Everybody Needs A Shepherd
The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, to guide and to shield me], I shall not want. He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still and quiet waters.
Native Texans are proud of their heritage. They talk (for hours!) about the rugged individualism of their people and cite numerous examples,es of wildcatters in the oil business and trail drivers who led tens of thousands of cattle across the prairie. But independence isn’t just a Texas trait, in all parts of the country, we admire people who go it alone.
Christians, however, are never alone. We have a Shepherd who guides us, and He has
the authority to give us directions because He bought us out of the slavery of our sins. His authority over us, though, is shaped by affection and attention.
David, who wrote today’s Scripture, knew all about shepherding because he had tended sheep for years. As the king of Israel, he reflected on his experience in the fields and compared his work as an attentive shepherd to God’s ownership and care for His people. As David did countless times with his sheep through every season of the year, God leads His people to food, water, and shelter. Sheep are notoriously prone to panic, and sometimes forget to trust their Shepherd. We’re just like them. But if we trust our Shepherd, He will lead us to plenty and peace.
This is wise, sane Christian faith; that a man commits himself, his life and his hopes to God. That God undertakes the special protection of that man; that therefore that man ought not to be afraid of anything.
In our world of individualism there has arisen the idea that we can make it as Christians without becoming part of the whole. As a matter of fact, this seems to characterize much of our approach to life as well as in our role as believers. Many there are in our world today that live as though they are the only ones that matter. Much of the conflict in the world and among Christians can be laid at the door of individualism. It is absolutely true that each person must individually make the choice to follow Christ but the Christian life was not designed to be lived out in isolation. When we see Jesus begin His earthly ministry, there is no doubt that He could have carried it out without help. As a matter of fact, sometimes the disciples created problems rather than solving them and often they were part of the problem rather than the solution to the problem. Nonetheless, Christ demonstrated the need and the value of community. Lest we swing the pendulum too far, this community of believers weren’t brought together and left to fend for themselves or to figure out their path. Christ, called them from their current occupations with these words, “Come, follow me.” He used the same words as a Shepherd would use to the sheep. The shepherd’s responsibility was to lead, the sheep were to follow. The Shepherd wasn’t just guiding one sheep but the entire flock and together they were led to still waters and green pastures. I have read that though the shepherd was the primary defender of the flock, when danger was present the rams would assume a position of placing themselves between the wolves and the flock. There is a great lesson in this, that the elders of the church position themselves between danger and the congregation, yet they must also be under the direction of the Shepherd. Every sheep as an individual is called to follow the shepherd but they are also called to be part of the whole and contribute to its well-being. If you were to watch a flock of sheep you would notice that while the rams and ewes are following the shepherd, the lambs are following them. Those who consider themselves mature believers must keep in mind that they set the course for the lambs to follow and that beloved is an incredible responsibility.
There is perhaps no better of a story than that of Moses leading the Israelites on their journey from the slave pits of Egypt to the blessings of the Promised Land. All along the way we see Moses as the under-shepherd guiding the flock while he himself was being guided by the Great Shepherd. Moses wasn’t making decisions based on his preferences and desires and perceptions. He was constantly conferring with his Shepherd for wisdom and direction. We find in that story, much like like today, that individualism and resistance to leadership would rise up. We read of a time when Moses’ brother Aaron and sister Miriam felt that as the natural elders whom God had called to assist Moses that they were equal in decision-making with Moses, even to the point of demanding that Moses put aside his wife. In that moment, the Great Shepherd made a powerful statement, “I speak to you in dreams and visions, but to my servant Moses, I speak face to face as a friend.” This relationship with God wasn’t for Moses an individual thing for there came the time when the Israelites crossed the line in their rebellion and complaining that God said to Moses, “Stand aside, I will destroy this people and raise up to you another.” Moses responded, “If you choose to do that then make their fate mine.” This is what it means to be part of the whole. On another occasion when the Israelites refused to move because they had become content where they were, and then later changed their minds, that God said to Moses that He would separate the people and Moses said, “We all go or none go.”
Now let’s us apply this to us. First of all we must ask if we have as an individual responded to the call of the Shepherd to “Follow Me.” If so then we must become part of a flock that is following the Shepherd. If the flock is moving too slow for us we must learn to wait patiently for the lambs and the weaker sheep to catch up. If the flock is leaving us in the distance, we must not continue to be distracted by things along the way so we can catch up with the flock. One of the strategies of natural predators is to separate the weak from the herd and then attack. Our safety lies in staying with the flock.
There is one other thing we must speak about and that is the matter of lost sheep. The flock may be comfortable that they are finding good grazing and water that satisfies their thirst. They may be so comfortable that they don’t notice that one of the one hundred is missing from the place of safety. They may fill their bellies, quench their thirst, and lie down on peace, but the shepherd who knows each sheep will soon notice that one is missing. That missing one is so important that he will leave the ninety nine and go search for the one until he finds it and brings it back to the fold again. We as the church must not become content with the ninety nine or the sixty nine or the thirty nine ore even the nine. As followers of the Shepherd, we must make finding and restoring the one our primary priority. We must shed our garments of individualism and place the needs of others above our own desires.
Several have asked me over the last few weeks why I am willing to exert myself to provide the five worship/teaching opportunities along with these daily devotions. Some have expressed concern that it’s asking too much. Others have expressed that they feel it would be better to focus on a single or maybe a couple opportunities. My heart as a shepherd is that every one of the flock needs to be fed and my call from God is “Feed My sheep.” In these days of crisis, individualism and personal preferences must give way to the mission of Christ which is to “seek and save that which is lost.” My desire is that “none perish” and if by making more opportunities of worship available to meet the expressed need of the whole congregation rather that some part, then I am privileged to do so. I strongly feel as Moses felt, that we all go in together and together we enjoy the presence and blessings of God. If you as an individual are fulfilled with your preferred worship opportunity, wonderful. But let us also give others the same opportunity to choose their preferred opportunity in the days of uncertainty. I don’t know what the future holds. It may be that the day will come when all the opportunities will merge back into the old norm of an early and second service or it may be that all the opportunities will provide a means to reach a larger portion of the community. I think that none of us know what the future holds so we simply continue to follow the Shepherd who holds the future and us in His hands. I think that we must see that the sheep who may be grazing in different sections of the pasture are still together under the Shepherd who will one day from all over the world gather them all together in the great Sheepfold. I think we ought to set our sights on finding and restoring that one lost sheep until all the lost sheep are securely in the fold. I think in the middle of a pandemic that we learn not to panic because we hear the voice of the Shepherd and know that He is with us and He is leading us. I pray we find comfort in the staff that pulls us back from the traps and directs our path when we stray from Him. I pray we feel His tender hands moving over us detecting the cuts, wounds and insects that have broken through and we will inhale the aroma of the soothing oil of the Holy Spirit as the healing oil is poured over our brokenness.
Dr. John Thompson