We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Psalm 100:3
There is a unique relationship between a shepherd and his own flock; he knows their names and their idiosyncrasies, their needs and their wilfulness. He watches, tends, leads and disciplines them. They are his responsibility and his chief concern. His own livelihood depends on their wellbeing, so what affects them affects him. If they stray he must seek them, if they roll on their backs he must help them up, if they are attacked he must drive away the aggressor. His life is sheep-centred and a good flock will be shepherd-centred, for they will know his voice among all others. A self-willed flock will be led away from his influence by their own foolish waywardness, but then quickly learn the bleakness and lostness of life without him.
In a world that has gone astray, everyone turning to his own way, what a need there is for a return to the Good Shepherd -- to hear his voice, to know him and to follow him! We are reminded in each surgery or clinic and on all our rounds that the consequences of self-will are destructive, bringing physical as well as emotional and spiritual disaster. A sense of purposelessness pervades our society. Yet even those who admit to the existence of God may make no attempt to follow him. He may be regarded as a shepherd among other possible leaders and sometimes promoted to the Shepherd, yet still without recognition as to how he gave his life to save us from straying and longs to become personal Saviour and guide. We each need to tune in to his voice in a daily act of personal commitment and obedience. Only so does he become my Shepherd.
As I have reflected on Psalm 23 while following the Shepherd over the years, as well as in writing these notes, two authors have provided particular insight and inspiration. Ian Barclay's little book `He is everything to me' deserves a reprint (Falcon Press, 1972). Philip Keller's selection of shepherding books are still available: `A shepherd looks at Psalm 23' and its companion volume `A shepherd looks at the Good Shepherd' (both published by Pickering & Inglis) and `Lessons from a sheepdog' (Hodder & Stoughton, 1984). David would have enjoyed them!
Further reading: Ps 23. Is 53:4-6.