He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. (NKJV)
When God is truly our shepherd, we allow him to guide us, care for us, lead us, and protect us. This understanding of a shepherd may be lost on many of us, but at the time of the writing of the 23rd psalm, the vital role of the shepherd was well known. While the 23rd psalm is one of the most frequently quoted set of verses in all of scripture, we rarely take the time to contemplate the profound impact of what it means to have God, the creator of the universe, as our shepherd.
I have been reviewing the implications over the past few blogs and continue with the third verse of psalm 23, where it states that when God is our shepherd, he leads us in paths of righteousness. The literal rending of this phrase in Hebrew is "leading in the right path". In our current culture, we are consumed with being efficient and effective in our busy lives. Our interpretation of this verse is often "God leads to the right places and right decisions". In this interpretation, God, the shepherd is a cosmic ouija board or crystal ball, who tells us exactly where to go, whom to marry, and what vocation we should pursue. While God is able to give answers to our questions, this text suggests an alternative role for God's shepherding. He guides us to journey in the right way regardless of where we are going. In other words, God is guiding us in the right way of going, not just the right places at the right time. God is concerned about our character development more than our career development.
In light of this understanding, lets consider the following points:
1. "He Leads" suggests a personal relationship with God. He leads and we follow. God does not merely develop a map in which we follow or lay out a script in which we memorize. God, sent his son Jesus so that we could have a personal relationship. Not conceptually, virtually, or figuratively, but practically, personally, and passionately.
2. "He Leads" suggests that God is already where he wants you to be. Since Jesus (called the exact representation of God in Hebrews 1:3) is the great shepherd (John 10:11), he leads us toward being right before doing right. He invites us to follow him and as we follow him, we become like him. This invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to "come and die" as German Theologian D. Bonfoffer states. The decision to follow Jesus and allow him to shepherd us is never meant to be assumed or made casually. Jesus would say that in order to follow him, we must deny ourselves (our own selfish desires), carry our cross (sacrificial service for others), and follow him daily (Mt 16:24). By contemporary standards, Jesus was a horrible evangelist.
3. "For His name's sake" suggests that God has great pleasure and pride in your formation and guidance. This concept goes back to creation in which God made humanity in His own image. We were created to reflect the beauty and goodness of God. Our lives are to be a homage to his character. That is why those who follow Jesus are called by Jesus "children of God" because we are to be like God in our character. We can not do that on our own, but require God's work in us and through us.
God is our shepherd when we allow God to shape our character and our inmost being, not just our directions, aspirations, and dreams. I pray that you will follow the shepherd, where ever he is leading, knowing that it is his great pleasure to shape you into his image.
May God bless you,
Pastor M Traylor