A Shepherd looks at the GOOD SHEPHERD #11
I am the good shepherd, and I know my sheep, and am known of mine
IN ALL OF Scripture this must surely be one of the most
reassuring statements made by our Lord to His people. Oh, the
wonder and joy of being known by God! The strength and
consolation of being in the care of Christ who fully and
completely understands us!
Such awareness and such knowing stills our spirits, soothes
our souls, and fills us with quiet awe. "O God, You do know me
through and through."
The ultimate measure of a good shepherd is how well he knows
his sheep. Just as we might say that the measure of a good artist
or a good gardener or a good mechanic is the extent to which he
"knows" the materials with which he works.
This "knowing" implies much more than just mere acquaintance
or contact with sheep. It means the shepherd is so familiar with
his sheep, has handled them so much, that he knows their every
trait, habit, and characteristic. He can predict their behavior
under any given set of circumstances. He understands all their
peculiarities. He is never surprised or taken aback by their
unusual idiosyncrasies. He is at ease with them, comfortable in
their company, delighting in their management.
The full impact of this unique relationship between
livestock and their owners came home to me with enormous impact
during the years my family and I lived among the Masai people of
East Africa. These nomadic livestock owners believed implicitly
that to them, and only them, had God given the original
responsibility for husbanding livestock.
The Masai were tremendously proud of their supposed
management skills with sheep and cattle. They entertained a
haughty superiority toward anyone else who tended stock. And much
of their claim to fame in this field was based on their knowing
individual animals intimately.
In part their pride was justified. The animals under their
care were their very life. They gave themselves to them with
unstinted devotion. No demand was too tough nor any risk too
hazardous to insure their well-being. They would go to any
lengths, day or night, to protect them and care for them.
But over and beyond all this lay the incredible intimacy and
personal awareness each owner had for his own charges. Many of
the lambs, kids, and calves had been hand-reared within the
affection of the family circle. They were fondled, hugged,
caressed, and called by cute pet names. Bonds of enduring
affection were forged from birth that the ensuing years could
Again and again I would watch, awe-struck, as one of the
Masai would go up to one of his favorite beasts in the field and
spend time caressing it. He would speak to it in endearing terms.
He would examine and scrutinize it carefully, checking to see
that all was well. This was not something done only on rare
occasions. It was a normal part of the appealing relationship
between shepherd and sheep.
Some of the fondest memories that came back to me from those
years on Africa's sun-drenched plains are wrapped up in small
boys shepherding sheep. I can still see them holding lambs gently
in their arms. I can see them calling to their pets who came
running at the sound of their voices. I can see the obvious
pleasure and delight with which the sheep revelled in this
attention. They sensed and knew all was well when they were in
their owner's embrace. Here was safety and assurance. They were
When we turn our attention to our own lives in the care of
the Good Shepherd we discover some powerful parallels. If we can
grasp them they may well revolutionize our whole relationship to
God. It is essential for us to face the fact that God has known
us from our earliest beginnings. By that I do not mean just
collectively as a race of people upon the planet, but in a much
more private and personal way as an individual human being from
the hour of my conception in my mother's womb.
Such knowledge alone startles some of us. In fact some find
Amid a society where, especially in large urban centers, it
is possible to live almost anonymously, this is shattering.
We in the western world have become extremely skilled at living
behind a false facade. We wear masks. Seldom do we disclose our
true identity. We try to present a brave front to the world, even
though within we may be shattered, broken people. We proceed on
the assumption that most people really don't know us and don't
care. We often run a bluff on others, based on the premise that
they will not or cannot be bothered to really find us out.
The net result is that for many, life becomes a sham. It is
almost playacting. It is played by people playing little games
with each other. Much of it is really make-believe. It lacks
depth, honesty, or sincerity. People become phonies, they are
riddled with scepticism and cynicism. They really don't know
where they are at.
Against this background of confused and bewildered life God
steps onto the stage and states dramatically, surely, and without
apology, "I know you, I understand you, I have known all about
you all the time!"
Just the thought of such "knowing," of such insights
terrifies most people. In their phony pretence they want to run,
to flee, to escape, to hide behind their masks.
But for others of us, this knowing comes at long last as a
great relief, a great release from our restless roaming. "O
Lord," our spirit cries out, "at last I have been found. Now I am
found out. I am known, I can step out of the shadows of my own
stumbling steps into the full splendor of Your knowledge. Take
me. Search me. Examine me carefully. Put me right. Let me be
Yours. And please, You be mine!"
It is only when a person sees himself as known before God
that he will get serious with Him. Until this happens we go on
playing our pathetic little games with Him. We behave as though
we were indeed doing Him a great favor to allow Him to draw near.
What colossal conceit! What incredible stupidity. How long will
we delude ourselves?
In contrast David, himself a shepherd, cried out exultingly
in Psalm 139:
"O LORD, thou hast searched me and known me. Thou knowest my
downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar
off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, and art
acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my
tongue, but, Lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether. Thou hast
beset me behind and before, and laid thine hand upon me. Such
knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain
unto it. Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I
flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art
there: If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I
take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts
of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand
shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even
the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not
from thee; but the night shineth as the day: The darkness and the
light are both alike to thee. For thou hast possessed my reins:
Thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise thee; for
I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works;
and that my soul knoweth right well" (vv. 1-14).
Before such affirmations we are stilled. In wonder and joy
we are awed. "O Great, Good Shepherd of my soul, how wondrous to
know that You know me!"
For the Christian this awareness can become a potent power
in his walk with God. An enormous desire to be open and honest
with his Master will descend upon him. The mask will be removed
from him by the Spirit of God as He works in his life. A sense of
earnestness and simple sincerity will replace the superficiality
of his former lifestyle.
He will take God seriously. He will begin to obey His Word.
He will be sensitive to the voice of His gracious Spirit. He will
allow no petty pride or other obstacle of self-will to obstruct
the movement of God's Spirit in his life. He will allow himself
to come under Christ's control.
In contrast to the world's way of working, God, by His
Spirit, begins to do His work at the center of our beings. The
world's view is that if an ideal environment of better housing,
hygiene, health, and nutrition is supplied, along with improved
education, man will become better and better. History has
repeatedly demonstrated the fallacy of this idea.
God's approach is the opposite. His gracious Spirit touches
and enlivens man's spirit. If allowed to, He will illuminate the
whole inner life. He will permeate the total personality
transforming the disposition, emotions, and mind. The net result
will be that the remade man will alter his whole environment.
A good environment does not guarantee good men. But noble
men do generate an improved environment.
So God's Spirit begins His re-creative work within us by
touching our spirits. He makes us alive to what is right and what
is wrong. He impresses upon us what we "ought to do" and what we
"ought not do." We become acutely God-conscious. We are aware of
what He wants. We know His wishes. We are alerted to His aims and
ambitions for us.
This is what it means to have a Christian conscience. We
wish to cooperate with Christ. He knows us. We know Him. We have
Likewise in the area of our communion with Him, we begin to
discover that there can be an ongoing discourse between us. He
speaks to me. I speak to Him. This intercourse finds full
expression in prayer, praise, petitions, and personal awareness
that He is ever present.
It takes time to do this. It is profound. It cannot be
hurried or rushed. The man who would know God must be prepared to
give time to Him.
It is tremendously helpful to speak privately but audibly to
the Lord. Let Him know you love Him, that you are fond of Him,
that you are deeply grateful for all His kindness.
Not long ago I visited an elderly lady who claimed she had
known Christ for more than thirty years. I asked her if she
enjoyed conversing with Him quietly in the privacy of her own
elegant home. I inquired if she ever told Him how much she loved
Her response was an outburst of embarrassed laughter. "Oh,"
she blurted out blushingly, "only you would ever suggest such a
thing, Phillip." But I left her home wondering just how well she
really knew the Good Shepherd.
In his first epistle the apostle Peter put it this way:
"Unto you therefore which believe he is precious" (I Peter 2:7).
Why? Because I am His and He knows me through and through.
And even though He knows the worst, He still loves me with an
This knowing is the great central theme that runs like a
chord of gold all through John's first epistle. To know the love
of God. To know that we have His life. To know that He hears us.
To know that we belong to Him, etc.
Such knowledge is strength. It is stability. It is serenity.
It is the solid assurance upon which my relationship to the Good
Shepherd stands secure.
There is nothing ambiguous or vague about it. There are no
ifs, maybes, perhaps, supposes, or assuming it may be so. I know!
As the Spirit of Christ expands His influence within my life He
will begin to penetrate my personality. If allowed to do so He
can pervade my mind, emotions, and disposition.
No doubt the ultimate, acid test of Christianity is the
dramatic and beneficial changes wrought in the personality and
character of people. Weak become strong. Deceivers become honest.
Vile become noble. Vicious become gentle. Selfish become
Perhaps the area in which there is the most coverup is that
of our minds. Most people live very private thought lives. Even
within the intimate family circle it is possible to retire and
withdraw into the inner sanctum of our minds and imaginations.
Were some of the scenes there enacted, to be exposed, it would
shock and startle our family and friends to find what sort of
world we moved in mentally.
It is sobering to realize, "O God, you know all my
thoughts." It is equally solemnizing to remind ourselves always,
"And, O God, I know You know!"
This is a purifying discipline. In the presence of His
impeccable person it humbles, cleanses, and converts me, turning
me from the wickedness of my ways to walk softly in His sight.
As He is allowed to move into my emotions the same process
is at work. The same eternal promise holds true. There can be no
pretext, no pretence, no playing around, pretending to be so
pleasant or pious while within we seethe and boil with pent-up
perverseness. "O Lord, You know me!"
With other human beings ill will, hatred, bitterness, envy,
old grudges, jealousy, and numerous other heinous attitudes may
be masked with a casual shrug of the shoulder or forced half
smile. But we simply cannot pull the wool over God's all-seeing
eyes. We may kid ourselves that we are getting away with the
coverup, but we don't kid God.
Over and over, when our Lord moved among us as a man, He
emphasized the importance in His estimation of our inner
attitudes. They were the ultimate criteria to a man's character.
He simply could not tolerate false pretenders, who, though
appearing to shine like mausoleums in the sun, were filled with
dead men's bones.
"O God, You know my anger, resentment, impatience, hostility, and
many other evil emotions; I know You know."
What is the solution? Somehow my soul must be cleansed. The
debris and dung of a thousand terrible thoughts and imaginations
must be swept from my life. It is my sins and iniquities which
have come between me and my God. Where is the solution?
I am ever reminded of Hercules who was given the impossible task
of cleansing the gigantic Aegaen stables. Thousands of horses had
deposited their dung within its walls until a literal mountain of
manure engulfed the place. Hercules knew full well, even in his
own great strength, that he could never remove the accumulated
filth. Instead, he went high into the hills and there found a
rushing mountain stream. He diverted it from its course and
directed its clear flowing waters through the huge stables. In a
short time the surging stream had flushed away all the dung. The
stables stood clean because of the sparkling water from the high
It is a sublime picture of the wondrous work God's gracious
Spirit can effect in a Christian's life. Only as He is allowed to
surge freely through the rooms and galleries of my inner life can
they ever be cleansed from the dark thoughts, the evil
imaginations, the angry emotions, and evil decisions of my
If in open honesty and genuine earnestness I come to Christ
and open my person to Him, He will come in. He will penetrate
every part of me. He will purify. He will fill with His presence.
His peace will permeate me. His power will be mine in inner
This power will enable me to make proper decisions. His
presence at work within me will empower me to both will and do
His good pleasure. I shall find harmony and unity between Him and
myself. There will be common purposes, common aims, common joys
we share. Why? Because He knows me and I know Him.
These titanic changes which can be effected within my spirit
and soul by God, can likewise be accomplished in my body. It is
He who designed and fashioned men and women in all of their
complexities. He knows and fully understands all the instincts,
desires, and appetites of our physical makeup.
As we allow ourselves to come gently and increasingly under
His control, we will find it affects how we handle our bodies.
They will be nurtured and treated with respect. They will not be
abused or misused. We will find it possible to so discipline
ourselves and direct our activities that even in our bodies there
will be a blessing, and that not only a benefit to us but also a
benediction to others.
It is possible for God's people to live in moderation,
wisdom, and exuberant joy. We can so conduct ourselves amid a
corrupt society and sick culture that we are a credit to our
We can practice moderation in our daily habits. It is as
much God's good will for me to eat wholesome food, drink pure
drinks, enjoy regular rest, revel in regular exercise, and relish
the beauty of His creation as it is to go to church. All is
sacred and sublime when touched by the delight of His presence
I do not know Him only within the confines of a cathedral. I
do not meet Him only within the pages of a Bible or in the still
moments of meditation. I can encounter and commune with Christ my
Shepherd anywhere along the long winding trails of life that we
My walk with God need not in any sense be a spectacular dis-
play of special dedication. It need not have any carnival
atmosphere about it to be convincing. I don't have to indulge in
theatrics to impress either Him or other human beings.
What He desires most is that I walk with Him humbly,
quietly, and obediently. The communion between shepherd and sheep
is sweet and secure because He knows me and I know Him!
To be continued
Ah, Phillip Keller has a way with words that gets to the heart
strings; the core of the basic and foundational truth of what it
means to walk humbly with thy God. This is the first step to REAL
CONVERSION and the attitude of REAL REPENTANCE. It is knowing you
are a sinner, and knowing God knows you through and through. We
cannot hide from Him in any way. We can hide from people in
different ways, as Keller points out, but ..... all we are is
bare and open before out Lord and Savior. We know He knows us,
yet He LOVES us still. Indeed we must THANK Him for His bountiful
love towards us. As long as we realize we are people who sin,
fall short of His holiness, miss the mark many times in doing His
righteousness (see Ps.119:172 for a Bible definition of
righteousness); as long as we are willing to confess we are
sinners to Him; as long as we have this humble attitude of mind,
He will forgive us our sins. The wonderful 1st and 2nd chapters
of 1 John give us hope and assurance.
Maybe you are at a point in your life where you need to read this
whole chapter of Keller's book again. Perhaps reading it again
with touch your heart in a way your heart was never touched
before. The relationship you need to have with the Lord is like
the shepherd with his sheep. There is nothing finer in life than
having a relationship with God as amplified by Keller on the
relatively few words "I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep,
and am known of mine."