One of my favorite books is called A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Philip Keller. If you haven’t read it, you need to. It’s short and insightful, and it will make you think about the 23rd Psalm like you never have before—that’s a promise!
In the book, Mr. Keller analyzes the lives and habits of sheep, and makes dozens of connections between sheep and God’s people—a metaphor so richly described in the scriptures.
These are a few things I took from the book, all of which I cannot help but dwell on every time I read that famous, timeless Psalm (Most of these will also refer to John 10):
1. Shepherds recognize their own sheep easily.
John 10 is one of my favorite passages because the metaphor is beautiful—it’s a picture of trust, safety, and security. It’s a picture of what we, as Christians, can feel when we’re safe in the arms of our Shepherd.
In verse 3, we read, “…the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name.”
If you look at a picture of the earth taken from outer space, it’s simply a pale blue dot. That means that every single person you’ve read about in your history textbook, every celebrity that ever lived, and every monarch from every country lived on that little blue dot in the midst of billions of little dots. We’re so small. We’re so insignificant. And yet, for some reason, God, our Shepherd, loves us and wants to have a personal, intimate relationship with each one of us (Matthew 11:28, Luke 12:7). In other words, the same God who runs the Universe is listening to you and loving you when someone hurts your feelings in 3rd period Biology class or when you’re nervous about a scary History test. The same God who spoke to Abraham and Moses wants to be your best friend. Try that on for size!
2. Shepherds are ready day and night to protect them from predators.
The good shepherd keeps a close eye on his sheep during the day, and at night, he sleeps with one eye open and a rifle next to his head, ready to jump out of bed like a ninja and run to the rescue of his beloved sheep if he hears the slightest indicator of disarray outside.
Parasites are a big problem for sheep. There are bugs called Nasal Flies that torment sheep by laying eggs inside the noses of the sheep. If the shepherd didn’t treat the sheep regularly for parasites, the sheep would kill themselves by beating their heads against anything solid to try to get rid of the flies. They would not be able to eat or to lie down because of their agony. The only way to treat them is for the shepherd to carefully assemble a special ointment and anoint the heads of the sheep thoroughly. Please note the perfect metaphor:
“He makes me lie down in green pastures…You anoint my head with oil…” (Psalm 23:2, 5)
Our Shepherd offers us peace if we allow Him to work.
3. Shepherds lead their sheep outside of the gate sometimes (John 10:3).
Sometimes, shepherds will lead their sheep outside of the fence, which is very much outside the comfort zone of the sheep. They will follow the shepherd anyway, though, because they trust him implicitly.
We’re called outside the fences of our comfort zones, too. Mark 16:15 calls us to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”
The scary thing is that sharing the gospel with others usually requires saying something. What is it that makes our palms sweaty and gives us that funny feeling in our stomachs every time we think about talking to someone about the Lord or asking someone to study the Bible with us? It’s not the Lord that does that—it’s the devil! He wants you to be terrified to step outside your “fence.”
I’ve done a lot of overseas mission work, and I think everyone should try that at least once because there’s really no words to describe the excitement and fulfillment in touching people’s lives in 3rd world countries with the gospel and a feeling of hope for which they are desperate. All the same, I would never say that overseas mission work is the hardest kind of mission work that I do. The hardest part is right here in my own hometown. Why is that? Because here, I’m right inside my own fence. When I’m overseas on a mission trip and I lay it all on the table to someone about the Lord, about salvation, and about the promise of an eternity in hell to those who ignore the warnings, I’m not going to be so worried about that person’s reaction. If she laughs at me, talks ugly about me to other people, or stops being my friend, it’s really okay with me because I will likely never see her again after traveling home in a couple of weeks. But when I think of saying something to someone here—someone I see every day—I’m terrified because at lot more is at stake for me—I will have to deal with that person’s reaction every day. All the same, that person is not just a person, but a soul. We need to be the kind of people who see the mail man, the lunch lady, the girl who sits behind us in Chemistry class—not just as people—but as souls—souls that will spend an eternity in heaven or hell.
Oftentimes, stepping out of your fence can make the difference in someone’s eternity. We have to be ready to accept that challenge (I Peter 3:15).
4. The shepherd walks in front of the sheep.
“When He has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” (John 10:4)
The best thing about having a Shepherd is that we never have to do anything alone.
We can never use the excuse that no one knows how we feel. Why? Because someone left heaven to come to earth so he could know exactly how we feel. Hebrews 4:16 says:
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
And we know, of course, that He really was tempted to sin (Matthew 4). As our Shepherd, He came before us and therefore, knows what it’s like to deal with human temptations and desires. He also knows just how much we’re able to handle. Check out I Corinthians 10:13:
“God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”
5. Shepherds are willing to risk their lives for the sheep.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” – John 10:11
He didn’t just come to earth to experience being a human. He came to earth to die an agonizing death for us. He didn’t have to do it. He did it because he loves us.
After this study, words can’t even express how happy I am to be a sheep. If you’re a Christian, praise God you’re part of the flock and that you have a Shepherd Who’s worth trusting.