Knowing the Shepherd

A story is told of a talent show held in a small country church many years ago. Two performers stood out in people’s minds that evening: the first was a visitor from the city. He was a seasoned professional actor, well trained in the Shakespearean tradition. Stepping up front, he cleared his throat, and in a deep, resonant voice, the Twenty-third Psalm echoed throughout the chapel. The actor recited the classic psalm with sweeping gestures, masterful poise, and flattering eloquence. He concluded to the brisk applause of a thrilled audience.

The pastor let a moment pass as a brief afterglow ensued. Then the pastor nodded his head towards a farmer near the back door. “Joseph, would you be next?” The pastor said.

“Aw, shucks,” the farmer replied. “I don’t know nuthin’.”

“Sure you do,” the pastor said. “Come on up, Joseph.”

Others joined in the coaxing until sheer embarrassment forced the farmer forward. Fidgeting from side to side, he half mumbled, “Shucks, I don’t know much; but all I can think to do is quote the same psalm as this other man did. I’m not much one for reading, and it’s the only one I ever learned by heart. I’m afraid this other man beat me to it.”

“Well, share it again, then,” the pastor encouraged, and soon others were echoing the request.

The farmer was in his early sixties. Hard times had fallen on his life and little farm but he remained godly and soft-spoken, a man who never complained. Swallowing hard, he stammered and started with his own paraphrase. “The Lord is my Shepherd and ‘cause of that one thing, I figure I have everything I need.” Detouring on a side route, he continued, “Y’all know that my dear wife died six years ago. When my Helen passed, I didn’t think I could go on without her. But God never left me and He reminded me that I was gonna do just fine. He said He’d be there for the kids and me, and He was.”

The farmer paused to remember which verse he was on, then continued, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still streams. He restores my soul. He leads me …” The farmer paused as his thoughts were interrupted by yet another remembrance. “Y’all know that when the war broke out, my boys felt it right to join up. The day they left was the last day I saw them alive. I run the farm alone now … But the Lord goes before me and prepares my table. I’m never truly alone. Not really. And when I don’t think I have much left, my cup always overflows.”

He concluded the Twenty-third Psalm: “Surely good and mercy will follow me and I look forward to dwelling in the house of the Lord, and I know it will be my home too, and my wife’s and my boys’ … forever.”

Without anyone noticing, a profound silence had filled the room; the kind when a deep respect is the only response you can give. It’s the kind of silence when you don’t know what to do, so you don’t do anything at all.

Joseph sat down, and no one moved. Then, slowly, the professional actor made his way to the front again. Standing for a moment as if to find words appropriate enough to disturb the silence, he spoke: “I many know the Shepherd’s Psalm, but this man —“ he pointed to the farmer — “He knows the Shepherd, and that makes all the difference.”

Knowing about God and knowing Him personally are galaxies apart. One might bring notoriety or even fame, but the other brings depth. Recognize the difference and choose well. That one decision will make all the difference, now and for all eternity.