A SHEPHERD LOOKS AT PSALM 23 #11
GOODNESS AND MERCY SHALL FOLLOW ME
THROUGHOUT THE STUDY of this Psalm continuous emphasis has
been put upon the care exercised by the attentive sheepman. It
has been stressed how essential to the welfare of the sheep is
the rancher's diligent effort and labor. All the benefits enjoyed
by a flock under skilled and loving management have been drawn in
Now all of this is summed up here by the Psalmist in one
brave but simple statement: "Surely goodness and mercy shall
follow me all the days of my life."
The sheep with such a shepherd knows of a surety, that his
is a privileged position. No matter what comes, at least and
always he can be perfectly sure that goodness and mercy will be
in the picture. He reassures himself that he is ever under sound,
sympathetic, intelligent ownership. What more need he care about?
Goodness and mercy will be the treatment he receives from his
master's expert, loving hands.
Not only is this a bold statement, but it is somewhat of a
boast, an exclamation of implicit confidence in the One who
controls his career and destiny.
How many Christians actually feel this way about Christ? How
many of us are truly concerned that no matter what occurs in our
lives we are being followed by goodness and mercy? Of course it
is very simple to speak this way when things are going well. If
my health is excellent; my income is flourishing; my family is
well; and my friends are fond of me it is not hard to say "Surely
goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life."
But what about when one's body breaks down? What do I say
when I stand by helpless, as I have had to do, and watch a life
partner die by degrees under appalling pain? What is my reaction
when my job folds up and there is no money to meet bills? What
happens if my children can't make their grades in school or get
caught running with the wrong gang? What do I say when suddenly,
without good grounds, friends prove false and turn against me?
These are the sort of times that test a person's confidence in
the care of of Christ. These are the occasions during which the
chips are down and life is more than a list of pious platitudes.
When my little world is falling apart and the dream castles of my
ambitions and hopes crumble into ruins can I honestly declare
"Surely - yes surely - goodness and mercy shall follow me all the
days of my life"? Or is this sheer humbug and a maddening
In looking back over my own life, in the light of my own
love and care for my sheep, I can see again and again a similar
compassion and concern for me in my Master's management of my
affairs. There were events which at the time seemed like utter
calamities; there were paths down which He led me that appeared
like blind allies; there were days He took me through which were
well nigh black as night itself. But all in the end turned out
for my benefit and my well-being.
With my limited understanding as a finite human being I
could not always comprehend His management executed in infinite
wisdom. With my natural tendencies to fear, worry and ask "why,"
it was not always simple to assume that He really did know what
He was doing with me. There were times I was tempted to panic, to
bolt and to leave His care. Somehow I had the strange, stupid
notion I could survive better on my own. Most men and women do.
But despite this perverse behavior I am so glad He did not give
me up. I am so grateful He did follow me in goodness and mercy.
The only possible motivation was His own love, His care and
concern for me as one of His sheep. And despite my doubts,
despite' my misgivings about His management of my affairs, He has
picked me up and borne me back again in great tenderness.
As I see all of this in retrospect I realize that for the
one who is truly in Christ's care, no difficulty can arise, no
dilemma emerge, no seeming disaster descend on the life without
eventual good coming out of the chaos. This is to see the
goodness and mercy of my Master in my life. It has become the
great foundation of my faith and confidence in Him.
I love Him because He first loved me.
His goodness and mercy and compassion to me are new every
day. And my assurance is lodged in these aspects of His
character. My trust is in His love for me as His own. My serenity
has as its basis an implicit, unshakable reliance on His ability
to do the right thing, the best thing in any given situation.
This to me is the supreme portrait of my Shepherd. Continually
there flows out to me His goodness and His mercy, which, even
though I do not deserve them, come unremittingly from their
source of supply - His own great heart of love.
Herein is the essence of all that has gone before in this
Psalm. All the care, all the work, all the alert watchfulness,
all the skill, all the concern, all the self-sacrifice are born
of His love - the love of One who loves His sheep, loves His
work, loves His role as a Shepherd.
"I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for
"Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his
life for us" (I John 3:16).
With all this in view it is then proper to ask myself, "Is
this outflow of goodness and mercy for me to stop and stagnate in
my life? Is there no way in which it can pass on through me to
Yes, there is a way.
And this aspect is one which eludes many of us.
There is a positive, practical aspect in which my life in
turn should be one whereby goodness and mercy follow in my
footsteps for the well-being of others.
Just as God's goodness and mercy flow to me all the days of
my life, so goodness and mercy should follow me, should be left
behind me, as a legacy to others, wherever I may go.
It is worth reiterating at this point that sheep can, under
mismanagement, be the most destructive livestock. In short order
they can ruin and ravage land almost beyond remedy. But in bold
contrast they can, on the other hand, be the most beneficial of
all livestock if properly managed.
Their manure is the best balanced of any produced by
domestic stock. When scattered efficiently over the pastures it
proves of enormous benefit to the soil. The sheep's habit of
seeking the highest rise of ground on which to rest insures that
the fertility from the rich low land is re-deposited on the less
productive higher ground. No other livestock will consume as wide
a variety of herbage. Sheep eat all sorts of weeds and other
undesirable plants which might otherwise invade a field. For
example, they love the buds and tender tips of Canada thistle
which, if not controlled, can quickly become a most noxious weed.
In a few years a flock of well-managed sheep will clean up and
restore a piece of ravaged land as no other creature can do.
In ancient literature sheep were referred to as "those of the
golden hooves" - simply because they were regarded and esteemed
so highly, for their beneficial effect on the land.
In my own experience as a sheep rancher I have, in just a
few years, seen two derelict ranches restored to high
productivity and usefulness. More than this, what before appeared
as depressing eyesores became beautiful, park-like properties of
immense worth. Where previously there had been only poverty and
pathetic waste, there now followed flourishing fields and rich
In other words, goodness and mercy had followed my flocks.
They left behind them something worthwhile, productive, beautiful
and beneficial to both themselves, others and me. Where they had
walked there followed fertility and weed-free land. Where they
had lived there remained beauty and abundance.
The question now comes to me pointedly, is this true of my
life? Do I leave a blessing and benediction behind me?
Sir Alfred Tennyson wrote in one of his great classic poems,
"The good men do lives after them."
On one occasion two friends spent a few days in our home
while passing through en route to some engagements in the East.
They invited me to go along. After several days on the road one
of the men missed his hat. He was sure it had been left in our
home. He asked me to write my wife to find it and kindly send it
on to him. Her letter of reply was one I shall never forget. One
sentence in particular made an enormous impact on me. "I have
combed the house from top to bottom and can find no trace of the
hat. The only thing those men left behind was a great blessing!"
Is this the way people feel about me?
Do I leave a trail of sadness or of gladness behind?
Is my memory, in other people's minds, entwined with mercy
and goodness, or would they rather forget me altogether? Do I
deposit a blessing behind me or am I a bane to others? Is my life
a pleasure to people or a pain?
In Isaiah 52:7 we read, "How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of [them] that bringeth good tidings, that
publisheth peace. . . ."
Sometimes it is profitable to ask ourselves such simple
"Do I leave behind peace in lives - or turmoil?"
"Do I leave behind forgiveness - or bitterness?"
"Do I leave behind contentment - or conflict?"
"Do I leave behind flowers of joy - or frustration?"
"Do I leave behind love - or rancor?"
Some people leave such a sorry mess behind them wherever
they go that they prefer to cover their tracks.
For the true child of God, the one under the Shepherd's
care, there should never be any sense of shame or fear in going
back to where they have lived or been before. Why? Because there
they have left a legacy of uplift, encouragement and inspiration
In Africa, where I spent so many years, one of the greatest
marks left by any man was that of David Livingstone. No matter
where his footsteps took him through the bush and plains of the
great continent there remained the impact of his love. Natives,
whose language he never learned, long years after, remembered him
as the kindly, tender doctor whom goodness and mercy had followed
all the days of his life.
There remains in my own mind boyhood recollections of the
first stories I was told about Jesus Christ as a man amongst us.
His life was summed up in the simple, terse, but deeply profound
statement, "He went about, doing good!" It was as though this was
the loftiest, noblest, most important thing on which He could
possibly spend His few short years.
But I also was deeply impressed by the fact that His good
and kindly acts were always commingled with mercy. Where so often
other human beings were rude and harsh and vindictive of one
another, His compassion and tenderness was always apparent. Even
the most flagrant sinners found forgiveness with Him, whereas at
the hands of their fellow men they knew only condemnation,
censure and cruel criticism.
And again I have to ask myself is this my attitude to other
people? Do I sit up on my pedestal of self-pride and look with
contempt upon my contemporaries, or do I get down and identify
myself with them in their dilemma and there extend a small
measure of the goodness and mercy given to me by my Master?
Do I see sinners with the compassion of Christ or with the
critical eye of censure? Am I willing to overlook faults and
weaknesses in others and extend forgiveness as God has forgiven
me my failings?
The only real, practical measure of my appreciation for the
goodness and mercy of God to me is the extent to which I am, in
turn, prepared to show goodness and mercy to others.
If I am unable to forgive and extend friendship to fallen
men and women, then it is quite certain I know little or nothing
in a practical sense of Christ's forgiveness and mercy to me.
It is this lack of love among Christians which today makes
the church an insipid, lukewarm institution. People come to find
affection and are turned off by our tepidity.
But the man or woman who knows firsthand about the goodness
and mercy of God in his own life, will be warm and affectionate
with goodness and mercy to others. This is to be a benefit to
them, but equally important, it is to be a blessing to God.
Yes, a blessing to God!
Most of us think only God can bring a blessing to us. The
Christian life is a two-way proposition. Nothing pleased me more
than to see my flock flourish and prosper. It delighted me
personally, no end, to feel compensated for the care I had given
them. To see them content was wonderful. To see the land
benefiting was beautiful. And the two together made me a happy
man. It enriched my own life; it was a reward for my efforts and
energy. In this experience I received full compensation for all
that I had poured into the endeavor.
Most of us forget that our Shepherd is looking for some
satisfaction as well. We are told that He looked upon the travail
of His soul and was satisfied.
This is the benefit we can bring to Him.
He looks on my life in tenderness for He loves me deeply. He
sees the long years during which His goodness and mercy have
followed me without slackening. He longs to see some measure of
that same goodness and mercy not only passed on to others by me
but also passed back to Him with joy.
He longs for love - my love.
And I love Him - only and because He first loved me. Then He
To be continued