Our church just wrapped up a series on Psalm 23, but my fleece-covered heart isn’t quite finished processing it yet. I need to sit in those truths just a little longer, let the Shepherd do what He does. The marvelous thing about Scripture is that we never really “master” it—the more we grow and learn and practice, the more Scripture masters us, and the more we grow and learn and practice. It’s a flower that never stops blooming, and we’re botanists who never get bored.
Despite the very potent reality that the Lord is my shepherd, I can sometimes feel that all of the other shepherds in my life have run away. How do I live unflinchingly in those situations? Whose job is it (humanly speaking) to shepherd my heart when all I can see is the valley of the shadow of death and the enemies surrounding my dining table? Glad you asked.
It’s mine. As a not-so-new believer, I am my own primary shepherd. It’s my responsibility to stay snugly where I belong and get the appropriate amount of food, water, and rest (not to mention the kind of food that is best for me, the kind of water that is pure, and the kind of rest that won’t turn me into a sheep-sloth). We’re talking about quantity and quality here. If I’ve been saved for a while, it’s not foremost my pastor’s job, my husband’s job, my small group’s job, or my parents’ job to make sure I’m staying spiritually healthy. It’s mine. Stop for a minute to let that sink in; that’s a lot more ownership than we’re used to hearing we need to take.
We must get to know ourselves to be good self-shepherds. What are the signs I’m malnourished? Exhausted? Parched? Sick? Wounded? If I see a deficiency in, say, grace, I need to start taking some “grace supplements” to work back up to a place of spiritual flourishing. If I’m overloading on comfort and rest, I need a good sheep exercise program of serving others. Just as doctors work best with a baseline of what’s normal for each individual, we ought to understand what’s healthy for us and adjust input and output as needed.
Farther down the shepherd’s staff of responsibility, though, we find gospel friends. They also help shepherd us, though not as much as we are to shepherd ourselves. We are meant to gather people around us to sing truth into our hearts and lives when things get tough (which we in turn do for them in their difficulties). The church is full of different kinds of folks with different kinds of voices: strong, gentle, winsome, funny, whatever. The better variety we have singing to us, calling our hearts back home, the less likely we are to wander very far. Sure, one good gospel friend could do it, but constantly relying on that single voice to sing us back to the path will quickly result in someone who is hoarse and worn out.
The bottom bit of shepherding care is typically where we place the most burden: gospel mentors. These can be pastors, authors, small group leaders, parents, or actual mentors. While they are responsible for overseeing you, it’s meant to be the smallest amount. These shouldn’t be the loudest voices on your team (though they should be dependable and faithful to the Word).
It’s important to get this order right, friends. Pastors can’t be our main source of food, water, and rest. There’s no way that would result in a healthy flock. (Can you imagine only eating once a week? That’s crazy talk!) Older women who disciple us can’t be our mommies forever. At some point, we must mature enough to take responsibility for our own well-being. We should by all means honor and take the advice of these saints, but when we put the expectations for our souls’ care squarely on their shoulders, we’re stunting our own growth and theirs as well.
When all of these shepherds are in place, we can see that the Spirit is where He belongs: at the very top of the whole thing, speaking and working through all of the other shepherds. He prompts truth and grace, injecting whatever I need most into my daily rhythms (but sometimes it feels more like a shot in the rear than a sweet lullaby). Even when I wander, He’s never too far away. I can rest in the fact that He won’t lose me. He has been doing this job for a long time, after all. The Lord is my shepherd, and I shall not want.
(These concepts aren’t mine, though my memory fails me about where this model originated. Maybe Dick Kaufmann or Tim Keller, though Tami Resch most recently expounded on it.)