Our Shepherd

Our inner nature is being renewed every day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16




Every newspaper should have this headline when reporting on difficult times. Regardless of what is happening or what crisis we are going through, God is with us.


“God is a God of miracles.
God is a God of better-than-expected outcomes.
God is a God of the higher working of the law of life. “


Miracles happen every day as we turn to God, our higher power. And that is the source where we need to focus. We need to make that spiritual connection and stay connected with the Truth of God.


We all have that ability to be connected with God, and that gives us the capacity of great possibilities to give great help not only to ourselves but also in the lives of others.


A woman who had recently faced great difficulty in her personal life was asked this question, “How do you hold on? What do you do?”


The woman said, “Every day, I read the 23rd Psalm. It gives me great power.”


To go beyond this material, outer physical world of crisis and turmoil, the only place to find those answers is the Bible. If you want information that is all good news, not bad news, turn to scripture. God will give you comfort when it seems there is none to be found anywhere. You will have something that is beyond the worldly chaos, and we have lots of that right now. You’ll have something that will give you courage because it is eternal Truth. It is not generic. It is for you personally, your own personal life, in a very specific way.


The author Ernest Wilson wrote a lesson on the 23rd Psalm many decades ago. I
want to share it with you in the hope that not only will it help you as you read this but later on when you may have to face difficult situations and circumstances. Keep this with you for reflection and quiet harmony…. The psalm and description as described here is so wonderful that I am going to present his presentation of this, I can say it no better.


The 23rd Psalm


The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me;
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
Thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”


To all who are weary and confused and oppressed,
To all who are beset by obscure and hidden dangers,
To all who are sick and sore and weary unto death,
To all who are lonely and bereaved and forsaken,
To all who are in desperate financial need,
To all who have lost their way and cannot find it,
To all who have come to the end of the road—


Here is a message for you. It comes to you with supreme simplicity, but it has
in it a steady, unwavering strength and power. It speaks from the lips of a plain
shepherd of many years ago, but it has in it the authority of God Almighty for
your life. You have spoken it many times for the sheer beauty of its flowing
speech; you shall speak it again and again for the assurance and courage and
guidance that are in it for you.


It is the immortal 23rd Psalm.”


“You are discouraged and disheartened, you say? You are pressed from
every side by demands greater than your strength? You are called on to make
decisions for which you have not the needed wisdom? You have sought vainly among
all the persons you know, for one clear voice that will set you right, that will
tell you what to do?


You have longed to find some wise seer, like the fabled masters of old, at whose
feet you might sit, in childlike trust and faith, saying, “Only tell me what I
should do, Master, and I will do it.” You are weary past belief in trying to make
hard decisions, to choose between the thousand insistent voices that cry, “Lo,
here” and “Lo, there?” Come with me.


Together we shall go on a little journey, you and I, a little journey of thought.
It takes us far away from the crowded streets of cities, far away from any place
where competition and financial pressure barter and trade. We leave the jangling
noises of the streets behind. We shake from our shoulders the heavy weight of
cares. We let go of the pressing sense of hurry and urgency that has obsessed us.


We find ourselves on a pleasant country hillside, reclining under a rugged, old
twisted tree for whose shade we are grateful, because the sun is hot today. We
can see little heat waves rising from the sparsely covered earth. Before and below
us is a smiling valley. A flock of sheep is grazing there calmly in the sun. They
are munching the green grass – greener there in the valley – in peace and security.


The shepherd has taken precautions against every danger that threatens them. He
has led them in ways of pleasantness through the paths of peace. Conscious of
their safety, he reclines now on the hillside a little way below us, amusing
himself with the birdcalls that he picks out upon a flute that he has fashioned
from a willow branch. About him is an air of lazy ease, but do not be deceived
by it. Let the slightest danger threaten his charges and he will be up in a flash,
ready to defend, with his life if need be, the lives of his charges.



He is only a simple shepherd boy, but he is a veritable god to the sheep, and
though he is simple in much that would seem important to us, he is wise in all
things pertaining to them. He has a way to meet their every need, to protect
them from every danger, to lead them into plenty, to thwart their enemies, and
to bring them, at the close of the day, safe and secure into the fold. They,
lowly dumb creatures that they are, nevertheless are wise enough to trust him,
and they know his voice among many, and respond to it without hesitation.


How like unto a shepherd is God toward us! Through the varied adventurings and
journeyings and needs of our daily life, God watches over us, with brooding,
tender care. For every danger that threatens us, God provides protection. God
leads us, and guides us, and guards us. The simple sheep owe their very
existence to the care of a shepherd boy. Though he is dull, he cares for them
and they put unquestioning faith and trust in him. My hope is that we are as
wise as those sheep, wise enough to put our trust in our Shepherd, God, who with
infinite love and wisdom, holds our life securely in God’s hand. Let us follow
the shepherd’s day, and sing with understanding the simple song of faith inspired
by his talks.


The Lord is my shepherd,” the song begins. For you, the harassed, discouraged
one, this opening sentence of the shepherd’s song holds a precious message. The
Lord is YOUR shepherd. Place your trust in God. God will lead you into your good.
God will protect you and guide you. Nothing disastrous can befall you. God is
mightier than any adverse circumstance or condition that confronts you. God will
not desert you or forsake you or even forget you. Take care that you do not desert
or forsake or forget God! Keep your trust in God. Even though you cannot see how
God can possibly help you, be faithful to your trust. God’s wisdom is greater than
yours. God sees farther than you do. God knows ways that are hidden from your
sight. When every way seems closed, when dangers threaten, when want looms on the
horizon like some fierce wolf to slay you, remember the one who is the Good
Shepherd. “I am the good shepherd,” God assures us, “and I know mine own, and mine
own know me. “Fear not, only believe.” With faith and confidence, we join in the
song: “The Lord is my shepherd.”


Do you fear lack? Does it rear its ugly head, like a specter, in your life?
Follow the shepherd as he leads his sheep into places of plenty. Say with the
shepherd, “I shall not want.” In the Orient the hillsides become parched and dry.
The grass, none too plentiful, withers in the hot sun. Many hungry sheep have
roamed the same pastures. They have nibbled close down to the roots the little
grass there is. The wise shepherd knows where in times of drought the grass is
still fresh and green.


He urges his charges on, past the hilltops to plains and valleys of peace.


Because of his wisdom they do not lack. As familiar ground, now parched and
barren, is left behind, they hesitate; but the shepherd goes ahead of them, and
they follow, even though the way is strange to them. Surely it will be only a
little way, but the way stretches into a long way. The sheep become hot and tired
and hungry and thirsty. Still they follow, because they trust their good shepherd.
At last they come to green pastures, where they may find food and rest.


Our Lord is a Lord of bounty, not of lack. It is God’s good pleasure to share that
bounty with us. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to
give you the kingdom.” But we must trust God, and follow God. God’s way may lead
us away from familiar paths that have become barren to us. The way ahead may seem
even more desolate than that behind us. It is strange to us. We feel completely
lost. We have no assurance of what lies in any direction.


Except for the Good Shepherd, we should be lost indeed. With God we are secure.
Let us keep close to God indeed. “If ye abide in Me, and My Words abide in you,
ask whatsoever ye will, and it shall be done unto you,” God promises, and God
fulfills God’s promise. God brings us not only plenty, but rest from anxiety that
enables us to enjoy in peace the blessings God provides. “He maketh me to lie down
in green pastures.”


In times of drought, when the hills are dry and only the tranquil hidden valleys
are still green, all but the largest of the streams have dried up. The quiet
little streams and the pools from which the sheep like best to drink are gone.
Sheep are afraid of the rushing waters of the big streams, and well they may be,
for they are easily caught in the rushing waters, the heavy wool on their backs
quickly becomes saturated with water and weighs them down.


Even the wise, strong shepherd may be unable to help them when they are caught
in the turbulent current. This the shepherd knows even better than they. If quiet
waters are still to be found, the shepherd leads them there; if not, he diverts
some of the water from one of the noisy, rushing streams, so that it forms a
quiet pool where the sheep may drink in safety.


How grateful they are for the cool water! How fortunate to have a shepherd who is
so wise and so loving! How fortunate are we to have a Shepherd whose guiding care
brings in peace to lives that are harassed and troubled by the confusion and
dangers of rushing streams of human thought. Our Shepherd makes it possible for
us to rest in the peace of plenty, to cleanse our world-begrimed thoughts, and
quench our thirst for things, in the still waters of peace. Surely we too can say,
“He leadeth me beside the still waters.”


Are you weary and confused? Do you seem to have been left behind in the swift
onward rush of things and events? Look again to the shepherd. Sometimes the march
over the hillsides is a long one. The sheep are hot and dusty and weary. They are
hungry and thirsty. Some of them, the weaker ones, lag behind. The wise shepherd
calls a halt while they rest. And if some poor sheep is especially weak and wobbly,
he takes it in his arms and carries it awhile, as the others resume the onward
march. His clear voice rings with encouragement, and the patient sheep respond to
his call.


Soon they come to green pastures and still waters. Truly he restores not only the
soul, but also the body of his charges. So does the Master bid us pause in the
onward rush of things, to renew our strength and faith, to make a fresh start.
We feel the steadying influence of God’s presence. God’s words ring softly upon
our inner ears, “Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.” And we whisper, “He
restoreth my soul.”


All day long the shepherd goes before his flock, choosing a way for them to go.
He picks a path where rocks are fewest, lest they dash their feet against a stone.
He prods in the grass with his staff to force out any snake that may be frightened
into biting the ankles of the sheep as they pass, and to disclose, hidden gopher
holes that may cause the sheep to stumble and fall. He leads them by the best way
that he can find, for his name’s sake as a good shepherd.


It might seem to the sheep that another way would be better or quicker, for they
are impatient to reach a place of food and rest, but he knows better than they.
He is their guardian, and must guard them from themselves as well as from outside
dangers. How much more so does the Good Shepherd guard and guide us! “He leadeth  me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.”


The shadow of death is ever upon the sheep, death from tooth and claw, skulking
in the distance, waiting to rush and kill, death from cruel fang darting from
the grass, death from hole and pit open to trap slender feet and legs, death
from rushing water reaching with greedy fingers to catch and carry downstream
the luckless animal whose thirst overbalances his judgment, winged death soaring
overhead to swirl upon the young and helpless, the old and weak. With the sturdy
shepherd at hand, all this is changed. The timid sheep, so easily panicked
without their guardian, are calmed and guided by his reassuring presence. Yes,
even though they walk through the valleys of the shadow of death, they fear no
evil, for he is with them. His rod and his staff are ever ready to protect them.
They are comforted.


Wise is the human who has an equal faith, who knows that even death itself is
only a shadow, and that beyond the shadow and all around it is light, the light
of eternal life. Conscious of an abiding presence, whose nature is life that is
the light of humans, then the human says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.” In our
Shepherd’s hands, to defend and protect us, is a rod of power and a staff of
support. “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”


The hillsides and valleys and tablelands are the table of the sheep, spread
with food and drink for them. The tables of their masters are not unlike
their own, for in nomadic countries, humans commonly spread a skin upon the
ground before the door of their tent, and, placing on it their simple foods,
they squat upon the ground around it and eat. Often both their own and their
master’s meal is in the presence of enemies, wild animals who, emboldened by
hunger, may attack, and sometimes are thieves who live from the spoil of other
men’s labor. The shepherd prepares a table before the sheep, truly in the
presence of their enemies.


Humans often feel today that they are surrounded by persons and circumstances and
events that are adverse to their best interests. It sometimes seems to them as if
all life is a kind of conspiracy against them, separating them from all they want
to possess or achieve; in the “fell clutch of circumstance” they do not always
clearly know the Shepherd’s guidance, or hear God’s gentle voice amid the din of
other voices. Good, then, it is to know and to affirm, “Thou preparest a table
before me in the presence of mine enemies.” My trust is in Thee.


We come now to the closing lines of the shepherd’s immortal song and to the
closing scenes in the shepherd’s day. From dawn until sunset he has trudged the
hills and valleys with them, going before them, making their way safe and plain
and easy, finding them food, guarding them against dangers both imaginary and
real, bringing them safely home again.


Now, as the sheep return to the fold, comes the most beautiful scene of all. The
shepherd stands guard at the entrance to the fold. He has a dipper of olive oil,
and another, brimful of cool water, by his side. He examines the sheep as they
enter. If he finds a bruise or cut, he cleanses it and binds it up with a healing
ointment. His quick eye and gentle hands seek out the weariest animals, a ewe
heavy with young, or a lamb that is still none too steady on its wobbly legs. He
refills his cup of water, and lets the tired animal drink its fill. He anoints
the hot, dusty head, bramble-torn as well, perhaps, with the healing olive oil,
and sends the poor beast on to its night of rest. Not until the last of his
charges is safely cared for, and the door of the fold closed and barred, does he
retire to his own refreshment. Surely, with such a good shepherd, goodness and
mercy shall follow them all the days of their lives!


The sun has set. The flock is safely in its fold. Its low murmurings have hushed
to quiet. Twilight deepens into night, velvet-soft, and darkest blue. A light
twinkles in the window of the herdsman’s home, beckoning him a welcome. Overhead
the steadfast stars appear.”  EW and CIC


That is such a beautiful piece; and for each of us, that peaceful faith and irrepressible courage the shepherd holds and the trust of the sheep toward their shepherd is that strength that keeps us moving forward on our journey. And during the evening and starry night, we can rest knowing our shepherd is standing by us.
The Lord is OUR shepherd, and His presence allows us to find that peace that passes all understanding. That sweet simplicity of the shepherd’s song to the challenge and activity of our own busy days, the closing words of the singer of Israel echo in our hearts, “Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”


May the Lord, our Shepherd, bless you!


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