‘Follow me!’ … as good shepherds
Psalm 23 NRSVA
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
My uncle Donald was a shepherd on the shores of Loch Lomond. During holidays spent as a boy with him, I saw the qualities that make someone a really good shepherd. My uncle had a deep love for sheep. His whole life revolved around them. His commitment to them and their needs was total, as from morning to night he gave of himself unstintingly in their best interests. He seemed always to be with them. They knew him. It was faithful, caring leadership at its best.
Unsurprisingly, Psalm 23 is one of the most familiar passages in Scripture. David, himself once a shepherd, uses this ‘most comprehensive and intimate metaphor’ (Derek Kidner) to describe his relationship with God. As Christians we readily transfer the language and imagery of the psalm into New Testament terms and hear it speak of what Jesus, the Good Shepherd (John 10: 11), is to us. The leadership he provides for us is deeply personal and relational.
It is sometimes said that one of the greatest needs of our time is of quality leadership. That is arguably as true of the church as of any other context. Psalm 23 illustrates many of the qualities that mark such leadership. Good leaders provide for, protect and affirm those they lead.
Like Jesus, however, a good leader is not as much concerned to do things ‘for’ them, as to be ‘with’ them. Sam Wells points out that most of Jesus’ ministry was spent simply being ‘with’ those for whom he cared. This is what conveys empowerment and courage even in the most challenging of situations (verse 4). As leaders, our voice needs to be known and trusted, as Jesus’ voice is by us. As we read the central verse (v4) over and over we recognise again how vital is prayer in all our following and leading.
God our companion
Help us today to follow the Good Shepherd as he leads us safely in his way and lavishes on us his loving care. Enable us to model his kind of leadership in family, work and church contexts. Amen.