For at least part of their history, the Hebrews were a nomadic people who wandered from place to place seeking pasture for their herds of sheep, goats, and cattle. To sustain their livelihood, it was vital for shepherds to keep their animals from straying, protect them from thieves and wild animals, and provide them with plentiful pastures. In the ancient Near East and in Israel itself, "shepherd" eventually became a metaphor for kings. The Hebrew Scriptures speak of God as the Shepherd of his people and apply this image to religious leaders as well. The New Testament presents Jesus as the Good Shepherd, who protects the lives of his sheep by forfeiting his own life. When you pray to the Lord your Shepherd, you are praying to the One who watches over you day and night, feeding you and leading you safely on the path of righteousness.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake. (Psalm 23:1-3)
PRAYING THE NAME
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
Reflect On: Psalm 23
Praise God: For his ability to care for you.
Offer Thanks: For the way God has been your faithful Shepherd.
Confess: Any tendency to let fear shape your responses to life.
Ask God: To restore your soul and give you peace.
According to scientists, sheep have gotten a bad reputation for being, shall we say, less than brilliant. In fact, it appears that sheep are fairly intelligent creatures. They only seem stupid because they are afraid of just about everything. But what's so scary about being a sheep? For one thing sheep taste good, especially to wolves and other wild animals who love to prey on them because they are defenseless. To make matters worse, sheep are fairly good at getting lost, and when they get wet in a river or pond, their wool can get so soaked and heavy that they easily drown. Close to shearing time sheep can become so top-heavy that they may fall over and not be able to get up, making them easy targets for predator birds. Sheep, it seems, are a tragedy waiting to happen. It's little wonder that their sense of vulnerability sometimes leads to panic and wooly-brained behavior.
Though we rarely like to admit it, we too are subject to fears that sometimes cause us to behave stupidly. Afraid of failing in business, we're tempted to cut corners. Frightened by loneliness, we fall prey to relationships that harm us emotionally and spiritually. Fearful that we're going to miss out, we spend money foolishly. Worried that something terrible will happen to our children, we try vainly to control their lives. Fear can become so powerful that it pushes us off the path of righteousness, making us more vulnerable to various kinds of evil. Oddly, some of us are even afraid to admit how fearful we are. Yet fear shapes our behaviors and choices in ways that lead not to greater security but to deepened anxiety.
No wonder we need a Shepherd to keep us safe, to guide us along the right path, and to lead us through the valley of the shadow of death. Today, ask the Lord to examine your heart, training a spotlight on your fears. As each one is revealed, ask him to help you conquer it through faith. Pray that God will replace your fear with a sense of security so strong that you can say with the psalmist, "The Lord is my Shepherd... I fear no evil."
Two of Ann Spangler's most-loved books have been released in paperback. Praying the Names of God and Praying the Names of Jesus help us understand the biblical context in which these names and titles were revealed, and help us gain a more intimate knowledge of the Father and of the Son.