The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.

He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.

He renews my strength.
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.

Even when I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me.

You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies.
You honor me by anointing my head with oil.
My cup overflows with blessings.

Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord
forever.

Almost 20 percent of the words of the 23rd Psalm that David wrote are my, me, or I – so very personal.

Wouldn’t it be great for shepherds/pastors to have more love in their lives? More peace, more richness of relations, more sweetness and joy, more stillness and calm? Not as a “yeah, gotta make time for that…” notion, but I am thinking that practicing awareness of our own sheep-ness before the Good Shepherd is a genuine need. And it’s also a dependable remedy for when we are experiencing:

  • Dryness
  • All-about-them-ness
  • One dimension-ness
  • Less of a sense of His power and presence

What if you were self-concerned enough to follow the trail left by the old song, “I Come to the Garden Alone”? (Listen or learn more about the background of the song.)

What if we behaved more like the lead sheep in the flock with the same need for Jesus, the same vulnerability as the sheep we lead? A shepherd knows he is not a sheep. Remember in John 20 where Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep”? Both Jesus and  Peter knew that Peter had proven to be sheep material. I’m not focusing on language that clarifies the roles and responsibilities of pastor/bishop/overseer, etc. I put to you the spiritual and emotional wellbeing of identifying with the sheep. Lead sheep are sheep with just a little more sense! They are as vulnerable, foolish, and certainly in as much need of the Shepherd as the rest of the flock.

Sheep with “more sense” should actually have a clearer picture of the glory and necessity of intimacy with Him. Though we are faithful in giving out what we are called and assigned to give out, it is imperative that my solitude, “my garden alone,” with Him isn’t cheated. In some profound way, I have to fight to live out a reality that I need Him, not simply to help lead the other sheep; I just need Him! That’s where I met Him! I needed Him… not as a ministry or vocation.

Whatever purpose and plan He may have had for my future; I came before Him, clearly a wayward, lost, desperate sheep living an “enemy of my soul,” duped life. As lead sheep our fidelity to the Leader, Protector, Good Shepherd of our flock is important. Lead sheep should, of course, have a depth to them – some type of experience with the Shepherd, where they are entirely clear they know His voice. But we are always still just sheep, with sheep characteristics and behavior.  It stands to reason that a lead sheep should lead in following and knowing, personally and intimately, the Good Shepherd.

Taking note of the Psalm 23, one can see how personal it is. We have used this psalm so much as a selection for public readings, especially at funerals. As a result, it may have lost its punch as a personal declaration of submission to the powers, wonder, authority and presence of God.

There is so much intimacy in this chapter of Psalms! David uses “My” six times, “Me” seven times, and “I” four times in this six-verse description of how he feels about his Lord. He describes in practical, familiar terms how he lives with his Shepherd. Of course, I trust Him. I don’t just serve Him, I spend time with Him. And time, ultimately, is life. I’m wanting to spend my life with Him. Not simply to get directions for my next assignment or to obtain forgiveness for my attitude this past week. You see, I recognize that I am a person of personal interest to the Creator. So, He likes it when we are together.

I was surprised to understand that my western world-centric picture of green pastures” wasnt quite the life that David and his flocks experienced. The green pastures he describes are actually tufts or patches of grass that spring up day-to-day in an arid, desert climate such as Israel. Shepherds do not hate their sheep. They care for, nurture, guide, direct, look for, wait for them. It is not only a day-to-day existence, but total moment-by-moment living. The picture we are always painted is that the true Shepherd cares deeply for His own. David spoke as someone who spent many hours as a shepherd himself with much experience and many adventures with his sheep. He saw our God as the close commander and intimate friend. He depended on his Good Shepherd at midnight and looked to Him for every new step in finding the next tuft of grass for David’s flock in the morning. There was a constant sense of familiarity and comfort because they didn’t have to arrange to “get together,” they were just always together!

So, the Great God is both the King of His Kingdom and of my own personal life. A King who is shepherd-like, not at all overwhelmed by the number or personalities of His sheep. And, He has enough personal touch to go around. He doesn’t just see after us as a group, but the phrase “amazing grace” may include the concept that He is able to do daily personal shepherding. He’s not like physical shepherds, who may need to divert their attention to a present situation or emergency. According to the claim of Jesus in John chapter 10, the Good Shepherd is good at shepherding everyone in His flock all of the time!

PERSONAL SHEPHERDING:

  • The Lord is MY shepherd
  • I shall not want
  • He makes ME lie down in green pastures
  • He leads ME beside still waters (waters of rest)
  • He restores MY soul
  • He leads ME in paths of righteousness (the shepherd leads along the right path to the next sighted pasture to eat)
  • Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death (valley of deep darkness)
  • I will fear no evil
  • For you are with ME
  • Your rod and staff, they comfort ME
  • You prepare a table before ME
  • In the presence of MY enemies
  • You anoint MY head with oil
  • My cup runs over
  • Surely goodness and (steadfast love) shall follow ME
  • All the days of MY life
  • And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever

I’ve been taking measure and making adjustments in how I am with God. Reading this particular psalm is, now, less some kind of walkthrough. More and more, it is a truth of my own personal day-to-day with the Good Shepherd; who is my own personal shepherd. Maybe more help for the other sheep means more garden time with the Shepherd. And, maybe, it is more like traveling with the Shepherd, less like stopping by to visit with Him.  I am reminded of another super old song written in 1872, “I Need Thee Every Hour”.

Not for us, not for me to help them; just for me and You

_ _ _ _

I’d like to invite you to an event that is not for them but for YOU – Peace In The Park: A Day At Stillmeadow PeacePark.

Stillmeadow PeacePark is a 10-acre forest, complete with walking paths, large pond, apiary, and meditation stations, connected to the church I lead, Stillmeadow Community Fellowship in Baltimore, MD. It was developed to both steward the beauty of the natural surroundings and to promote a “creation connected” focus on spiritual disciplines like solitude, prayer, silence, and gratitude.

We’ve teamed up with EFCA East to craft a one-day experience that will guide participants through various disciplines, incorporating the grounds of the PeacePark. We will break bread together, make space for doubt and questions, be led in times of silence and meditation, and explore the Park.

Peace in the Park is being offered June 7th and June 8th. Space for each day is limited to 15 people to keep the time intentional and intimate. We are excited to lean into the quiet, time-away element of leadership that Jesus modeled for us, together!

  • June 7 or June 8
  • 8am – 3pm
  • Free
  • optional: Dinner in downtown Baltimore (I know all the best spots)

Get all the info HERE.

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Michael Martin

Michael Martin

Lead Pastor at Stillmeadow EFC
Michael S. Martin serves in the Christian community as a pastor, counselor, and mentor to pastors. He is known as a personal, marriage/family counselor and as a retreat speaker. He is the lead pastor at Stillmeadow EFC in Baltimore, MD.
Michael Martin

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