The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want, is both a promise of the future and a praise report about His provision and past care. It is a remarkable statement about the confidence we are to feel toward Our Heavenly Father. Lately I have been committed to understanding sheep since I feel a burden toward a significant group of lost sheep. Not only was I ignorant of any practical knowledge about the mammals we call sheep, but I was equally lacking an understanding of the implications contained in God’s Word.
With loving concern a dear family member took the time to challenge me to develop a new understanding of what it really means to “Feed My Sheep.” As we know God clearly refers to us all when He speaks about His Sheep. We are His precious children and it gives Him pleasure to provide us with all that we need. The food being referenced in this short scripture is the Word of God. As Jesus stated to His disciples, “My meat is to do the Will of My Father.”
Since Jesus Christ used the simplicity of sheep as a metaphor, I would like to start with His description and develop that theme around “modern life.” It has always surprised me to hear others refer to His words, as applying to “back then” as if they were not applicable to our lives today. Having been a student of human behavior for much of my adult life, the folly of such a response jumps out and claims my attention. We may communicate more effectively today and our access to travel allows us to reach distant places on the planet in journeys of relatively short duration. But the essence of the human spirit remains unchanged through the thousands of years since He walked the streets of Jerusalem.
Our lives are still haunted by self-interests, deceptions and selfishness. In that regard our natures remain in a primitive state that always encourages us to make choices based upon personal satisfaction. That spirit guides us today as it guided others in the past. It is an outward manifestation of the continual battle between good and evil. Some comfort themselves in the denial of God and an arrogant decision to lives their lives for themselves. The dominant thought being “he who dies with the most toy wins.”
While I went through a decidedly selfish period in my life, the words of those who provided my early education and spiritual upbringing echoed in my mind with every sinful choice. Even as a child I had been taught that the reasons God made me was to know Him, to serve Him and to be happy with Him in heaven. Bless those who shared the truth with me as a child. It became an anchor that would help me to regain stability after the surges of youth and young adulthood. Had that not been given to me, I might never had returned to the truth.
Now as a mature adult Christian man, I readily acknowledge my responsibility to pass on the truth to others. And so I have found myself studying God’s word. I am struck by the simplicity of Jesus’ instructions to us. He used the analogy of sheep to offer us an understanding of our true needs in the confused context of a world of wants. His word promises that all of our needs will be met by a gracious Father. He also pointed out that we would be given the Holy Spirit’s guidance to help us discern the differences between needs and wants. Sheep have the opportunity to live a quiet pastoral life without fanfare or drama.
These passages drew me further into His teachings on sheep. I came to realize that I had little knowledge or understanding about animals or for that matter other human beings. That awareness ignited a desire to know more about sheep in the hope that my understanding of human nature would be deepened. Elsewhere I have published an article entitled “A Shepherd’s Training Manual” in which I have documented those characteristics of sheep which make them a useful point of comparison to understand the nature of being human. The purpose of this article is to provide insight into those specific things which led Jesus to make this comparison.
His directive to meet the needs of His Sheep was the essence of His pointed discussions with Peter and the other Apostles. These encounters happened in context of His three year ministry, during which He invited these men to follow Him. In John 21: 15-19 He holds Himself out to us as The Good Shepherd. There is a great difference between a sheepherder and a true shepherd. A shepherd knows His flock, and the individual sheep and lambs recognize Him and the sound of His voice.
Right from the very beginning it is an intimate knowledge based upon His love and concern for us. As sheep need nourishment and sustenance to survive so too we have human hungers or appetites which regularly demand attention and satisfaction. But unlike other mammals we not only need of food to sustain the body, but food for the soul which nourishes our psyche and food for the spirit which was mentioned in John 4:34 as the essence of God’s provision for us.
In the context of being a disciple of Jesus Christ we are called to participate in the same activities which He fully lived out during His lifetime on earth. The Holy Spirit is our Provider as mentioned in Luke 4:18-19. If we love Him, than we live out His commands in our daily lives. Unfortunately many who are making the journey toward eternity hold the belief that the command does not apply to our day to day lives. Instead it is usually embraced in how much we put into the church offering basket or the occasional gesture we makes toward others whose pitiful lives makes us feel embarrassed and uncomfortable in our own skin as we view their misery.
For some the honest words of Jesus Christ present a tough piece of meat to chew upon. They seek out the comfort of “milder” foods. In Matthew 25: 31-48 the issue of what we are to embrace as Christians is fully explored in terms of our journey toward eternity. The diet of peace and productivity is spelled out clearly for us to see and read for ourselves. The word offers us this clarity and focus so that we grow in the knowledge that this diet will help to lives in a healthy spiritual condition. Jesus clearly reminded us that “…for ye have the poor always with you…”
Remember the simple truth behind this saying… we cannot give away something that we don’t have! I cannot offer to my fellows what I do not possess myself. In order to effectively minister to others, my spirit requires that I have a living knowledge of the Word of God. It is only in my growing awareness of my own relationship with Jesus Christ that I can hope to be successful in my rightful service to God. In order to serve Him by serving others, I need to first know Him through His word. And so my friend, the truth of those early spiritual teachings are confirmed as my relationship grows and develops. In knowing Him and serving Him I can look to my continued journey toward eternity with the sure knowledge that He has a place for me in His Kingdom. This is truly the very essence of spiritual care and feeding of the sheep.