Originally published on October 3, 2015.
Funny, isn’t it? How we can sit around talking about sheep and their needs as if we are farmers– except we all know what we are really digging at. (Without looking too desperate or anything…because we are all relatively successful, put-together women with careers and families and homes in a nice small town….and who wants to admit that sometimes you feel as harried and helpless as a sheep?) When we read the Musician-King’s familiar words, we can imagine him singing over his flock in the hills of Judea: “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.” (Psalm 23:1) And that’s what we are all looking for, right there….that relationship with God that satisfies our hearts, gives us peace. No matter how good our lives seem from the outside, there is still this longing on the inside, a kind of soul-hunger that we can be good at ignoring. So we keep on talking about woolly sheep, and what is it that we really need, anyway?
Thing is, only the Shepherd knows, for sure. Having been one himself, King David was convinced that a shepherd knew best for his sheep. Sheep need someone bigger than they, who knows what they need and can provide it– and Jesus said we are not so very different. Jesus told people not to worry about the necessities of life, because His Father “already knows all your needs.” And yet it is shockingly easy to spend our days on bringing home a paycheck…on shoes, electric bills, hobbies, and retirement funds. Jesus said the only important thing we really need to be doing is to “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously….” (Matthew 6:33) After all, our well-being rests in the hands of Someone who will provide for us in order to bring honor to His own eternal, glorious Name….we could not ask for a more fail-proof arrangement. So why not just get on with Kingdom business, live like we mean it, and trust the Shepherd to provide for our needs? As David sang, “Surely Your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life…” (Psalm 23:6).
And we need Goodness to pursue us. Because life is a dangerous place, where a curve in the road or a routine lab test can change everything in a matter of minutes. Because even America is not necessarily a safe place for Christ-followers, any more. Because all the unexpected in a day serves to remind us over and over that our sense of control is only an illusion. I heard a preacher say once that sheep aren’t stupid– just vulnerable in a world where they have no natural defenses and many predators. We get that, and we work hard to cover up that vulnerability (as if masks can ward off the wolves). King David knew from experience how quickly people could turn on you, spent years on the run in the desert; he also knew the Infinite Goodness who was watching over him, and there he found peace and a safety he could trust. “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me.” (Psalm 23:4)
Especially in the desert places, sheep need to belong. They need to be seen and heard individually, recognized by someone who loves them and would lay down his life to protect them. Jesus said the Good Shepherd “calls His own sheep by name and leads them out..He walks ahead of them, and they follow Him because they know His voice.” (John 10:4) Infinite Love takes on flesh and blood to come find all us sheep who have gotten hopelessly lost in the brambles and the mud. The sheep recognize the Shepherd’s voice because He has met their deepest needs– needs that go beyond the physical. Jesus told a woman He met at a well, “those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (John 4:14) Because most of all, sheep need to be washed white as wool, to be forgiven and get a chance to start over. And this time we will listen to the voice of the One who loves us and calls us by name, and we will follow wherever He leads. “He lets me rest in green meadows; He leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths…” (Psalm 23:2-3)
And the Shepherd is assuring us that we have all we really need: “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” (Zephaniah 3:17) What I need most is Him.
Your presence is all I need,Amanda Faulk, I Will Exalt
It’s all I want, all I seek,
And without it, without it there’s no meaning.
Your presence is the air I breathe,
The song I sing, the love I need
Without it, without it I’m not living.
I will exalt You Lord, I will exalt You Lord.
There is no one like You, God.
Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.Psalm 34:8-10