Good morning! Repeat after me, “Because the LORD is my shepherd, I have everything that I need.” Do you believe that? The Apostle Paul put it this way, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Phil 4:19 I don’t know about you, but my first impulse is to try to get God to solve my problems for me rather than thank him that he’s promised to be with me and give me everything I need to tackle and overcome them!
We are in a sermon series on the life of David – an ordinary kid who became the most famous king, song writer, worship leader, warrior who ever lived. How did God do that? That’s what we are about to learn… “Lessons in Leadership from the Sheep Pen.”
True leadership begins with humility. Humility literally means “of the dirt”. God created us from the dust of the earth. There is no glory or prestige in being a shepherd boy. It’s a dirty job. It takes stamina, courage and endurance. It often requires heroic effort with little thought of reward – because there simply is none.
From 12-19 years old, David lived in the open fields. He cared for his flock through freezing cold and blazing heat. He dealt with flash floods and sheep rustlers. He made his home with poisonous vipers, scorpions, sheep ticks, sand fleas. He lived close to the earth.
Lions and bears were a real threat and David had killed both. He knew the desert wilderness south and east of Bethlehem like the back of his hand. He knew how to find the hidden waterholes and the last places where green grass still survived in the drought.
But most of all, David knew his sheep. He knew each face, each personality. He called them by name and they followed him – most of the time. When they didn’t he went to find them. Sometimes he had to discipline them, but he always loved them and many times he risked his life to rescue them. Young David was a good shepherd, a faithful shepherd. These skills weren’t handed to him on a platter; he learned them by experience.
Not all shepherds are good or faithful. I remember riding the school bus past a man’s place near our farm in eastern Montana. His sheep were dirty and hungry and covered with cockle burrs. They carried too much wool in the heat of the summer sun. I was thankful that my dad was a good shepherd; my dad would never let our sheep suffer like that.
At times, David’s job must have been painfully boring. At other times overwhelmingly. Sheep are basically defenseless. They don’t run well, they can’t bite or kick, and for all their cuddliness, they are amazingly stupid. Without a shepherd, sheep would never survive. It was a shepherd’s job not only to keep them alive, but to help them thrive.
Most scholars believe David wrote Psalm 23 near the end of his life after he had been king for many years. He begins with these words, “Because the LORD is my Shepherd, I have everything that I need.” Ps 23:1 Amazing words for an Eastern monarch. Most of these guys believed, “Because I’m the king, I’m entitled to whatever I want.”
We have this entitlement mindset in our culture today. If some folks don’t get what they think they are entitled to, they feel victimized and cheated. They look for somebody to blame. How childish! God’s purpose isn’t to spoil us, but to help us grow up and become mature, strong, and capable of solving problems and overcoming adversity. “Because the LORD is my Shepherd, I have everything that I need.” Psalm 23:1 So what do we need?
And one of the things every leader needs is responsibility. The LORD taught David responsibility through his job as a shepherd boy. The second thing a leader needs to learn is to trust and depend on the LORD. David learned to he couldn’t do the job alone. He needed God’s help. The LORD’s purpose wasn’t to eliminate all David’s problems, but to use the problems of the day to help David grow up and become a skilled leader.
Let’s open our Bibles to Psalm 23 and see what we can learn from this shepherd boy/king. There are many wonderful translations of this ancient Psalm. I hope you will pick one and memorize it. I’m using the one called Today’s English Version.
(Because) The LORD is my shepherd; I have everything I need.” Psalm 23:1 Whenever you see the word “LORD” in all capitals, it’s the name Yahweh. And it means, “I AM WHO I AM.”
Later in Israel’s history, the pronunciation was changed to Jehovah because religious leaders felt Yahweh was too holy for sinful human lips to pronounce. That’s true, but God gave us his name to use. Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd” and then told us to pray in his name.
God wants to be on a personal first name basis with us. The LORD isn’t some impersonal spiritual force; he is a living being who created us for himself. He desires us to know him. He wants to care for us, protect us, love us and be loved by us. He wants to teach us, interact with us as a parent does with a child, or as a good shepherd does with his sheep.
“He lets me rest in fields of green grass and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water.” Psalm 23:2
The place where David led his flocks was on the edge of the Judean desert. There were little spots of pasture in the midst of vast areas of rock and sand. Shepherds had to move their sheep regularly to find fresh pasture and safe water.
David didn’t have a sheep dog. His sheep followed the sound of his voice. At night, he often led them to a cave or stone corral to hold them until morning. The only gate in the corral was the shepherd’s body. Sometimes more than one flock shared the same cave or sheep pen. In the morning, the shepherds would separate the sheep by calling them. Jesus said, “I AM the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd knows his sheep and calls them by name and they follow him.”
“He gives me new strength. He guides me in the right paths, as he has promised.” Psalm 23:3 The NIV translates this; “He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
It was the shepherd’s job to keep the sheep healthy. This wasn’t easy given a sheep’s propensity to self-destruction. Sheep can roll over on their backs and not be able get back up. They have no sense of danger. They get bit by poisonous snakes. They fall off cliffs. They bog down in the mud. You name it - a sheep is dumb enough to do it.
We aren’t so different from sheep, you know! My mother used to leave the room when my brothers and I started telling stories about the dumb things we did as farm boys. I’m sure David had plenty of stories about the dumb things he did as a teenager watching the sheep. Anybody know what I’m talking about? Woman, guys aren’t the only ones who do that stuff!
Aren’t you glad the LORD watches over us! By the way, the Hebrew idiom here for paths of righteousness or right way means the way of prosperity or health.
“Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, for LORD, you are with me...” Psalm 23:4 Evil is real.Getting from green pasture to green pasture meant traveling through deep ravines where rock fell, cobras lurked and bandits set up ambushes. Violent weather was always a threat, summer and winter. Young David endured it all and he was savvy enough to know, it was the only LORD watching out for him that got his flock through safely.
“Your shepherd's rod and staff protect me.” Psalm 23:4 The rod and staff were the primary tools of the shepherd trade. The rod was a tough stick, maybe 3 ft. long. It was used to direct, count and sort sheep. It was also a weapon to kill snakes and discipline unruly sheep. Spiritually speaking, God’s law is the rod that directs, protects, and corrects us.
The wooden staff was 6 ft. long with a large hook on the end. It was used to catch sheep out of the herd for medical care, or pull a sheep out of trouble. The staff represents the Gospel that reaches out to rescue us and draws us back into the safety of the flock.
In addition to a rod and a staff, David carried a knife, maybe a bow with arrow,, his sling and a pouch for appropriate stones … but more on that when we get to Goliath in two weeks.
“You prepare a banquet for me, where all my enemies can see me; you welcome me as an honored guest (anoint my head with oil) and fill my cup to the brim. I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life; and your house will be my home as long as I live.” Psalm 23:5-6
This is a picture of the Most High sovereign King inviting the humble shepherd boy to sit with him at the table reserved for visiting royalty. In this place the great king anoints the shepherd boy and commissions and sends him out as a junior king under his protection with full authority to serve and care for others as the great king has cared for him.
If the LORD is your shepherd then you have been called and commissioned to shepherd a flock. In one sense that flock includes the whole world. But more specifically, it means your neighbors, the community around you, your church.
On a more personal level, your flock means your spouse, your kids, your family. These are your sheep, the flock that the LORD, the Good Shepherd has placed in your care as his agent, his under-shepherd. Your job isn’t to boss them around, or run their life, but to pray for them, encourage them, do everything you can to help them not only survive but thrive.
The flock the Lord has given you may be may be large, it may be small. It maybe just one sheep! And the Great King, the Great Shepherd promises that he will give you all the courage, strength, wisdom, faith that you need to do the job. He never promised to make it easy. But he did promise to never leave you and that as you stepped into the responsibility you would grow and become strong.
So what flock has the LORD given to you this morning? If you are in the sound of my voice this morning, Jesus is calling you to follow him. You will never become the shepherd you were created to be until you humble yourself enough to follow the LORD as David did. But if you will, you will discover what David discovered. “Because the LORD is my Shepherd, I have everything that I need!” Amen