The Lord is My Shepherd

Who is God?

jesusFor the most part most us really don’t have a clear picture of the God we really long to worship. Our image of Him is often clouded by the memory of perhaps cold cathedrals and often bitter religions, by pastors or priests who put the fear of God into us, or by all that we suffered as children from fathers who were absent, emotionally detached, brutal, or weak. All of us have some sort of inexact notions of who God is.

So the real question is about God Himself. Who is He? This is the big question that leads to all other questions one might have. It is the question that God Himself has put into each and every one of our hearts. And this means if He put this question into our hearts, there must be an answer in His heart that is waiting to be revealed to all of us.

David, had it right, he gave us a very comforting and compelling answer: “The Lord is my shepherd.” (Psalm 23:1)

Shepherd is a very modest metaphor, but it is one that is also loaded with different meanings. Part of the comparison is the portrayal of a shepherd and his sheep; the other is David’s own experience as well as our own. David painted a picture and put us into it as well. The absolute genius of Psalm 23 is that it belongs to us more than any other Psalm ever written. We can use David’s own words as our very own each and every time we read Psalm 23.

David reminds us that a good shepherd never leaves his sheep alone. they would have been lost without him. His presence was their assurance. It’s this good shepherd that David envisioned as he wrote each single line of Psalm 23.

The Great Shepherd of the Sheep

It was hundreds of years later, after David wrote Psalm 23 that Jesus said with His quiet assurance:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Father and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  (John 10:11-15)

This is our Lord Jesus, “the great Shepherd of the sheep.”

He was one with the Father. He too saw us as “sheep without a shepherd.” He “came to seek and to save what was lost”. He’s the one who left the “ninety-nine on the hills” an went “to look for the one that wandered off,” forever establishing the value of one person and the Father’s desire that not even one of them should perish.

God has a shepherd’s faithfulness, which will never fail or forsake, leave us comfortless, nor will He flee when He sees the wolf coming. He has a shepherd’s strength, so that He is well able to deliver us from the jaws of the lion or the paw of the bear. He has a shepherd’s tenderness, no lamb so tiny that He will not carry it; no saint so weak that He will not gently lead; no soul so faint that He will not give it rest.

But wait, there’s even more: The Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep.

He is the Shepherd who gives up His life for His lambs. “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”  (Isiah 53:5-6)

He died for ALL sin – the obvious sins of murder, adultery, and theft as well as for the secret sins of selfishness and pride and more. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross. This was sin’s final cure.

Of course, for many, the normal way of looking at the cross is to say that man was so bad and God was so mad that someone had to pay. But it was not anger that led Christ to be crucified; it was love. God loves us so much that He Himself took on our guilt. He internalized all our sin and healed it. When it was over He said, “It is finished!”. There is nothing left for us to do but to enter into forgiving acceptance.

The Shepherd calls to all of us an listens for even the slightest sounds of life. He hears the faintest cry. If He hears nothing at all, He will not give up or go away. He lets us wander away, hoping that weariness and despair we experience will turn us back around towards His loving arms.

Often times, the discomfort that we do experience is God’s doing. He hounds us. He hems us in. He thwarts our dreams. He foils our best laid plans. He frustrates our hopes. He then waits until we know that nothing will ease our pain, nothing will make life worth living except His presence. And when we turn to Him, He is there to greet us. He has been there all along waiting for us.

By the way, our waywardness doesn’t have to be explained to God. He’s never surprised by anything that we do. He sees everything at a single glance, what is, what could have been, what would have been apart from our sinful choices. What He sees only draws out His love. There is no deeper motivation in God than love. It is His nature to love; He can do no other thing, for “God is love.”

Jesus said: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

Remember, it is one thing to say that “The Lord is a shepherd.” and it’s another to say, “The Lord is my shepherd.”

Rest and Renewal

According to Psalm 23:2, He makes us to lie down in green pastures. He leads us beside quiet waters. The verbs suggest gentle persuasion – a shepherd patiently, persistently encouraging His sheep to the place where their hungers and thirsts will be quenched.

God makes the first move. He takes the initiative by calling to us an leading us to a place of rest. It’s not because we’re seeking God, it’s because He is seeking us.

God’s cry to wayward Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” suggests the loneliness He feels when He is separated from those He loves. God misses us; He can’t bear to be separated from us, we are always on His mind; and He patiently, insistently calls us and seeks us, not for our own sake alone, but for His as well. He cries out to us as He did for Adam and Eve, “Where are you?”

Deep within each and every one of us there is a place for God. We were made for God an without His love we ache in loneliness and emptiness. He calls from deep space to our own depths.

God calls us, seeking us to seek Him, and our hearts resonate with longing for Him, even if we do not realize that this is what is causing the emptiness within that we often feel.

God Himself is our one “true pasture” where we can find rest, peace an rejuvenation. He is also our quiet water where we can find true nourishment and if we don’t take Him in, we will starve.

There is a true hunger in each and every human heart which nothing on earth can satisfy. It is a hunger that only God can satisfy. There is a thirst that no one on earth can quench but only God can quench. “Do not work for food that spoils,” Jesus said, “but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you…I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”  (John 6:27, 35)

God is a real person. He is not some human invention, some concept, theory or a projection of ourselves. He is overwhelmingly alive an real beyond even our wildest dreams.

God is a Person and as such can be cultivated as any person can be. God is a Person and in the depths of His mighty nature He thinks, wills, enjoys, feels, loves, desires, and suffers as any other person may. God is a Person and can be known in increasing degrees of intimacy as we prepare our hearts for the wonder of it.

We really don’t have to look very hard or very long for God. He’s only as far away as our hearts, but He will not intrude. He calls us but then waits for our answer. Our progress toward Him is determined by our desire to engage Him in a personal way, to know Him.

The question is whether or not we want to know God or not. If we do, we need to be willing to make the effort to respond to Him. “Come near to God,” said James, “and He will come near to you.”  (James 4:8) It is a matter of desire.

Time Alone With God

We all need time alone with God and the idea is to keep thing simple and to just make time to do it. It all begins with solitude and not just mere time alone, but time alone with God. Solitude begins with a time and place for God and for Him alone. If we really believe not only that God exists, but that He is actively present in our lives, healing, teaching, and guiding us, then we need to set aside a time and a space to give Him our undivided attention without distraction.

So, where can we find this kind of solitude? Where is it can we find a nice quiet place in the middle of the din and demands of the world that we live in? “Go into your room,” Jesus said, “close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.”  (Matthew 6:6)

This means there is a meeting place for us and God that is as close as our closet door and a time and place where we can meet with God and hear His thoughts and He can hear ours. This solitude that we choose can be a healing place for us where God can repair the damage done by all the noise of the world around us. And the more we visit this place the more we will want to return to it.

The first step is take a Bible and find a quiet place where you will be uninterrupted for a certain amount of time. You can start off short such as 10 minutes at a time and eventually work up to longer periods of time. Then just sit quietly and remind yourself that you are in the presence of God. He is there with you, eager to meet with you. Listen for His inward voice till you learn to recognize it immediately, because it is there, constantly calling out to you. To all of us.

Listening to God

Unless we take time out to be quiet, we are never going to hear God. God cannot be heard through the noise and restlessness, but only in silence can He be heard. He will speak to us if we will give Him a chance, if we will listen, if we will just be quiet. Be still.

One of the most common problems that many of us run across is that even though we might read God’s Word, we’re not feeding on God. We’re more intent on mastering the text we read and finding out its exact meaning, gathering theories and theologies, so we can talk more intelligently about God. The main purpose for reading the Bible however, is not to gather data about Him, but to “come to Him,” to actually encounter Him as our one true living God.

We need to start with a conscious desire to engage Him in a personal way. It’s a good idea to pick a portion of Scripture, like a verse, a paragraph, a chapter and then read it over and over again. Think of Him as being present and speaking to you personally and disclosing His mind and emotions and will to you through His Words. He speaks to us through His Word so meditate on His words until His thoughts begin to take shape in your mind.

When we read His Word, we are reading His mind, what He knows, what He feels, what He wants, what He enjoys, what He desires, what He loves and what He hates. Think about each word. Give yourself time for prayerful contemplation until His heart is revealed and your heart is exposed.

Listen carefully to the words that touch your emotions and meditate on them and His goodness. Think about His kindness and those glimpses of His unfailing love that motivates you to love Him more.

There really is no need to worry about the text that we don’t really understand. Some meanings are going to escape you. Jesus said to His disciples: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear” (John 16:12) There is so much that we will never know, but some of the hard questions will be answered when we are ready for the answers and only God knows when that is.

There is also no need to worry about any doubts either. How could God possibly reveal Himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? Because one who believes they believe in God without anguish of mind, or without uncertainty, without doubt and sometimes even without despair, believe only in the idea of God and not in God Himself. Uncertainty is the name of the game and the best thing one can do is take their uncertainty directly to God. This is because God can handle our uncertainty and hesitancy.

We also shouldn’t worry about how we feel. Even if our mins are confused or our hearts are cold we can learn from our solitude. Don’t try to make your heart love God. Just give your heart to Him.

If we have a hard time with God, if we don’t quite trust His heart, we should turn to the Gospels. The Gospels will show us what Jesus said and did and what was said about Him. In the Gospels we see Him making visible the invisible God. Like when Philip asked to see God, Jesus replied: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”  (John 14:9)

The Gospels are there to help us see the character of God made real, personal and understandable in Jesus. What we see Jesus doing – caring, suffering, weeping, calling, seeking, all of that and more is what God is doing and has been doing all along. If you find it difficult to love God, then try to see Him in Jesus. There He’s revealed as One who has no limits to His love.

The Gospels show us that He is someone we can approach without fear and to whom we can submit ourselves without despair. We see that God is the only God worth having.

 

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