The Lord Is My Shepherd
The LORD is my shepherd; I have all that I need.
One of the most common criticisms of contemporary Christianity in America is its excessive individualism. Indeed, in many churches these days, you can sing songs of intimate love for God that communicate only in the first person singular: "I love you. I praise you. Etc." There is a tendency to neglect completely the profoundly communal dimension of biblical faith, to overlook the fact that God is creating a community of people for himself and his purposes.
But, sometimes the critics of hyper-individualistic Christianity swing too far on their reactive pendulum. They put so much emphasis on the corporate dimensions of faith that they neglect the individual. They can be so focused on building a church and making a difference in the world that they forget the extent to which our faith is deeply personal as well as essentially communal.
If we allow Scripture to shape our experience of God and the way we talk about that experience, then we'll avoid the extremes of individualism and communalism. Take the Psalms, for example. In some psalms, God is envisioned as the shepherd of the Israelite people: "Please listen, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph's descendants like a flock" (80:1, also 28:9). Yet, Psalm 23 focuses on God's care for the individual: "The LORD is my shepherd, I have all that I need" (23:1). That which is true of God's people corporately is also true for each one of us individually.
Because Psalm 23 is so familiar, we can easily take for granted its extraordinary good news. Yet, if we pause for a while to reflect, we will marvel over the fact that God is not just our shepherd, but also your shepherd and my shepherd. This means God knows you intimately and cares for you in a deeply personal way. When you wander away from him, God seeks you (Luke 15:4-7). He welcomes you in his house, both now and forever (23:6).
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Take several moments to consider the fact that God is your shepherd. How do you feel? What do you think? How might you live differently today if you were to be guided by your shepherd?
PRAYER: O God, my shepherd, how good it is to be a member of your flock. And how amazing that you should care, not just for the flock as a whole, but for me personally. Thank you for being my good shepherd. Thank you for knowing me, loving me, refreshing me. Thank you for teaching me, correcting me, and guiding me. Thank you for pursuing me when I have wandered away from you. Thank you for welcoming me into your home, both now and forever. Amen.