It’s no secret I have a particular fondness for biblical passages on shepherding.
For over twenty years I’ve kept goats and sheep in varying numbers and every day discover one more way I am a sheep in need of a Shepherd.
I wander, I’m afraid when I don’t have to be, I do foolish and self-harmful things, I push and shove to get that certain bit of food or space or whatever when all the while there is an abundance, and I often make it hard for the One who loves me best to guide me to the safety and rest of His fold.
That’s one reason the Twenty-third Psalm is especially beautiful to me.
But there’s another reason-hidden inside the original Hebrew-that makes it a favorite Bible passage and a very appropriate one for these frightening times: within the verses are references to seven names of God.
And unlike we who are named according to our parents’ whimsy, God IS His name.
“The Lord is my Shepherd”
– Jehovah Rohi (The Lord is my Shepherd and my Guide) – “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will GUIDE you into all truth” ~John 16:13
My goats and sheep will follow me anywhere. Why?
Because they know I won’t lead them into danger and if we happen to stumble upon it, I will protect them and fight for them.
My Shepherd King is so much more trustworthy than I am.
He knows the end from the beginning and loves me more than I love myself. If I will only follow closely behind Him, I can rest assured that wherever He leads, I am in His loving care.
“I shall not want”
– Jehovah Jireh (The Lord is my Provider) “My God shall supply all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.” ~Philippians 4:19
My critters are utterly dependent upon me to make sure they have the basic necessities-food, water and a safe and dry place to sleep at night. They can’t run to the grocery store if I forget to toss them grain or hay.
But they don’t pace back and forth afraid I won’t do what I’ve always done.
I waste so much energy and time worrying that somehow God will forget to provide what I need.
It’s that simple. I am not promised everything I WANT. I’m not even guaranteed everything I think I need. But I am absolutely certain that in Christ I have the most needful thing-forgiveness of my sins and right standing with the Father.
“He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters”
– Jehovah Shalom (The Lord is my Peace — my calm in the midst of a storm) – “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely” ~1 Thessalonians 5:23
Shalom is a big word.
According to Strong’s Concordance (7965) Shalom means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.
Peace isn’t a place or only a promise–it’s a Person.
And that Person is Jesus, my Shepherd King.
When my little flock hears something that frightens them, they run straight toward me and wait to see if I am frightened too. My presence brings them peace.
I am often more foolish than my dumb animals! I run to so many people and things of the world hoping one or the other can bring me the peace I so desperately crave. But I can only really rest when I place my full confidence in Jehovah-Shalom-the One who IS Peace.
“He restores my soul”
– Jehovah Rapha (The Lord my Healer) – “And by His stripes we are healed” ~1 Peter 2:24 (and Isaiah 53:5)
Anyone who has spent time with me here knows I’m no fan of “sunshine” Christianity. I’m no “name it and claim it” crusader. So I do not believe that God my Healer means I won’t ever suffer.
That’s why I really love the phrase “He restores my soul”.
Because isn’t that really what we ALL want? Restoration of the very core of who we are? Rest in the center of our being?
Jesus has restored my soul more than once.
When I reach out and touch the hem of His garment, He heals the most broken places in my soul.
“He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake”
– Jehovah Tsidkenu (The Lord is my Righteousness; in Him I have right standing with God) “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” ~2 Corinthians 5:21
Let’s be honest, I can always find somebody that makes me look good. There’s always someone whose a little badder than I am.
Problem is, that’s not how God does things. He doesn’t use a sliding scale or a grading curve to determine who meets the mark and who misses it.
God is holy, set apart, completely righteous, pure and good.
I am none of those things.
And there is absolutely no way I can make myself those things.
But He has provided righteousness for me through Christ’s perfect atoning sacrifice if I choose to believe.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me”
– Jehovah Shammah (The Lord is There; He is our Ever-Present God) – “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” ~Hebrews 13:5
This may actually be my very favorite name of God. “The Lord is There” is an amazing concept!
“Immanuel”-God with us! The Lord Himself come down to dwell with men.
The God who made the universe, made me. The God who counts the stars and sets them in their place, counts the hairs on my head and set me in this place at this time.
This virus crisis FEELS like the shadow of death.
It feels like some creeping thing slinking around the edges of my family, waiting to devour us. I can’t see it and I can’t stop it.
But I am not alone. Jesus is here.
HE is here.
And I can rest in His promise that whatever I may face, I will never, ever face alone.
“Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies”
– Jehovah Nissi (The Lord is my Banner, my standard, He covers me) – “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD will lift up a standard against him” ~Isaiah 59:19
In the Song of Solomon His banner over me is love.
In Ruth, His banner is Kinsman-Redeemer, covering my weakness with His strength.
In the gospels, His banner is victory over sin, death and the grave.
You may be hunkered down in your home, wondering how we all got here- questioning whether this may be a work of evil men or the evil one and when or if we might be rescued.
I can’t answer the why or when.
But I can point you to the Who-the One who wants to love you, to give you strength and to assure you that even death doesn’t have the last word.
“You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs 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.”
My Shepherd King cares for me when I’m distressed and He fills me with Himself until my soul overflows.
His goodness and mercy pursues and overtakes me!
I have spent many, many hours hunting down a lost sheep or goat. I’ve had some wander off so far in the woods we couldn’t even hear them, much less see them.
But I do not give up. I do not stop looking. I do not go to bed and say, “I’ll find them tomorrow”.
I pursue them until I can bring them back in the fold. There they dwell in safety, fully cared for as long as they live.
I am worth so much more than a sheep. God will not forget me or dismiss me or allow me to wander forever.
He will come find me and bring me home to His heart and His path.
And one day-one glorious day-He will take me to my forever Home.
Does the image of Jesus as Shepherd help your heart find hope? Why or why not?
Psalms 22, 23 and 24 are considered by most biblical scholars to represent three images of Christ (22-Suffering Savior, 23-Shepherd, 24-Victorious King). Read them together and see if you agree.
Is there one of the names of God included in this study that is particularly precious to you?
Write out each name of God and see if you can find one other verse not previously mentioned that deepens your understanding of what the name means.
What does it mean to say God IS His name? If you have access to an online concordance, find one or two other names of God that might encourage you right now.
You are a good, perfect and loving Father. You are my Shepherd, my Provider, my Healer, my Righteousness, my Banner and YOU ARE HERE.
Help my heart lean into this truth.
Provide the most needful thing-Yourself-as I walk fearfully through this Valley. Restore my soul and flood it with Your peace.
Thank You that You are my righteousness-I am not left in my sins to receive the punishment they deserve. Thank You for Jesus.
Spread Your banner of love over my heart. Spread your banner of strength over my weakness. Spread Your banner of victory over my feeble attempt to ward off worry.
Let me feel Your Presenceand help me trust Your heart.
I get it-media is looking to sell papers, get hits and make money.
But I’m oh, so tired of the only names mentioned when tragedy strikes being ones that make good headlines.
Mr. Bryant was traveling to a youth basketball tournament with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, who was also killed in Sunday’s crash. Two of her teammates and their parents also died.
The NY TIMES, Morning Briefing
Kobe Bryant and his daughter were killed Sunday in a helicopter crash.
So were John Altobelli, his wife Keri and daughter Alyssa, Sarah Chester and daughter Payton, along with Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan, the pilot.
No one survived.
Every family that lost a member in this awful accident will have to walk the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Money and fame don’t protect a heart from the pain, sorrow, despair and overwhelming darkness death brings with it.
But public focus on only the rich and famous can add to the burden when your family member is among the slain.
The longer I care for my sheep and goats, the more I understand why God put His leaders through this school of discipleship.
Many days it’s a thankless job-my charges often do foolish things that place them in peril, they work hard to tear down the fences I’ve erected for their safety and they wander away forcing me to chase after them and bring them home.
But I never give up on them.
A shepherd’s heart is revealed in how she (or he) takes care of the weakest animals.
I cannot lay my head down at night without taking mental inventory to make sure they are safe, secure and well cared for through the darkness until morning dawns afresh.
David spent years and years in “shepherd school”.
It prepared him to fight Goliath.
It molded his heart to lead God’s people.
The Eternal is my shepherd, He cares for me always. 2 He provides me rest in rich, green fields beside streams of refreshing water. He soothes my fears; 3 He makes me whole again, steering me off worn, hard paths to roads where truth and righteousness echo His name. 4 Even in the unending shadows of death’s darkness, I am not overcome by fear. Because You are with me in those dark moments, near with Your protection and guidance, I am comforted.
Psalm 23: 1-4 VOICE
I could write for days on what these verses mean to my own heart. I could tease out dozens of lessons from the picture David paints of tender care, abundant mercy, amazing love.
But the one thing I’ll share now is this: I never, ever, ever abandon my flock.
If all I had was a stick and my voice, I’d fight off every enemy.
I am never too busy nor too distracted to tend to their needs. I never forget to feed them, water them, check on them and call them home in the evening.
They know my voice.
They follow me because I am trustworthy. They allow me to tend their wounds because I am gentle. They come running to me when they are afraid because they know I am a fierce defender.
If I-a mere, fallible, fragile mortal-am this concerned about my little flock, imagine how our Good Shepherd cares for us!
Don’t rush over these verses because they are familiar.
Go back, read them again.
Know that the Lord God loves you.
Do you remember the first time you encountered this Psalm? Does it hold a special memory?
How has the Lord given you rest in the midst of weariness?
How has God provided necessities for you?
What does it mean to you that Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd? Read that passage in John 10 and notice how He defines what a good shepherd looks like. How might that encourage your heart when walking in this Valley of the Shadow of Death?
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to find an old, lame or nearly blind goat or sheep that wandered off and got lost. I do what it takes to bring them home. No matter how far you wander, Jesus is coming to get you. Can you relate a time when Jesus reached out in a special way and helped you make it back home?
What do you need from your Shepherd today? Ask Him for it.
You ARE the Good Shepherd. You love me. You care for me. You lead me to places of rest when I am overcome with weariness. You walk beside me and offer refuge when I am afraid.
This grief journey is hard. Sometimes I wonder if You are really here or if You have abandoned me. Help me hear Your voice. Help me run to You for safety.
Teach me to follow You always, even when You lead me in dark places and I’m fearful. Thank You for leaving us with a beautiful picture through David’s words of Your heart.
When I was a little girl, I used to wrap my hand around my daddy’s forefinger when we walked together. His long legs meant that mine had to work double time to keep up.
But no matter where his legs took us, I knew I was safe-because he was with me, he wouldn’t leave me and he would take care of me.
When I was afraid, I could just squeeze his hand a little tighter and courage flooded my soul.
I’m very thankful for the example and blessing of a faithful, loving earthly father because it makes it so much easier for me to trust my Heavenly Father.
There are many things that terrify me in the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
Left to myself, I’d turn and run, hide or just lie down and give up.
But I’m not alone.
My Shepherd walks alongside me. His Presence gives me courage and strength to keep going.
When I am afraid, I cling tighter to His promises, lean harder on His grace and hold on for dear life to His love.
In the hour of crisis, I may be weak in the knees, but I must step forward. I may bow in my private Gethsemane, sweat blood, and cry for deliverance, but then I rise to take up the cross and move toward yonder marked-out hill of suffering. The fight of faith does not allow me to flee in terror. … I dare not and will not deny the sustaining power of the living God.
When Paul wrote, ‘I can do everything through him who gives me strength’ (Philippians 4:13), he was not boasting of his cleverness or aptitude in mastering circumstances. He was expressing deep confidence that in whatever condition — sickness or health, abundance or poverty, life or death — Christ would enable him to cope, even triumph. He experienced and preached what he truly believed: ‘In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us’ (Romans 8:37).
I know from other grieving mamas that I always will.
But sometimes they catch me by surprise.
Motoring home from Walmart, a campaign sign catches my eye. The candidate is young and running for District Judge in our county. That could have been Dominic.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.
Walking by the wall of photos in my hallway-something I do every. single. night. I turn and two-year-old Dom is looking right at me. Innocent. Full of promise. Smiling wide. I kiss his picture because that’s all I have left.
Breathe in. Breathe out. Repeat.
Reaching for the jar opener Dominic brought home one day, suddenly I’m crying. He was always looking for ways to make my life easier. I hope he knew how very much I appreciated it.
Breathe in. Breathe out.Repeat.
Water the plants we got for his funeral.
Walk by the car he drove to school.
Wash his cup hanging unused under the kitchen cupboard because it’s covered in dust.
Thankfully our family has always turned to laughter as a way of making it through things that would otherwise bring us to tears. So it wasn’t but a couple days past when we got the news of Dom’s leaving we managed a giggle here and there as his friends shared some funny stories with us.
But it felt strange to have laughter bubbling up in my throat even as I couldn’t stop its escaping my mouth.
It wasn’t the unforced expression of joy and merriment it used to be. Instead it was a strangled, mishapen gurgling mixture of the joy I once knew and unspeakable pain I now knew.
It didn’t float airily into the atmosphere, it thudded heavy to the floor.
And then I felt like I was betraying my son.
How could I laugh just days after finding out he would never laugh again? How could I giggle over a silly story when my own story had drifted into tragic territory? Was there something dreadfully wrong with me? Was I somehow defective?
No. No. No.
There is nothing wrong with laughing-even in the darkest night of child loss.
Laughter is a gift.
When we laugh our hearts and bodies are receiving strength for the work grief requires.
Laughter has many proven benefits:
decreases stress hormones
increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease
triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
lowers blood pressure
works your abdominal muscles
improves cardiac health
Dominic had an amazing laugh–he was always cutting up, teasing friends and family and finding the funny in every situation.He loved to laugh.
One of the favorite stories his classmates told me was when he dressed as a redneck client for a mock trial case. They were petrified that when he walked into the “courtroom” he was going to ruin their strategy and chances of winning.
But he played the part to perfection and had everyone rolling in the aisles.
I am learning to embrace laughter not only for what it does for ME but for how it links my heart to his.
This Valley is a long, dark place-I’ll take any light that breaks through.