In every nation throughout every generation since the beginning of time, humankind has been looking for God. I believe he formed in every person he created a desire to seek out their creator in one way or another.
God, as distant as the stars in the sky. God, as voiceless as the wind. Who could possibly find God and know what he is really like, let alone know him personally? Who could possibly know what he thinks about us? Is he wrathful, to be appeased at all times so as not to destroy us all? Does he demand perfection of us?
We could not reach God on our own. So God moved toward us: “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14, NASB). Our God, who desired for us to find him, left his heavenly dwelling and emptied himself of all glory to become Immanuel, God with us (Philippians 2:6-7; Matthew 1:23).
What I love about Jesus is that we get to experience God’s heart toward humankind as we learn about his life on earth. Remember Matthew 9:35-36?
Jesus went throughout all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
The all-knowing, holy Son of God, looking over the crowd, didn’t feel contempt. Or rage. Or disgust. Or judgment. No—he felt compassion because the people were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
Like sheep without a shepherd. What does that even mean?
Maybe your brain, like mine, just went to the most famous shepherd-and-sheep passage in the Bible: Psalm 23.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
What happened when you read this psalm just now? Be honest. Maybe you’re not very familiar with it, and you really took your time with each line. Maybe you know it well but are a superdiligent Bible reader and carefully read through the whole thing. Or maybe you’re like me. You may start out strong, but you hastily skim through the rest. “The Lord is my shepherd yada yada yada, and lots of blessing and good stuff.”
Some of us have heard the psalm so many times that we can recite it in our sleep. There’s a reason it’s so well known—it’s beautiful. But let’s be honest. When something becomes overly familiar to us, we can easily lose the impact of its meaning.
A few years ago, I was led through an exercise where we were instructed to write out Psalm 23 as if there were no shepherd. Line by line, we would write out the opposite of each stanza—imagining what life would be like if we were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
As I sat in prayer, asking God to draw my attention to what he wanted to show me through this exercise, words began to unfold. I like to call it the anti–Psalm 23:
I lead my own life. There is a lot that I want.
I am looking for a place to lie in rest, but I can’t find it.
There’s a lot that I worry about, swirling waters all around.
My soul is fragmented. I’m left wandering, not knowing where to go, not knowing right from wrong, living for myself yet going nowhere.
I walk by death all day long. There’s a lot that I fear. I feel alone. The comforts I chase after are good only for a short while, then I’m empty inside again.
In the presence of my enemies, I’m put to shame. I feel no blessing. I feel empty inside.
I don’t know where good is. I don’t know what my final resting place will be. I hope I find it one day.
As I stepped back to read what I had written, I gasped.
This was my neighbor.
These were my friends who didn’t know Jesus.
This was my life before I knew Jesus.
This was me as I walked through some dark seasons in my life, wandering from the One who loved me. But at least I always knew I could find my way back.
This is the reality of life for those who don’t know the Good Shepherd.
Empty. Wandering. Meaningless. Restless. Fragmented. Broken.
We see in Matthew 9:35-36 the God who created the heavens and the earth, the omniscient God who knows every last sinful thought and wretched action, the God who in human flesh looked over the crowds and saw not our sin but our torment and our helplessness to remove our sin so that we might be brought near to him.
So what did Jesus do? He lived a perfect life here on earth, died on a cross for the sins of the world, and was raised to life again so that those who would believe and receive him as Lord and Savior would never need to live life without a shepherd again. We would get to experience the goodness and mercy of our God all the days of our lives.
But more immediately, what did Jesus do after seeing the crowds? In Matthew 9:37-38, he told his disciples to ask God for more workers for the harvest field. Then Matthew 10:1 says, “Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.”
In response to the brokenness he saw as he looked upon the crowds, Jesus called his disciples and sent them out with his power and authority to meet the needs of the people.
God’s people have always been his solution for bringing the good news of salvation to the broken, the wandering, the harassed, and the helpless.
When I think about all of my loved ones who are experiencing the bleak reality of living without the Good Shepherd, as I think about them wandering alone through life, and as I think about the goodness and mercy of God I’ve experienced from walking with him, why wouldn’t I want to share this good news with them? Why wouldn’t I want to help them experience the fullness of life in Christ? Why wouldn’t I see disciplemaking as my calling and responsibility? If not me, then who?
Adapted from How to Save the World: Disciplemaking Made Simple by Alice Matagora. Copyright © 2022. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
Alice Matagora is the Leader Development Initiatives Program Coordinator for The Navigators and serves with The Navigators Collegiate ministry at the University of California at Irvine. She lives in California with her husband and children.