The shepherd psalm, the twenty-third, has a familiar and important phrase: “He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake”(v. 3). The psalm pictures a shepherd who leads his sheep to places of security and well-being. King David, who wrote the psalm, was expressing his need for the divine guidance of his heavenly Shepherd.
Decision-making and guidance can be a complex business. If they involve big changes, decisions can be unsettling and stressful. There may be conflicting options. Do we go this way or that? Our decisions effect the lives of others, adding to their weight and gravity. We do not know the future, and how our decisions might work out. Thankfully, our Shepherd is there to guide us.
This week I read a helpful article on guidance by Marcia Hornok. She based her thoughts on Paul’s description of the decision-making process in 1 Corinthians 16:5-16. She explained how Paul, Apollos, and Silas used God-given common sense to evaluate circumstances and to decide what to do. In this process they were confident that they were being led in God’s will.
“Divine guidance is not some sentimental theory,” wrote R.T. Ketcham. “It is a blessed reality.” God’s guidance can be a reality for us if we are paying attention to what it says in the 23rd psalm.
There are two persons mentioned in Psalm 23:3, “he,” and “me.” The “he” is the Lord, the Good Shepherd. The “me” is the believer who trusts the promise of the Shepherd who said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me” (John 10:27). Between the two personal pronouns is the word “guides.” Here is the promise of the Lord’s guidance.
The scriptures are filled with such promises. One is Psalm 32:8 where the Lord says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” Sensible people take such promises seriously and pay attention to the voice of the Shepherd, staying close to him. He can lead them of they stay close to him.
I have read that in the ancient Near East shepherds would entice the sheep to follow by giving a piece of fruit to the one that was following the closest. The other sheep would also crowd in close behind the shepherd to try to get a juicy morsel. The sheep would learn to follow the shepherd who provides and guides.
He guides the sheep along the right paths, paths which he himself has scouted and knows. These paths lead to the pasturage and quiet waters that are just right for the sheep. In our decision-making and life choices we may trust the Shepherd to guide us to the right outcomes as we seek him in prayer and humble dependence on his will.
“You have made known to me the path of life,” David wrote in Psalm 16:11. Proverbs 4:18 says, “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter until the full light of day.” These promises mean that the Lord will always lead along righteous paths that conform to his moral will and lead in the right direction.
“For his name’s sake” means that we live on this earth for the Lord’s glory and honor. The Good Shepherd guides his sheep and they follow him to exalt his character and honor his reputation.
As a young Christian woman, Dorothy Burroughs was preparing herself to become a foreign missionary. She was a talented musician, poet and Bible student. She was suddenly stricken with a serious illness which took her life. Among her possessions was found the following poem which she had written about knowing and doing the will of God.
“I asked the Lord for some motto sweet, some rule of life to guide my feet;/ I asked and paused and He answered soft and low –‘God’s will to know.’
“With knowledge then sufficed, ‘Dear Lord,’ I cried. But ere the question into silence died,/ ‘Nay, this remember too — God’s will to do.’
“Once more I asked, ‘Is there no more to tell?’ And once again the answer sweetly fell:/ ‘This one thing above all other things above — God’s will to love.'”
The Good Shepherd knows the future. He knows us. He knows what is best for us. As we seek to know, to do and to love his will, we may trust him to guide us as we make important decisions along the path of life.
Pastor Randy Faulkner