Sometimes I struggle with discerning what I should share here and what lessons are meant just for me. While studying the names of God in Kay Arthur's LORD, I Want to Know You, I was really blessed by the chapter defining Jehovah-raah, the Lord is my Shepherd. In the days to follow my reading, references to sheep/shepherd/Psalm 23 came popping up all over. In a friend's blog post, children's storybook, facebook post request, movie trailers, TV shows... I knew at the very least, God wanted me to chew on this particular name of his and perhaps share it with others. The words still don't seem to be coming clearly but maybe by the time the kids wake up from their nap this post will accomplish some good for his purpose. Here we go...
Psalm 23 was the first scripture I remember memorizing as a kid. In the King James Version no less. Not unlike the Lord's Prayer, sometimes you can get stuck on reciting the words from memory and not actually hearing the truth that is coming out of your own mouth.
What does it mean to be a sheep? God calls us his sheep time and time again in the Bible. Can I really know and appreciate Him as my Shepherd if I don't understand what it means to be a sheep? Kay Arthur does a good job of explaining it. In her devotional book Beloved: From God's Heart to Yours (which I did not read but she references) she wrote:
"If sheep do not have the constant care of a shepherd, they will go the wrong way, unaware of the dangers at hand. They have been known to nibble themselves right off a mountainside. They will overgraze the same land and run out of food unless the shepherd leads them to new pastures. If they are not led to proper pastures, they will obliviously eat or drink things that are disastrous to them. Sheep easily fall prey to predators, and when they do, they are virtually defenseless. Sheep can also become cast down and, in that state, panic and die. And so, because sheep are sheep, they need shepherds to care for them."
Yep. I'm a sheep. In a world that explains our existence as survival-of-the-fittest there still continues an animal so dumb that it has no means of self-defense and is almost completely unaware of its own needs. It is actually quite heart breaking to think of the many people who "nibbled themselves right off a mountainside" because they didn't know the LORD as their Shepherd. They got knocked down by the world and panicked. But those sheep who know a loving shepherd have complete confidence in who He is. They don't have to think about where their next meal will come from or if enemies lie around the next bend. They are physically ill-equipped to meet their own needs. They rely solely on their shepherd.
If we are sheep, why do we fail to trust our shepherd? He tries to lead us to greener pastures and we insist on staying in our comfort zone even if we have eaten up all the grass around us. He tells us to rest and enjoy peace and yet we fear the trials and unknowns and bad-guys at the edge of the field.
I want to share a few more sheep-facts before posting Psalm 23. In LORD, I Want to Know You, Kay Arthur references a book by Phillip Keller called A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 (I know. I don't want to completely plagiarize though. Stay with me here). Keller "tells us it's impossible for sheep to lie down unless four things are true first". They must be free from:
* "They can not lie down as long as they feel a need for finding food". Think physical needs.
* "Sheep are helpless, timid animals...they are easily frightened". Think fear of what could happen.
* "Tension with others...keeps them on their feet; they feel they must defend themselves". Think strained relationships.
* Sheep can be greatly aggravated and driven to distraction by flies, parasites, or other pests which would seek to torment them?" Think negative influences.
Our Good Shepherd meets all of these needs for us. We can lie down in peace (free from hunger, fear, friction, and pests) and able to trust our LORD because of it.
Kay Arthur shares several great verses (many you have heard) for each point as it applies to us. Because the LORD is my Shepherd, my needs are met and my fears are calmed. I can rest in that. My relationship with him is able to grow because tension with others is limited and I am not distracted by the pests of this world. When I submit to his will (die to self), he does all that for me. He knows. Thank you Jesus for being my Shepherd.
At running the risk of grossing someone out, I wanted to share another excerpt from LORD, I Want to Know You. She describes in detail how the shepherd is proactive at protecting his sheep from pests. Enjoy!
"Sheep can suffer greatly because of the nose fly. This is a fly that seeks to deposit its eggs on the mucus membrane of the sheep's nose. There the eggs hatch into small wormlike larvae that eventually work their way up the nose into the sheep's head. As these larvae burrow into the sheep's flesh, they cause a tremendous irritation, which in turn causes the sheep to thrash and beat its head against anything it can find. A sheep can become so driven to distraction by the irritation that it will actually kill itself in a desperate attempt to get rid of the source of aggravation.
"As I (still Kay speaking here) learned this truth, I could not help but think of how men and women can be tormented by thoughts that burrow their way into their flesh. The eggs of torment are laid by the enemy and hatch into repulsive, destructive worms that work their way into their heads. Thoughts of fear, rejection, bitterness, hatred, failure, incompetency, sensuality, and greed plague God's sheep, tormenting them, even driving some to suicide.
"But is this to be the fate of God's sheep? No! Just as there is an oil the shepherd can prepare to protect the sheep from nose flies and their destructive work, so our Shepherd has a way to keep His sheep from such torment. As the psalmist says, "Thou anointest my head with oil" (Psalm 23:5)."
WOW! It is me again. Wasn't that good!? I'm not sure what else I can add to that.
With this new perspective on sheep, let's read Psalm 23 in the New Living Translation.
1 The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
2 He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
3 He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
4 Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.
5 You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.
6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
We don't have to "feel hunger" because he leads us to greener pastures. We can rest by the stream because our needs are met. We can sit in the presence of our enemies (a wolf could be within sight) and still not be afraid even though we are defenseless. Our Shepherd has a rod to fight off any predators for us. The staff is gently used to direct us onto the right path. Such comfort in knowing he is protecting us always. And just when we feel completely loved, adored, and cared for, God honors us by anointing our heads with oil. He fills us with overwhelming gifts and shields our minds from toxic influences.
Thank you LORD for being my Shepherd. Help me to trust you. To trust you IN EVERYTHING, WITH EVERYTHING! For without you, I am nothing!