When you were a kid your integrity may have been assaulted with a blazing childhood rant: Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire!
Lying, however, isn’t in the repertoire of God—He’s the epitome of truthfulness and faithfulness: God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent (Numbers 23:19).
The Psalms are replete with verses that testify of the faithfulness of God:
- 15:4: He makes firm commitments and does not renege on his promise.
- 18:30: The Lord’s promise is reliable; he is a shield to all who take shelter in him.
- 25:30: The Lord always proves faithful and reliable to those who follow the demands of his covenant.
- 100:5: For the Lord is good. His loyal love endures, and he is faithful through all generations.
God’s faithfulness is more than just the subject of polite conversation, it’s a concept that sustains us in those where-the-rubber-meets-the-road moments of life:
- The grief-stricken need to know they can trust God when he says: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).”
- To the lonely and downcast, God promises that “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you (Isaiah 43:2).”
- The weak are energized by the potential of Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
- The overwhelmed often find comfort in the opening words of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd . . .”
God is not wishy-washy, He’s reliable and His, “word is firmly fixed in the heavens, and His faithfulness endures to all generations (Psalm 119:89-90).”
Regardless of your circumstances in life, remember this: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).”
When I woke up this morning, to the rhythm and words of an old gospel hymn. The four-line chorus reminded me of a precious truth:
Now I belong to Jesus,
Jesus belongs to me,
Not for the years of time alone,
But for eternity.
Of the 19 words in that refrain, the word belong stood out more than the rest. It occurred to me that when you belong to Jesus, you should be longing for a relationship with Him.
During a debate with some skeptics, Jesus spoke of the key to this relationship: The one who belongs to God listens and responds to God’s words. You don’t listen and respond, because you don’t belong to God (John 8:47).
When you listen and respond to God’s words it’s evidence that you belong to God, and it’s the first note in a harmonious relationship with Him. Paul spoke of this relationship, and who you are in Jesus:
- Ephesians 1:7—In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace
- Ephesians 1:11—In Him also we have obtained an inheritance
- Ephesians 3:12—We have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him.
- Colossians 2:9-10—As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving, and you are complete in Him
When the feelings of doubt and despair try to take root in your heart, remember that you belong to Jesus. His desire is to have a relationship with you, and He will watch over you as a shepherd does his flock.
Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands!
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before His presence with singing.
Know that the Lord, He is God;
It is He who has made us, and we belong to Him;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him, and bless His name.
Look at the noun and the adjective. God describes himself as more than a shepherd. He added the descriptive tag “good” to His chosen name of shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd.
If you live the nomadic life and sheep and goats are a part of your daily existence, you know much more about shepherds than most people. Central Asia, West Africa, the Middle East and Israel are regions of the world that know the importance of a good shepherd.
And that’s an important point. God could have said: “I’m the Shepherd,” but He didn’t. He also did not describe Himself as being a so-so shepherd or a little above average shepherd. He said He is the Good Shepherd, and He means GOOD is every sense of the word.
Notice the use of the analogy in Scripture:
• The Lord is my Shepherd (Psalm 23:10)
• We are your people, the sheep of your flock (Psalm 79:13).
• We are His people and the sheep of His pasture (Psalm 100:3).
• I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep (John 10:11).
The people to whom Jesus spoke were people who knew the job description of a shepherd: It is the job of the shepherd to:
• Find a sheep when it is lost.
• Carry a sheep when it has fallen and is injured.
• Rescue a sheep that is about to drown because its wet wool is dragging him down like an anchor.
• Doctor a sheep when it is sick.
The prophet Isaiah (53:6) explains why sheep need a shepherd: “All we like sheep have gone astray.” Any time you stray from the way of the Shepherd, there is the potential of danger. Peter said you need to, “Be clearheaded. Keep alert. Your accuser, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (I Peter 5:8).”
I’ll close with Paul’s benediction to the Hebrews (13:20-21): “Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus—the great Shepherd of the sheep—with the blood of the everlasting covenant, equip you with all that is good to do His will, working in us what is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ. Glory belongs to Him forever and ever. Amen.”
What picture comes to your mind when you think of Psalm 23? Is it a shepherd tending his flock? Do you have a vivid image of luscious green pastures where sheep are feeding? Perhaps your mind is fixed on the image of a stream of crystal clear water—water that quenches your thirst and refreshes your tired and weary body.
Whenever I read this Psalm, I think of three words that form a phrase that appears twice: “He leads me.” Shepherds are to lead sheep and sheep are to follow the shepherd.
When you follow the lead of the Good Shepherd, you will experience His grace for each moment of your life. This is an important truth—God does not give grace for the future. Just as the Israelites could not collect manna for a future day, but only the present, you cannot collect and hoard grace for a future need.
God’s grace is sufficient for your every need and for every breath of your life. This truth is proclaimed in Hebrews 4:16: “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with fullest confidence, that we may receive mercy for our failures and grace to help in the hour of need.”
Here are the key points of the verse above:
• As one of God’s children, you have a family right of access to the throne of grace.
• It is the throne of GRACE, not philosophy.
• You can approach the throne of grace with confidence.
• You can have the expectation of receiving the mercy and grace you need for the moment.
• The mercy is designed to help with your “failures.”
• The grace is focused on providing “help.”
• All of this is for the exact moment you need it—“in the hour” of your need.
The key to all of this is found in the three words of Psalm 23: “He leads me.” When David followed the Good Shepherd he was blessed. When he strayed from the path of the Shepherd, he failed. In each case the mercy and grace of the Shepherd was present in his hour of need, and both are present for you as well.
The answer to the question is Psalm 23. More often than not, when I ask a family what Scripture they would like read at the funeral of their loved one, they reply: “Psalms 23.”
While this Psalm is very poetic, it is much more than that—it is also jam-packed full of promises! The six verses of this Psalm is vivid imagery that presents God in the language of a caring and loving shepherd, and it offers hope to God’s struggling sheep in their darkest hours.
The first three words speak of God’s eternal presence: “The Lord is.” The word “is” is present tense. The verse does not say the Lord “was,” or the Lord “has been,” or “might possible be.” It tells us that the desire of God is to be your personal Shepherd at this exact moment and in every future second, minute, hour, and day of your life.
God is present now and with Him is the essence of His attributes. He is present with His empowering grace, abundant mercy, and His loving-kindness. He is present in His awesome greatness, His truth, and in His almighty strength.
Because sheep have a tendency wander off and get lost, He is also present to light the path you walk and to shine as a lamp to your feet. He is the ever-ready, ever present, power-packed God.
Whatever your task might be for today and whatever the trial may be, remember these three words: The Lord is. To really embrace the truth of this, drop the “the” and replace it with “my.” Say it now: “My Lord is.”
When you get a chance, put a smile on your Shepherd’s face, and shout it out: “My Lord is!” This “ism” is a beautiful prism that opens new possibilities to enhance your relationship with your Shepherd.
There has probably been some time in your life when you felt like you were living under a cloud of despair. Regardless of what you did, there seemed to be a trail of worries and problems that followed you where ever you went.
A stark contrast to this kind of situation is found in the words of David in Psalm 23:6: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.
I think it is important to note that David did not say that every waking moment of a person’s life will be filled with good moments and happy days. He did say, however, that the goodness of God and His mercy can be experienced each day of our lives.
Unless a person has given some consideration to the meaning of mercy and its close cousin, grace, he may think that the words have the same meaning. Let me distinguish one from the other:
- Grace is when God gives you something you do not deserve. Salvation is a good example of this. I do not know of anyone who really deserves it.
- Mercy is when God does not give a person what he deserves. When a righteous God judges sinful man, He can either punish him or extend His goodness and mercy.
I have heard people say: I just want what I deserve and what I have coming to me. Not me, I want the mercy of God.
David said the mercy of God is a given, and we see this in the word surely. It isn’t a hope so or maybe so proposition, it is a guarantee from God. In the Lamentations of Jeremiah, the prophet said: It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed; they are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness!
In the shepherd/sheep analogy of Psalm 23, we have the Good Shepherd who leads us, and guarding the back of the flock are His two sheep dogs. One is named Goodness and the other is called Mercy.
Remember the promise of this verse: Surely goodness and mercy will follow one all the days of my life. Think about it, Goodness and Mercy are the lap-dogs who are just a whistle away.