A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 [Part 6: He Guides Me...]


I took a long break from my weekly summaries of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller, but I am back this week. See HERE for the past posts in this series. Today, I am focusing on the last part of the third verse:

"He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake"

A shepherd is known and judged by the quality of pastures  where his sheep will graze. A lazy, ignorant, indifferent, or cheap shepherd will neglect this vital job; the land and sheep will suffer. It may take a few years, but the land will eventually look more like a wasteland than fertile foliage for his flock. There are no shortcuts to a flourishing field for a flock.  A good shepherd will always be on the lookout for patches of pasture that have been overgrazed and rendered useless. He will be a wise manager of his land, aware of the factors that can pollute the land with pests and rot. He will take the appropriate precautions to keep a productive grassland from becoming "steeped to death" and watch for erosion on the trails.

What's at stake? A good shepherd knows that the welfare of his flock depends on his vigilance. If the land is not fertile and lush, they will grow weak, thin, and waste away from lack of nutrients. His own name is also on the line. Other knowledgable shepherds will quickly notice if he is neglecting his fields and therefore his flock. His reputation is largely based on how he manages his flock and pastures. A good shepherd will take deliberate, intentional, planned action. He will move his flock around from pasture to pasture, to give the ground rest from grazing. He has intimate knowledge of his fields and how to best utilize them for the health and safety of his flock.

Why does this matter in our Christian walk?

"We all, like sheep, have gone astray, 
each if us has turned to his own way."
(Isaiah 53:6).
Sheep are predictable and habitual creatures. If the shepherd doesn't re-route them to better pastures, they'll keep grazing on disease-ridden or bald pastures, depleted of any nutrients and foliage. We too can be predictable and habitual creatures. We are aware of the habits that do not help us when we are stressed, worried, angry, and yet we often return to them. We often try to take care of our issues on our own rather than trusting in the Good Shepherd's paths He has lovingly prepared in advance for us. We "turn our own way"  even when it leads to more problems or even sin.

"I am the way, the truth, and the life. 
No one comes to the Father except through me."
(John 14:6)
Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is the only way to the Father. He is the path that leads us to Him. We cannot have true joy, contentment, peace, forgiveness, redemption, and everlasting life apart from the Father, so we desperately need to know the Way. We desperately need Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Sheep can be strong-willed, stubborn, and attempt to be self-sufficient. So can we. They often will end up back at the ruined land their shepherd was protecting them from, and they waste away just like the wasteland they're attempting to feed on. We also can waste away in poor decisions and sinful habits when we neglect the Good Shepherd's leading and instead stubbornly go our own way.

"If anyone would come after me, 
he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
(Mark 8:34)
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is saying "Follow Me. I know the way. I am the Way" He is telling us the best path is the one where we deny ourselves -- deny our plans, deny our dreams, deny our expectations, deny our "rights" -- and follow Him in obedience. It seems paradoxical to the independent, make-it-on-your-own mantra of our American society to be so dependent and submissive to God. But it is the the only path that leads to God the Father, which also means it is the only path to true joy, contentment, peace, forgiveness, redemption, and everlasting life. When we surrender our way for His way, He guides us to paths of righteousness, as this third verse of Psalm 23 says. Righteousness can be defined as right standing before God. When we truly follow after Jesus, the Good Shepherd, we have nothing to be ashamed of because we are made new, pure, redeemed by Him. When God sees us, He sees Jesus and His atoning work at the cross on our behalf. Whoever follows after Jesus, the Good Shepherd "will discover fresh pasturage; new, abundant life; and increased health, wholesomeness, and holiness in his walk with God" (p. 91).

What does it mean to follow after Jesus? Keller mentions seven "fresh attitudes" of following Jesus as our guide:

1. You are willing to begin to love Jesus best and other people more than yourself. "Love is selflessness or self-sacrifice instead of selfishness." (p. 91)
2. You are willing to be singled out and set-apart from the crowd, even if it entails "criticism and sarcasm from a cynical society" (p. 92).
3. You are willing to give up your rights in exchange for serving others, taking a backseat and laying down your pride.
4. You are willing to be "at the bottom of the heap" rather than the boss, denying self-assertion, self-aggrandizement, self-pleasing.
5. You are willing "to accept every circumstance of life in an attitude of gratitude", rather than constantly finding fault with life (p. 93).
6. You are willing to learn to cooperate with His will, even when it doesn't align with your own.
7. You are willing do obey Jesus' guidance, doing what He calls you to do.

Our Good Shepherd wants our willing, surrendered hearts to trust in His leading. He has prepared the paths for us, going ahead of us. He knows the way. He IS the Way. The path may be difficult, even frightening at times, but when we follow after His steps, He will never leave us.


Here is a playlist I created with songs about Psalm 23 for further reflection, meditation, and prayer