude I want to briefly look at three men who were in Gods flock, and yet they all suffered in one way or another.
Joseph, the son of Jacob, was sold as a slave, taken to a foreign country and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. He was guided by the hand of God and eventually became in charge of the whole land of Egypt. When he was reunited with his brothers, he bore them no malice because of what they had done. His words are in genesis 45 verses 4 to 8.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.
Joseph was able to see the bigger picture at that point in his life, and it was then that he fully understood why he had been through all that he had.
In the second letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, verse 7 Paul talks about his “Thorn in the flesh”. Of course, Paul knew that the thorn was there for his own good, to keep him from becoming conceited. Far from being resentful he was able to say, in verse 10, “That is why, for Christs sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.”
The final example of a man who suffered, and through that suffering fulfilled a vital role, is the most important. It is, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who we are remembering here today. Please turn with me to Matthew 25 verse 36.
Coming from a poor family, even before his ministry began Christs life would have been difficult. Once his ministry began he was met with opposition and hatred, and was surrounded by people who could not – or would not – understand his work and teaching. His suffering reached a barbaric peak when he was executed by crucifixion. Even though he knew what he was going to go through he did not shy from his responsibilities, but drew strength from his father through prayer.
Matthew 26:verses 36 to 42:
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
Yet not what I will but as you will
Through that very great faith, knowing completely that the LORD was his shepherd, fearing no evil in the valley of the shadow of death, Christ achieved the wonderful thing that he did. This is what we are here to remember today, and as we go through our day to day lives, coping with the problems we encounter we should always remember that the LORD is our shepherd and we shall not want.