Read an Excerpt
The Basic Question
Just Who Is Your Shepherd?
Right there in the opening line of Psalm 23, we find the essence and climax and consummation of what the whole psalm is about: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
But immediately a problem reveals itself in our reaction to these well-known words from David. While everybody likes part two of the verse—naturally we want our wants and needs provided for—many of us would just as soon skip part one, the bothersome part about making the Lord our Shepherd.
So my simple question for you is this: I’m assuming the Lord is your Savior, but is He also your Shepherd? In other words, do you want the promise of the second half of verse 1 bad enough to get the first half right?
I assure you that you’ll be better prepared to answer that question after we take a closer look at each word in this brief opening phrase of this most famous psalm and we experience the deep and true encouragement to be found there.
First of all, David identifies his Shepherd as “the Lord.” What does David really mean by that name?
The Hebrew word for “Lord” in this verse is Yahweh. That’s God’s formal name, and it takes us back to Exodus 3, where God was leading Moses into a tough situation that was too big for him to handle. On that occasion, God revealed to Moses that His name is “I Am That I Am.” That’s Yahweh, the same “Lord” that David talks about. What kind of name is this? If Yahweh the Lord is the one who meets all our needs, we really do need to know and understand His name.
“I Am That I Am” conveys first of all God’s selfexistence. He’s the eternally existent One. God exists because God exists. He isn’t defined by anything outside Himself. His existence is wrapped up in His existence; the total circumference of who God is within God Himself.
Therefore God is also self-sufficient. He depends on nothing outside Himself in order to be God. He is sustained by Himself, which means He is of necessity consistent with Himself.
When I’m cold, I need a coat. When I’m hungry, I need food. When I’m sick, I need a doctor. I have to go outside myself to have my needs met. But not God, because all that He requires, He is. What this means practically is that
God has what no one in all creation has: an eternally unchangeable nature. God will always be as He is now and as He reveals Himself to be, because “I Am That I Am.” God is the same yesterday and today and tomorrow. His essential nature does not change because it cannot change, because it’s defined by His own internal reality that needs nothing outside Himself.
You and I, on the other hand, live in an atmosphere of constant change. The weather changes, our health changes,
our mood changes, our level of knowledge changes. We constantly fluctuate and oscillate and deviate as we find ourselves in varying circumstances.
But God never changes. What He was, He is. What He is, He will always be.
That means God is the most consistent thing in your life. The most dependable thing you have going for you is not your family or your friends or your bank account or your life’s work. The best and the most consistent thing you have going for you is your God, and we see that even in His name. “I Am That I Am,” He says. There is constancy with God.
When it came to meeting his needs and overcoming his struggles in life, David knew he needed someone consistent and steadfast to lean on. He didn’t want a Shepherd who would only be there sometimes. He needed a Shepherd he could bank on 24/7. And only the Lord God can be that. And because of who He is, God already possesses all that it takes to fully satisfy us. All the raw materials necessary to address our deepest needs are already built into His identity. He doesn’t have to go look for it or buy it or borrow it. He has it, because I Am That I Am. He’s a one-stop shop.
So you want to make sure your Shepherd is not some cheap god, but the unchanging Yahweh, the Lord, the only God. The Bible is His résumé, and it’s a thick one. He’s got all the qualifications, all the capacity required to handle the job. He’s managing the lives of billions of people all at the same time. And while He’s taking care of that, He keeps the earth’s rivers flowing and the breezes blowing and the fields and the flowers and the trees all growing. Meanwhile, He keeps our planet rotating on its axis and revolving around the sun, even as he manages the affairs of stars and galaxies that only He can ever know the number of.
That’s why David tells the Lord, “You are my shepherd; I’m looking only to You.”
Is the Lord your Shepherd, too? It’s easy to answer yes, but how do you know if it’s something real for you or if you’re just saying the words?
Let me give you a simple test. When you’re challenged or tested or stretched, when you need help, where do you go first? Where do you look? Who do you turn to first? Most folks go to God only after they’ve tried everything else—when nothing else is working, then they try praying. Think about your last crisis. Whatever or whoever you went to first for help in that crisis, that is your shepherd. A man on a trip into the African rainforest was following a guide. As they pushed onward into deeper and darker jungle, the guide with his machete was whacking away at the thick green growth that rose like a wall everywhere before them.
“How do you know where to go?” the man asked. “Where’s the path?”
The guide replied, “I am the path.” It’s a jungle out there, and we need a guide who knows where he’s going and what he’s doing. God is that guide, because He is the great I Am.
David didn’t say, “The Lord was my shepherd.” He didn’t say, “The Lord will be my shepherd.” He said, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Right now. In this very moment. It’s a presenttense relationship, which it must be, since God’s name is I Am, and that name also reveals His eternal nature. When God says, “I Am That I Am,” He’s saying, “I am always in the present tense.” Everything for God is now. God has never experienced a yesterday. Nor does He have a tomorrow, so God never has to use the words I hope…Why is it important to know this about God? Because when I have a need, my need is in the now. When I have a struggle, my struggle is in the now. When I have a hurt, my hurt is in the now. And God tells us, “I am the Eternal Now. I can meet you in your present experience.”
Then there are those of us that are worried and upset and even popping pills because we’re thinking about tomorrow.
But God shepherds us one day at a time—He makes sure we have enough grace to cover the troubles of today. God says, “Don’t worry. When you get to tomorrow, I’ll be there. Just deal with today. Just let Me be your Shepherd, and I will take care of you. Receive My grace for this moment. And if you take time to thank Me for the present, you won’t have time to worry about tomorrow.”
God meets today’s needs today. He’ll meet tomorrow’s needs tomorrow.
When the people of Israel journeyed through the wilderness, God rained down a certain food for them every morning from on high, like cornflakes from the sky, and the people gathered it up from the ground for that day’s sustenance.
He gave them each morning only a day’s supply of these flakes, except on the sixth day of the week, when He gave them twice as much so they could rest on the Sabbath and not have to gather their food.
It was always enough, but only enough, to supply each day’s need.
God wanted His people to recognize Him as their daily provider. He wanted them to constantly look to Him for their provision.
That’s why God isn’t satisfied with our go-to-churchon-Sunday-and-I’m-good-for-the-week approach to the Christian life. Once you hit Monday, Sunday’s over. It’s “was,” not “is.” God wants a moment-by-moment, day-by-day relationship with each of us, not a once-a-week “refresher.”
“The Lord is my shepherd.” This is an individual situation, a personal relationship. It wasn’t enough for David that the
Lord is a shepherd or even the Shepherd. He knew he had to be able to say that the great I Am is my Shepherd, to say that the Lord is the one I’m depending on for my needs and my salvation.
Sometimes at a crowded restaurant, when you’re waiting for a table and your name is on the waiting list, the hostess will give you a pager to hold. When it’s time for you and your party to be seated, the pager will vibrate. The restaurant staff has your name, and they’re preparing a table just for you. And once it’s ready, if you’re still patiently waiting and holding on to that pager, it will let you know.
Now some people wonder why their spirituality is so lifeless and nothing’s vibrating. It’s because they’re not holding on to God’s pager and patiently seeking and awaiting their Shepherd’s personal instructions just for them. So they miss the table He’s prepared for them.
I have shirts that are monogrammed with the letters T. E. They’re not just off-the-rack shirts; they’re personalized.
A lot of Christians want an off-the-rack God, but what God wants with us is a monogrammed relationship. He has your initials inscribed on His heart—and He want His Son’s initials inscribed on yours.
God gave you a unique personality, a unique orientation, a unique purpose, a unique calling. And He has to be your personal Shepherd in order for you to know His unique will for you. He wants a relationship with you that’s unlike what He has with anybody else.
You may think I’m going too far by saying that, but if you read in Revelation, in Christ’s messages to the seven churches, you will find this promise regarding the believer who’s committed to Him:
“And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”
The Lord is saying, “I will give you a private name that only the two of us know.” God is going to monogram you,
to mark the most intimately personal relationship possible. And He’s nurturing that relationship with you even now.
Some things, of course, apply equally to each and every Christian. The promises and commands and standards of
Scripture are for us all. But just like your fingerprints are unique and different, so also is God’s interaction with you unique and different, because you are unique and different. And that’s why you need to learn to hear God’s voice to know when He’s speaking specifically to you, and how He’s particularly leading you in the application (or the illumination—that’s the theological word) of the Scriptures to your life.