The image of God as a shepherd is one of the most comforting pictures in Scripture. And Psalm 23 is probably the most widely known of the references to Jehovah Roi, I am the God Who Shepherds You.
Verse 1 of that Psalm is translated in several different ways in Scripture. Here are three of them:
- The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. (KJV)
- God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing. (MSG)
- The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. (NIV)
What is the job description of a shepherd? The shepherd’s first task is to provide for his sheep. Psalm 23: 1 assures us that God provides everything we need. This is to be distinguished from everything we want. If we are afraid or anxious because we don’t have what we need, we need only to ask God to provide for us. I think this asking includes asking help from the community God has surrounded us with. If we are jealous of someone because we don’t have what they have, we need to ask God to forgive our lack of graciousness for wanting more than God provides.
The second bullet point in the job description of a shepherd is to protect his sheep. Imagining God as a shepherd helps us embrace the truth that we have nothing to fear when we live in God’s kingdom. However, sometimes we need a visual to help us remember that we are safe with God. I often call to mind Rembrandt’s famous painting of the disciples in a boat that has been swept up in a storm on the Sea of Galilee.
The story is that Jesus was asleep in the boat and when the disciples woke him up, he was surprised at their panic. This detail from the painting shows how frightened they were. But I know the end of the story. Picturing Jesus calming their fears as well as the storm helps me remember that God the shepherd protects me.
A shepherd also has the job of leading and guiding his sheep in “right paths.” We often need direction in choosing our path. Sometimes God brings someone into our lives who can serve as a “shepherd.” I recently had coffee with a friend who was discouraged because of a behavior that continues to carry over from a false narratives even though she has replaced the narrative with one of Jesus’ narratives. I gave her some suggestions on how to change the behavior. She responded by asking me to meet with her regularly to help her develop some “spiritual muscles.” Perhaps you are someone who has the gift of mentoring, coaching, or coming alongside another. Ask God to show you someone whom you can guide as well as someone who can guide you.
Our trust in God as a shepherd changes us from frightened, difficult people to apprentices of Jesus who have the legacy the Psalmist claims in the last phrases of Psalm 23. Jan Johnson puts it this way:
“Think of how it is when some people leave a room. They leave behind an atmosphere of peace, joy and love while others leave behind a trail of turmoil, conflict frustration and animosity. People who trust that God is their shepherd and trust that God provides everything they need leave a trail that’s deeply good and merciful (helping others and forgiving mistakes.) The room is an easier place to be in when they are there” Weavings (May, June, July, 2012).
Letting the Lord shepherd you along your journey ensures that you will be a person that people welcome in the room.
image of shepherd from pinterest.com