Do you have trouble believing that God loves and cares for you? If so, you’re not alone. Many Christians struggle with this issue because they can’t quite picture the Lord in all His glory and majesty being interested in individuals like them. Perhaps they feel unworthy of His attention or think He’s too busy governing the entire universe to be concerned about the details of their lives. Whatever the reason for their doubt, they are missing out on the joy of an intimate relationship with the God who loves them and desires to walk with them every day.
David wrote the most well-known of all the psalms describing God’s loving care for us— Psalm 23. In the very first verse, he identifies the Lord as “my shepherd.” He’s not merely shepherd or one of many, but a personal shepherd. This implies a close relationship between the sheep and the shepherd.
The basis for this relationship is found in John 10:11. Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd, saying, “The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” If we’ve realized our sinful condition, acknowledged Christ’s death on our behalf, and received Him by faith as our Savior, we are His sheep and can be confident of His care for us.
The rest of Psalm 23 outlines what we can expect from our loving Shepherd. Every verse describes how He demonstrates His tender care for us. First of all, He is a providing Shepherd. “The Lis my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:1-2). God knows exactly what we need because He’s all-knowing. We can trust Him to supply all our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Now, this doesn’t mean He’ll provide them in exactly the way or the time we expect, but we can always know that He’ll do what’s best for us.
God knows exactly what we need because He’s all-knowing.
Second, the Lord is our guiding Shepherd. “He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). Jesus said that His sheep hear His voice and follow Him (John 10:27). When I was in Israel in 1963, I had the opportunity to observe how shepherds and sheep interact. One evening, two shepherds and their flocks came to the same well. Immediately the sheep mingled with each other until one flock could not be distinguished from the other. However, as one of the shepherds started to walk away, he called out, and his sheep immediately separated from all the others and followed him.
That’s exactly how we should respond to our Shepherd. He always leads us the right way, yet so often we are prone to wander. Sometimes we think another pasture looks greener than the one He’s chosen for us. Or perhaps we simply take our eyes off the Shepherd, get lost, and find ourselves in trouble. No matter where or why we stray, our Shepherd always comes to find us. He doesn’t beat us with His rod for our disobedience but simply picks us up and carries us home, rejoicing that we have been found and restored (Luke 15:4-6).
The third quality of our Shepherd is that He is our protector. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). All the paths God chooses for our lives are for the purpose of sanctifying us or making us righteous (Psalm 23:2), and sometimes this means we must go through dark valleys. However, no matter how difficult or threatening the path seems, there is no need to fear because our Shepherd is always with us. When we keep our eyes on Him, we’re able to persevere and come out on the other side displaying Christlike character that glorifies Him and benefits us.
However, no matter how difficult or threatening the path seems, there is no need to fear because our Shepherd is always with us.
The shepherd’s rod and staff are symbols of protection and comfort for the sheep, not a cause for fear. With his staff, he gently guides straying sheep, and his rod is used to protect them from wild animals. Each night as the sheep approach the fold, the shepherd puts his rod across the doorway and counts the sheep as they come through until all are safely inside.
Finally, our Shepherd makes preparation for us. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5). Just as an honored guest in ancient times was welcomed with anointing oil, so Christ invites us to sit down and enjoy fellowship with Him. In the midst of whatever threatens or troubles us, we find refreshment in His presence. After spending time alone with Him in His Word and prayer, our empty cup has been filled to overflowing, and we have the strength to face another day.
The benefits of faithfully following our Shepherd are found in verse 6: “Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Everything good that God does for us is covered by this verse. He not only lavishes us with His grace every day of our lives, but one day He will take us home to heaven where we’ll dwell with Him forever. Jesus truly is our good Shepherd.
Charles F. Stanley
P.S. A new year is always a good time for a fresh start. Our prayer here at In Touch Ministries is that 2017 will be a year of blessing and spiritual growth as you faithfully follow your Shepherd. No matter where He leads you or what situations await you in the coming year, He is always with you, guiding and guarding your way.