Recently a friend forwarded to me a scientific video that began its presentation from a tiny leaf on a tree in Southeast Asia, zooming outward to the universe showing the magnitude of the sun, the planets in relation to tiny planet Earth, the myriads of star formations and huge galaxies. Then it swooped back to the tiny leaf and took a microscopic journey in the other direction, penetrating into that inner universe that is the world of the nuclear physicist.
It probed the depths of the strange realities of the atom, then on into its foundational properties, the quarks. The breadth and depth of the universe, outward and inward, is breathtaking. Those physicists are not satisfied with stopping at the quark level, but are pondering and searching out what is the makeup of the quark. Reportedly, its properties have the appearance of sound waves—not all that astounding, once you realize how the universe came into being in the first place! “And God said….”
I was meditating on Psalm 23, which I had learned in Vacation Bible School as a youngster long before I came to know Christ, now 58 years ago, and my thoughts seemed to expand in the depths of those words, much like that video did of the universe, so tiny, then massive. The more I thought of my relationship to the Shepherd and who He is, the greater the picture became.
“The Lord is…” begins the psalm, with staggering possibilities upon a closer look:
· His very existence is such a comforting realization to one who knows that this God “so loved that He gave His only Son that we might have everlasting life.”
· For anyone willing to acknowledge what his conscience is telling him, the visible creation testifies that He is (Romans 1:19-20). The faith that pleases God is one that, first of all, believes that
· He is (Hebrews 11:6).
· The second part of that pleasing faith brings to mind the voice from the burning bush in Exodus 3 where Moses is told to tell his fellow-Hebrews the “I AM has sent me.” He IS all we need, our source and provider (Romans 8:32).
The truth that He is my Shepherd, and He is my Shepherd, in the descriptive sense, brings to mind these thoughts:
· He knows the number of hairs on my head and not a one of them falls off without His knowing it. (Luke 12:7).
· He is always uplifting and encouraging, not putting down and criticizing—“He does not quench the smoking flax nor crush the bruised reed” (Matthew 12:20).
· He has a personal, individual interest in each one of His sheep and should one become entangled and separated from the flock, He finds it and brings it back (Luke 15:4-6).
There is a real life story from years past here in my town in the far west that contrasts this last reference. Three business friends decided that raising sheep could be a profitable venture. Three potential lines of income—wool, mutton and lamb chops, and flock replacement—so how could you beat that?
So they bought a band of sheep, perhaps 200 or 300, at the livestock commission sale and looked for a sheepherder to take over management of the program. They found a man who claimed he was qualified to do the job and they hired him for the task. It was the time of the year that sheep are moved to the higher mountain ranges for summer grazing, so the shepherd took the flock of sheep and headed for the hills, about seventy or so miles away.
As the troop progressed toward the mountains, the shepherd did not notice that little bunches of sheep would stray off from the main flock and get left behind. No mention of a sheep dog was made in the arrangement, or perhaps this catastrophe may have been avoided, for by the time he got to the summer grazing area, he had no sheep left!
Upon that discovery, the would-be shepherd returned to town and the investors with the declaration, “If you want me to herd sheep for you, you have to get me some sheep!”
My Shepherd is not that kind of shepherd.
Another account that fits with the likeness of a caring shepherd is that of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. When the young man came to his senses, he repented and returned to his father. His reception shows the kind of character the shepherd of the lost sheep had:
“But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
The account tells how the father saw the boy coming from a long way off, then ran to meet him. It gives the idea that he did not see him incidentally, but was always looking with longing anticipation for his return. The words of that hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” come to mind, describing the tendency of many of us to stray away: “Prone to evil, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love,” and I definitely want the kind of shepherd who is looking for me with great concern.
A very meaningful and currently profound comparison of the kinds of shepherds we are faced with is described in the Good Shepherd chapter 10 of John’s gospel, John 10:10: “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I (Jesus) have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (May the alert take note.)
I Shall Not Want
There are many verses of scripture that promise “I shall not want,” and perhaps this one is at the pinnacle, Romans 8:32: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” What more could He give? Anything else would be far less in value and in expense, yet He promises to meet all our needs (Philippians 4:19).
There is another angle with which to view this promise regarding our wants. He can also take away our wants, replacing them with His blessings and presence. When I received Christ, I was a smoker and had tried to quit numerous times. During the week after believing in Him I came to a point of deep conviction that I must stop smoking as a matter of testimony. By the end of the week I smoked my last cigarette, forever! I sensed that the emptiness I was filling with smoking was now being filled with Jesus Christ. He can replace those wants with something much better, no matter what they are, if they are between us and Him.
Lying Down in Green Pastures
That sub-heading in the verse actually begins with “He makes me to lie down…,”and it adds an entirely new dimension to the idea of taking a rest. It gives us the distinct impression that God really intends that we get some rest at times. He did include that in those Ten Commandments that we tend to forget so often in our “busy-ness.”
A worthy mentor and disciple of men once told me, “You’ll get your rest, either now with discipline, or in the hospital, or in the grave!” I recall the story of David Brainerd (1718-1747), a missionary to the American Indians, who died of tuberculosis at age 29. It is said that he lamented that “God has given me a horse to ride, and I have ridden it to its death.” He often penned in his diary that he wanted to “burn out for God,” and that is what he did, sooner, no doubt, than he wanted to, had he been in good health.
However, in those matters we must let God be the judge. An interesting example in the Old Testament in regard to sickness is noted in 2 Chronicles 16:13: “And in the thirty-ninth year of his reign, Asa became diseased in his feet, and his malady was severe; yet in his disease he did not seek the LORD, but the physicians.” The context tells us that he died two years later. Are we to glean from this, then, that seeking the Lord first is God’s way for us to handle sickness?
Leading Me Beside Still Waters
Tongue twisters are a lot of fun, trying to say them real fast. One that is fun and fits in with this thought goes like this:
What annoys a noisy oyster?
A noisey noise annoys a noisey oyster!
There’s nothing quite like a beautiful waterfall, and up close, the crashing of the falling water displaying its power in explosive tones. Likewise is a newscast where two or more individuals are talking expressively at once, talking over each other and creating total calamity. It is a disgusting, ongoing pattern in the industry.
But for quiet serenity, a slow-moving stream on a warm, sunny day seems to invite meditation and a soothing of the spirit. The hustle-bustle of mid-town traffic is not a likely place for consideration of the ways of God, although I do recall a speaker once who challenged us on memorizing and reviewing Scripture by telling of reviewing his memorized chapters of scripture aloud while walking to lunch in downtown Chicago! It was a practiced habit, no doubt. He noted that he regularly reviewed twenty-four chapters a day and continued to memorize new chapters! (And he was board chairman of a major corporation!)
Could it be that the Shepherd, with the Word stirring his soul, was leading that man beside still waters in the midst of calamity. When we seek the Lord in prayer, our anxieties fade away in the over- coming presence of the peace of God that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:6-7).
He Restores My Soul
One can hardly watch a newscast or a favorite television program without being bombarded with hyperbole about a product that will restore a piece of furniture, or an auto paint job, or even our skin to make it look like new. The assumption is that damage has been done and one should want to bring about restoration. The psalmist leaves the nature and extent of damage to our souls as an individual matter; he merely reminds us that the Shepherd is the One who does restore, refresh and renew our souls.
The experience of the new birth is a regeneration of the soul, according to Titus 3:5, but the sense of this renewal seems to be that of a refreshment of spirit, and uplift in energy and inspiration. The promises of Isaiah 40:29-31 are well-remembered and often quoted for their encouragement:
“He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall, but those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Continued in Part 2)
He Leads Me in Paths of Righteousness
“…For His namesake” is how this phrase ends, and not without justification! Every one of us can
identify with the Apostle Paul, who cries out with great anguish s Romans 7 ends: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” In total recognition of his own impossibility, he turns to the Lord: “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.”
God’s love sets Him up to great risks with the likes of you and me. In John 15:5, He says:
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” Yet, when you and I pass by a vineyard, we don’t exclaim, “Look at that grapevine and all those beautiful branches!” We say, “Look at that beautiful grapevine and those luscious grapes!” Or, if the sight is not that positive, it’s not with so much adulation. The point is that God stakes His reputation on our behavior. So, He leads us in paths of righteousness for His namesake. (Continued in Part Two.)