Summary: If Jesus is my shepherd He invites me to follow Him on His path

What do all the following men have in common? Jacob, Samson, David, Peter, Paul and Pat Damiani? Here’s what they all have in common. They are all men who love God deeply, but who have wandered away from God at various points in their lives and had to be restored to fellowship with God.

And I’d be really surprised if we couldn’t add your name to that list as well. That’s because it is the nature of sheep to wander away from the Shepherd. As Robert Robinson put it in the hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,

Prone to leave the God I love;

This morning, as we continue our study of Psalm 23, we’ll come to God’s antidote for my wandering. Let’s look at verse 3:

He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness

for his name's sake.

(Psalm 23:3 ESV)

As we’ve discussed before, Hebrew poetry is not characterized by rhyming words, but rather by parallelism or what we might even call “rhyming thoughts”. We’ve already seen this Psalm 23 where each of the first two verses contains two lines that basically say the same thing in two different ways:

The LORD is my shepherd;

I shall not want.

The reason that I don’t lack anything is because the Lord is my shepherd.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

Both lines are simply different ways of saying that God provides a place where I can be at peace as I rest in the Shepherd.

The same thing is true in verse 3. As we’ll see this morning, we can’t separate the idea of God restoring my soul from Him leading me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

But at the same time I believe that the first line of verse 3 also serves as an important bridge that connects verses 2 and 3. I think we can see that if we look at that text in more detail.

Especially in the New Testament, when the word “soul” is used in the Bible it usually refers to the immaterial part of man. When it is used in that way, it is helpful to think of it as consisting of our mind, will and emotions. But here in Psalm 23, the word David uses that is translated “soul” in English is the Hebrew word “nephesh” which has a much broader meaning.

“soul” (Hebrew “nephesh”) =

“the whole person”

The best way to understand the meaning of this word is to go back and see how it is used in the account of the creation of man in Genesis 2:

then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

(Genesis 2:7 ESV)

The word translated “creature” in that verse is also the Hebrew word “nephesh” and there it clearly refers not just to the immaterial part of man, but to his entire being – body, soul and spirit. So when David writes that God restores his soul, he is saying that God restores his entire person.

We also need to examine the verb “restores” here.

“restore” =

“to turn back”, “to return”

When we looked at this verse a few weeks ago on Monday morning, one of the men likened this to restoring a classic car. I think that is a great illustration. When someone restores a car what do they do? They attempt to return the entire car – inside and out – to its original condition. David says that is what his shepherd does for his sheep – he restores them completely - inside and out.

So that raises the question – to what is the Shepherd returning me? Before we answer that question, let me first make clear what David is not saying here. He is not in any way implying that a person can somehow lose his or her salvation and then have that salvation restored again. That would require that Jesus was someone’s Shepherd for a period of time and then ceased to be his Shepherd at some point. But remember what David wrote in verse 1:

The Lord is my shepherd…

The verb tense that is used there makes it clear that the Lord has never ceased to be his Shepherd. And yet David acknowledges that there are still times in his life where he needed the Shepherd to restore his soul. Let’s look at another Psalm that will help us to understand what David is writing here. In Psalm 42, the Sons of Korah cry out to God about the condition of their souls:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you in turmoil within me?

(Psalm 42:5 ESV)

Notice the term “cast down” there. That is an idea that would have been very familiar to a shepherd. It describes a sheep who has turned over on its back and cannot get up again by itself. This was a dangerous situation for the sheep. If the weather was hot and dry it could die in only a matter of a few hours. In cool, rainy weather it might survive a day or two. So every day the shepherd would take inventory of his sheep to make sure none of them were missing. And if even one of them was missing he would go out looking for that one sheep to see if had become cast down so he could restore it to its feet.

Let’s consider how we can apply this to our lives. Like sheep, we have a tendency to wander away from the Shepherd. And when we do that, we get further and further away from Him, often without even noticing it. And sometimes, we stop to rest in a place that is off the path that the shepherd has prepared for us and we end up on our back, unable to right ourselves without the help of the Shepherd.

So with that in mind, let’s return to the question I posed earlier: To what is the Shepherd returning me? When I follow the Shepherd on the paths of righteousness, my life is abundant, fulfilling and joyful. But as I quit following the Shepherd in some area of my life and wander off those paths, I lose out on those things and I get tired. All that maneuvering, hiding and covering up wears us down. Sin is a tiring business. But the problem is that we’re often too busy to even recognize that we’ve wandered off the path and need restoration.

That is why I think the first part of verse 3 is such an important bridge between verse 2 and the last part of verse 3. It is only when we’ve taken time to enjoy the peace that God provides by resting in the presence of the Shepherd that we slow down long enough to even recognize that we’ve wandered off the path. It’s only when we pause to spend time in God’s Word and in prayer that we’re able to listen to God when He tells us that we’ve wandered. We can’t experience God’s antidote to our wandering until we first experience His antidote to our busyness.

And once I do that, what is the process that the Shepherd uses to restore my soul? That question is answered in the last part of verse 3: He leads me in paths of righteousness. In other words, He restores or returns me to my original condition of following Him on those right paths.

You’ll notice here that the work of restoration is the Shepherd’s work – He restores my soul. Just as a cast sheep cannot right itself, I’m incapable of restoring my life and getting back on the right path on my own. But the good news is that the Shepherd is more than capable of returning me to where I once was. But it’s also true that once He has restored me to those right paths, I have to make the choice to remain there and live there. So while only the Shepherd can restore me, I have to choose to cooperate with His work in order to benefit from it.

So here is how I would summarize the main idea that we find in this verse:

If Jesus is my shepherd

He invites me to follow Him on His path

You’ve probably heard the saying “You lead sheep, but you drive cattle”. That is why David’s use of the relationship between the Shepherd and His sheep to describe our relationship with Jesus is so appropriate. Jesus will lead me and invite me to follow Him on His path, but He will never drive me or force me to do that.

God’s antidote to my wandering is to invite me to follow the Shepherd, Jesus, on His path. But the only way that antidote can benefit me is to accept that invitation.

We often describe this idea of following Jesus on His path as “knowing God’s will.” And unfortunately we’ve often made the idea of discovering God’s will for our lives much more difficult than it needs to be. We often act like God has hidden His path and made it difficult to discover, when in fact He has marked that course quite well and made it very easy to find. So let me share with you four simple things we can do in order to accept Jesus’ invitation to follow Him on His path.


1. Trust wholeheartedly in the leadership of the Shepherd

I think if we’re honest, what most of us would really like from God is for Him to give us a complete roadmap of the life He has planned for us. And then we could look at that roadmap and decide if that’s a journey we’re willing to make. But as I shared with the kids earlier, that’s not the way God works. Instead He just gives us the next direction that we need to remain on the right path. And unlike with the map apps on our phone there is no way for us to look ahead and see the next steps we need to take down the road in order to get to the destination where God wants to take us.

But if you really think about, that really makes sense. If we knew every step and detail of our lives, there would be no need for faith in God. So God often presents us with difficult circumstances and choices in our lives so that we’ll remember that we need something greater than ourselves to direct us. That is why the writer of Proverbs penned these familiar words:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,

and do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge him,

and he will make straight your paths.

(Proverbs 3:5-6 ESV)

Sheep cannot come up with their own migration path because they have no sense of direction. So if they want to remain alive and prosper, the have to commit themselves 100% to following the shepherd on the path that he has chosen for them. The sheep never know ahead of time where the shepherd is going to lead them. But they soon learn to trust that shepherd knows what is best for them even when that might not make sense to them.

So perhaps instead of praying for God to reveal His will to us, we ought to be praying instead for God to develop our trust in His guidance, even before we know what it is, and even when it might not make sense to us.

But at the same time, we must not make that commitment lightly. God does not promise to lead us on paths of prosperity or popularity or comfort, or even happiness. He promises to lead us in paths of righteousness and that often includes pain and discomforts if that is what is needed to develop our holiness. But that is the only way for our souls to be restored so it is always worth it.

If Jesus is my shepherd

He invites me to follow Him on His path

And the first step in accepting that invitation is to trust 100% in His leadership even when it might not make sense and even when it might not be pleasant.

2. Obey the parts of God’s will I already know

The fact is that the great majority of God’s paths of righteousness have already been laid out for us in God’s Word.

First there are a number of things in Scripture that are specifically identified as being God’s will. We don’t have time for an exhaustive list, but let me share just a few of those.

It is God’s will for you to be saved:

This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

(1 Timothy 2:3-4 ESV)

It is God’s will for you to be filled with the Holy Spirit:

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,

(Ephesians 5:17-18 ESV)

Here is on you may not like too much. It is God’s will that you suffer for doing good:

Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

(1 Peter 4:19 ESV)

In addition to these places where the Bible specifically identifies things that are God’s will, the Bible contains a number of commands which also express God’s will for our lives. We don’t have to guess whether or not murder or adultery or stealing, or gossip, or lying or honoring our parents or honoring and obeying government authorities are God’s will since they are explicitly either forbidden or commanded in Scripture.

When we choose to stray from the path of righteousness, we shouldn’t expect that the Shepherd is going to return us to that path and take us further down that path until we first return to being obedient to what we already know.

Have you ever been using your GPS or your map app and missed a turn you were supposed to make? We did that on at least one occasion in Hawaii this summer. And when that happens, the app can sometimes send you on an alternate route. But much of the time the only way to get back on track is to go make a U-turn and get back to the place where you were originally supposed to make that turn.

It seems like God works a lot like that, too, doesn’t it? When we get off track, God occasionally takes us down another path to get us to where He wants us to be. But far more often, He leads us to make a spiritual U-turn that we call repentance. And before God will give us that next direction, He lets us pause for a while in order to get back to a place of obedience with the parts of His will that we already know before He reveals the next leg of our life’s journey.

If Jesus is my shepherd

He invites me to follow Him on His path

And in order to accept that invitation I must obey the parts of God’s will I already know.

3. Delight in the Shepherd

Invariably there are some sheep in the flock who just keep wandering off over and over again. And although the shepherd undoubtedly gets frustrated with those sheep, he still loves them and if they are his sheep, he keeps pursuing them and bringing them back to the flock.

But then there are the sheep that delight so much in the shepherd that they constantly stay by his side. Because they want to continually be in his presence they follow him wherever he goes. And because the shepherd is consistently on the right paths, the sheep who are following him also stay on the right paths.

The same thing is true for us. The more we delight in Jesus, the more we will stay close to Him and follow Him and the result is that we won’t wander off those right paths very often. And when we do wander off those paths occasionally and the Shepherd comes to find us and restore us we can’t wait to get back to our intimate fellowship with Him as we walk alongside him on those paths of righteousness.

In another one of his Psalms David wrote these words about delighting in God:

Delight yourself in the LORD,

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

(Psalm 37:4 ESV)

Unfortunately, this verse has been taken out of context and used to teach the idea that if you delight in God, He will give you anything you want. But if you read the entire Psalm, David’s focus was not at all on manipulating God in some way to get what he wanted. Instead it is a Psalm about finding great joy and delight in committing his life to God and trusting that God would act in his best interests in a way that was consistent with God’s purposes, plans and ways.

So the sense of this verse is this: If I delight in the Lord, He will give me desires that are consistent with His will for my life.

If Jesus is my shepherd

He invites me to follow Him on His path

And one of the most important things I can to in order to accept His invitation is to delight in Him.

Once I have:

• Trusted wholeheartedly in the leadership of the Shepherd

• Obeyed the parts of God’s will that I already know

• Delighted in the Shepherd

Then following Jesus on His path requires one last step.

4. Do whatever I want

My guess is that you weren’t expecting me to say that were you? Perhaps that caught you off guard because we often have this idea that God’s will is something awful that we merely have to endure. So we say something like this: “God, I promise to trust you completely and follow you, but please don’t ask me to [and we fill in the blank with something that we fear or something that seems unpleasant].

But the fact is that God knows us better than we know ourselves since He created each one of us. And I am convinced that He made each one of us unique just as He desired in order to carry out His purposes, plans, and ways in our lives. And, since, as we just saw, when we delight in God, He puts the desires that He wants us to have into our hearts, why do we get this idea that God’s will is going to be something we’ll hate?

People often ask me how I knew that God wanted me to become a pastor. When I committed to follow Jesus, I had no idea that one day He would call me to that role. Although I never said to God, “Please don’t make me a pastor”, that was certainly the furthest thing from my mind. But I’m convinced that over the years as I delighted in God, albeit far from perfectly, God developed within me a desire to become a pastor. So essentially I became a pastor because that’s what I wanted to do once God put that desire in my heart.

If Jesus is my shepherd

He invites me to follow Him on His path

And often the final step in that process is just to do what I want to do.

Do you love God with your whole heart, but you still wander away from Him from time to time? Well, you’re in good company because even the godliest people in the Bible have done the same thing at some point in their lives. But the good news is that you don’t have to remain there. The Good Shepherd wants to restore your soul. That is a work that He delights in doing. But He won’t do that work without your cooperation.