The 23rd Psalm begins with David’s beautiful declaration, “The Lord is my Shepherd”. This refrain is familiar to most of us, but for some reason its implications seem to go unnoticed. If the Lord is my Shepherd then I am His sheep. If I am declaring that He is going to shepherd me then I must also be declaring that I am going to follow Him. I have a growing concern that we have placed so much emphasis on leadership that we have nearly excluded the most vital calling of our lives, to be followers.
The Gospels each share accounts of Jesus calling His disciples into their places of ministry; over and over again we read as Jesus says, “Follow Me.” The Apostle Paul boldly pronounces to the Corinthian church “follow me”. He didn’t end his sentence there as many of us have, he doesn’t merely apply himself as a leader but explains that he is first and foremost a follower, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” The notion of leadership in the church is an important and vital one, but it must be addressed and handled in context. God has left no one to simply lead, we have all been called to be led, from that place of servant hood we can then direct others into the same path of following. The greatest leaders have to be the greatest followers or else they are simply leading others astray.
If the Lord is my Shepherd then I must be His sheep. I have heard and read many people describe sheep as dumb. I take offense with this, the God who made us in His image and then pronounced His work as good would not call or even consider us dumb. What sheep are is dependent, we were created to be the same. Consider some of the statements of dependence in the Bible:
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
In these three passages we read that our sustenance, our salvation and our very ability to live all come from God and not from our ability, our determination or our desire. We are creatures created to be dependent upon our Creator. There needs to be a new humility that courses through our lives in which we stop seeking to be leaders and we are motivated to “follow hard” after the Spirit of God and all that He desires for our lives.
As David continues with the picture of God as our Shepherd he proclaims that we will be led “in green pastures”, “beside still waters” and “in paths of righteousness”. David also wants it to be very clear that we will walk through the “valley of the shadow of death” and that we will have to sit and eat at tables that have been prepared for us “in the presence of our enemies.” We must understand that it is our Shepherd that leads us into all of these places. There are seasons in which you are led into that valley, by the Spirit of God, so that you can arrive beside those still waters. There are days in which God leads you directly into the path of your “enemy” because you must walk through that relationship to get to the green pastures. We don’t simply sit by still waters, we have not been told that we will live there, there is a great journey involved and the journey is bumpy but the destination is never in doubt because the Shepherd leads well.
I think that we have had too narrow a vision about our lives. To use a Biblical illustration, I think that we look at Egypt and then we look at the Promised Land but give little thought to the journey from one to the other. The journey is where Israel learned who God was, where their faith was tested, where His provision was proved, where they failed and were forgiven, where God’s presence became permanent and where His promises became reality. We need the journey, this is why we need a shepherd. We must become good and faithful followers because we have to be willing to trust the Shepherd when we think we know a better way. We need to be willing to believe that He loves us when our enemies pull up at our table. We must have enough faith to keep traveling when the shadow of death begins to look like the very presence of death.
The old song says, “Savior like a Shepherd lead us.” The shepherd leads to perfection, to peace and to fulfillment. That is the part that we like, it is the path to perfection, to peace and to fulfillment that we sometimes kick against. Sometimes you have to go through some thorns to get to next place of refreshment. Sometimes you have to trust the shepherd to lead you through a place filled with danger to get to the next place of peace. Sometimes you have to leave your favorite field you have ever laid in because the shepherd says that he knows of one even greater. The key for you and I, and for the Body of Christ today is not raising up leaders, but building up followers. What would change in all of our lives if we could truly sing “where He leads me I will follow”? Even more, what would change among us if we all decided that we would not merely lead but instead invite others to join us as we follow?