Skydiving Sheep (Psalm 23)
Reflections on Psalm 23
How do you say type-2 diabetes in German? Had I been asked this question in October 2013, I could have provided the word as well as an entire glossary of oddly specific German medical terms. During that I year, I had studied to earn a master’s degree in linguistics and German translation. While I loved the academic environment and sharpening my language skills, I quickly became bored staring at a computer screen all day (ironically, I do exactly that now as a writer and couldn’t be happier).
After graduating, I said cheerio to London and returned to Pittsburgh. The next twelve months would be full of emailing resumes, substitute teaching, scouring LinkedIn, and praying for the next step. Ultimately, I ended up moving to the DC area and teaching for the next four years. In hindsight, I can see how my path lead me to where I am, but at the time, the road couldn’t have seemed any foggier. In all the uncertainty, however, one fact remained steady and indisputable: God was leading me.
In Psalm 23, David, Israel’s shepherd king, refers to God as a sheep herder, implying that we are the sheep. Using that animal metaphor for any individual is somewhat insulting on the surface because these creatures are notoriously stupid. According to one story, a group of Turkish shepherds were taking a leisurely breakfast, to the neglect of their herd. While these herders munched on morning savories, the lead sheep in their pack went plummeting off a 15-meter-high cliff. Witnessing their leader attempt bungee jumping sans cord, the rest of the herd thought it a clever idea to leap to their demise as well. After the fleece met the rocky floor, the negligent shepherds lost an estimated $74,000.
The Lord is our shepherd, but he’s not absenting himself for a heavenly teatime with the angels. He remains attentive and caring of our circumstances. According to David, God “leads me along paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). When our sheep-like hearts long to skydive without a parachute, the Lord sets us on a better path bent toward him.
Not only does God lead his flock, but he also pursues them. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6), Israel’s lyrical king wrote. We will inevitably lose our way, but the shepherd will always leave the 99 to find the missing lamb.
Whether we are pondering dumb decisions that seem good in the moment (insert any sin here), or have already pirouetted off the mountain ledge, our shepherd is with us. His guiding presence surrounds us. “Where can I go from your Spirit?” the poetic shepherd inquires of God. “Where can I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7). No matter what direction we’ve gone, the Lord is with us.
Footsteps—putting feet on our faith
1. How does your life seem uncertain at the moment?
2. How have you seen God lead you in the past?
3. Where do you need leading today?
Dear God, you are the perfect guide. You never misstep or lead astray. On each path we take, you are bringing me to a green pasture or cool water. You provide, for you are my very life. When life becomes confusing or I find myself on the edge of something unwise, help me to remember you.