Step One: Be a sheep
“I have come so that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
11 “I am the good shepherd.” (John 10)
Jesus tells us he provides the good life. He does this in the context of his being a shepherd. The shepherd gives good life to the sheep. Not wolves, not goats, sheep. So be a sheep.
Step Two: Follow the right shepherd
“3 For this one the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 Whenever he sends out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”
Are you a sheep? Good. But it’s not enough. Do you belong to the Good Shepherd? Good. But it’s not enough. To belong to him, you must be with him. To be with him, you must follow him. Where he goes, you goes. Where he sits, you sits. You share His life with him and He shares His life with you!
And what is that life?
“23 Yahweh is my shepherd;”
It is life with God. Jesus is I AM. The Father and the Son are one. If you follow Jesus, you are one with Him and therefore you are One with God. That sounds pretty abundant. But wait! There’s more!
“I will not lack for anything.”
The abundant life is bountiful. This is the God who can bring water from rocks, angel food cake from dew and cause it to rain Cornish hens, enough for a tribe in the millions. He can break five pita pockets and two herring and feed five thousand men, their wives, their children and their servants. I think it’s safe to say He can handle your needs.
“2 In grassy pastures he makes me lie down;
by quiet waters he leads me.”
The abundant life has peace. There will be places where God feeds you, waters you and there will be times of rest. “It is in vain for you who rise early and sit late, eating the bread of anxious toil, when thus he provides sleep for his beloved.” (Ps 127) Look at the world! How can you have peace? You are with the Good Shepherd! He’s providing for you. You will not lack. “25 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?” (Luke 12)
“3 He restores my life, my soul.”
Life can take it out of you. Jesus puts it back in… not Gatorade. When God wanted to take Elijah on a little trip he provided two meals for him of bread and water and those two little snacks gave Elijah enough energy for the trip…of Forty Days! Take that Garorade! And before you say, “yeah, but that’s Elijah, the greatest prophet of Israel. I’m just me.” This was the greatest prophet of Israel, yes, wanting to die! He had given up. He no longer trusted nor thought he could go on. He knew God like James Taylor, “I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain…” and yet despaired. And God restored his life and soul. I think God can handle your doubts.
”He leads me in paths of righteousness
for the sake of his name.”
God has a certain style. He provides: food, money, wisdom, power, knowledge first because…
“4 Even when I walk in a dark valley,”
He knows there are dark valley’s coming. This is tremendously important to remember! The abundant life isn’t one without pain, strife or suffering. But…
“ I fear no evil”
“because you are with me.”
The other part of God’s style is repeating himself. Because we have Spiritual Alzheimer’s. We forget, constantly. So he says things like, “I am the Good shepherd. I lead the sheep. The sheep follow me. We are together, these sheep and me. When it’s good, we are together, me and the sheep. The sheep and i. When it' bad, i'm there, with the sheep. We’re together. No one separates us. I never go off and leave them. Cuz we’re together. Me and my sheep. My sheep and me…
Again, we can have peace because we know we’re with the Shepherd. And we know that where He leads is a path of righteousness. It is good, no matter how dark it gets. No matter how scary. It is good for us to be here…
With the Shepherd.
Us and him.
The dark valley phrase is often translated as the “Valley of the Shadow of Death.” That alone should give us peace. You know the difference between the Valley of the Shadow of Death and the Valley of Death? In one, you die. In the other, you know you could have and didn’t. In one the arrow hits you, smacking wetly into the hair you meant to pluck between your eyeballs. In the other it whizzes by your ear, close enough to hear but strangely, without doing damage. It is appointed for us once to die and then to live for eternity. We are with the Shepherd. We share His life. He laid down his life and then, took it up again! So will we.
“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
We are with the Shepherd… but we have Spiritual Alzheimer’s. We wander off. We forget who we’re following. We forget His promises. We do stupid stuff. Why? Cuz we’re sheep. And in this we take peace: He is the Good Shepherd! He’s there to discipline us, to teach us, to guide us, to lure us back, to drag us back, to carry us back. To patch us up, to correct us.
“5 You prepare before me a table
in the presence of my oppressors.”
The rod isn’t just for the sheep. The rod is used to thwack the holy poop out of wolves, bears and lions, oh my! We will have oppressors. But! We can have peace because…say it with me,
“We are with the Good Shepherd!”
Jesus is God! He has ascended to heaven and sits in the throne room on the right hand of God Almighty. There is no oppressor there. We will have our day. We will be justified and honored and feted and toasted and party it up in sight of those who once mocked us, spit on us, ignored us, betrayed us, beat us, cheated us, hurt us, raped us, killed us! Why?
Because we are with the Shepherd. What they do to his sheep, they’ve done to Him. What they’ve done to Him, they’ll do to his sheep. “I have said these things to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have affliction, but have courage! I have conquered the world.” (John 16) Jesus conquered the world, it’s His. And what God has given Him, He gives to the sheep.
”You anoint my head with oil;”
Oil, the symbol of the Spirit. The consecration of priests. The coronation of kings. Whatever it says on your resumé, you are also and more so priests and kings in God’s kingdom. Pretty stinking abundant!
”my cup is overflowing.”
It is too much!! He gives us more than we can handle!
“6 Surely goodness and loyal love will pursue me
all the days of my life,”
Why? Because we’re with God and God is, “Yahweh, Yahweh, God, who is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding with loyal love and faithfulness, 7 keeping loyal love to the thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and he does not leave utterly unpunished, punishing the guilt of fathers on sons and on sons of sons on third and fourth generations.” (Ex 34)
and I will stay in the house of Yahweh
for a very long time.” (Ps 23)
Or forever, whichever comes last. And really, if there’s this much joy and hope and peace in a few lines about God on paper, how much more will there be in the presence of the real thing? And that’s where the Shepherd is leading.