The Lord Is MY Shepherd.
Psalm 23. It is one of the most well known passages in all of Scripture. For those of us who grew up in the church and memorized it at age five, it can even seem tired and void of impact. At least that is how I have approached it in the past. However, in the Summer of 2017 when we first approached Malawi Children’s Mission to see if our ministry could be needed long-term, Psalm 23 is exactly what the Lord spoke to me. He breathed fresh life into this passage and applied it to the life-altering situation I was about to enter. For that reason, my next several blog posts will focus on what God continues to teach me through Psalm 23.
Today’s post focuses simply on the very first line of verse one, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” The all-powerful, all-knowing, omnipresent creator of the universe has a tender, personal relationship with me. The second I accepted Christ as my Savior He also became my Shepherd. That is why I want to share my salvation story with you. Having the Lord Jesus Christ as MY Shepherd is the foundation of the rest of Psalm 23.
As believers, each one of us has a testimony. It is the story of redemption telling who we were before Christ, how He intervened and changed our story, and how He has continued to transform our lives and write our story. Every believer’s salvation story is different, but everyone’s story should follow that plot line. The main character of these stories is not the believer, but the Savior. My salvation story is not about me, or what I did; it is about a holy, loving, merciful and just God who paid my sin debt and freed me from bondage.
God blessed me with incredible parents who love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and who pray that I would do the same. From the earliest I can remember, my parents discipled me in the ways of Christ. I’m pretty sure they had me praying and memorizing scripture before I could form full sentences. 😉 Anyways, one day in the summer of 2002, all that my parents had been teaching me for the first seven years of my life started clicking and I felt conviction. I knew that I disobeyed God’s law and I was a sinner. During our nightly bedtime devotion that my Daddy did with me every night, I began to ask him questions. I do not remember what I asked him, but I know how he answered. He confirmed my knowledge that I am a sinner who has disobeyed God. Yes, even a seven year-old pastor’s daughter, had already broken God’s laws. I was a good girl who tried to do everything right, but was always going to come up short. Not only did my Daddy confirm that I was a sinner, he told me that just like there were consequences for breaking my parent’s rules, there were also consequences for breaking God’s rules. Romans 6:23 told me “For the wages [consequences] of sin is death”. My sin separated me from my Heavenly Father who loves me, but cannot let the guilty go unpunished. Because of my sin, I was going to live life on earth never experiencing the intimate relationship that Christ desires to have with me, and spend life in eternity separated from Him.
My Daddy told me that wasn’t the end of the story. God loved me, He created me, and He wanted to have a relationship with me, so He made a way. John 3:16 was one of the first verses my parents had me memorize. I’m pretty sure it was second only to Ephesians 6:1 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.” You think I’m joking (Editor’s note: She isn’t joking…I’m sure Ella Jane and Clara will be in the same scripture-minded boat.)…Back to the point, John 3:16 beautifully illustrates the sacrifice that my Heavenly Father made so that my relationship with Him could be restored. It says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” God made a way! His perfect and sinless Son would die on a cross as the final atoning sacrifice. God’s just nature meant the price for sin had to be paid, but His loving nature meant that He could not sit back and let His beloved daughter die and suffer eternal separation from Him. He reconciled the two by sending Jesus to pay the price for my sin. All I had to do was accept the free gift. The second half of Romans 6:23 says, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” If I stopped trying to cheapen God’s grace by putting a price tag on it and simply accepted God’s overwhelmingly merciful gift of salvation, then I would be set free from the sin that so easily entangled me and restored to a right relationship with my Heavenly Father.
That night, in my little yellow bedroom, my Daddy led me in a prayer. In that prayer, I admitted I was sinner who had broken God’s laws and deserved the punishment for my sin. I told God that I believe that He loves me so much that He sent his spotless and only Son to die for me, so that I wouldn’t have to pay the consequences that I deserved. I accepted the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ alone, and repented (turned from) my sin. I told Him I did not want to walk in sin any longer and thanked Him for freeing me from the chains of sin. Finally, I asked Him to empty me of my old self and fill me with Himself, so that I could walk this life in the power of Holy Spirit and spend eternity together with Him.
On that summer night, sixteen years ago, my life was changed forever. I became a new creation. The truth of 2 Corinthians 5:17 became real to me, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come.” I had a first-hand experience with God’s redeeming power. I knew that I was forgiven, my debt was paid and my relationship with my Heavenly Father was restored. I was free. Free to live a life no longer bound by sin, free to wholeheartedly worship and serve the God who created me, and free to extend His love to others. I am by no means perfect and being a new creation does not mean I will never sin, but it does mean that I now have the Holy Spirit living and working inside of me and empowering me to walk in the spirit rather than my flesh. Since that night when I made Jesus Christ my Savior and Lord, I have been under a continuous refining process. As I learn to walk with the Lord and serve Him wholeheartedly, He has been faithfully and patiently molding me so that I become a more accurate picture of Him.
Tim Hawkins (Christian comedian [Editor’s note: Fun fact! I once sat through a whole Tim Hawkins show without laughing simply because I wanted to prove I could. Man, stubbornness can be pretty powerful.]) has a joke where he is talking about testimonies. He says, “My testimony stinks. I wish I was addicted to crack.” As ridiculous as that sounds, I think that many believers who were saved at a young age and never experienced a period of intense rebellion against God are tempted to think like that. It is as if they believe their testimony does not display the grace of God like the testimony of a redeemed drug addict. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was by God’s inexpressible grace that I was born into a loving and God-honoring family who continuously pointed me towards Christ. It is by the grace of God that I have never been mixed up with a group of people who would lure me off the path the Lord set before me. It is by His grace that I have always had mentors and friends who seek first the kingdom. It is by His grace that I never had to experience the life-altering consequences of a drug addiction or any other such sin. My salvation story is a powerful picture of God’s grace, faithfulness and redemption. Some stories might sound “more exciting” than mine, but out of all of the salvation stories I have heard mine is undoubtedly my favorite. My salvation story is my favorite because it is mine. I can cherish it, look back on it, and trace the Lord’s faithfulness throughout my entire life. Now that you have read my salvation story, I hope it will give you a fresh appreciation for your own story as you examine His loving faithfulness towards you.