Sheep. The shepherd. Green pastures. Calm, cool waters. We love this pastoral imagery. Psalm 23, easily the most beloved of the psalms, captures this picture. When life is hectic and stressful, we can experience a calm as we reflect on God as our Shepherd. When grief hits us hard, we take comfort from this reminder of a gentle Shepherd watching over us.
As the Good Shepherd, Jesus is all that—but a shepherd does more than just provide us comfort and see that we’re watered and well fed. A good shepherd will also discipline the sheep. The beloved 23rd Psalm reminds us of this:
“Your rod and your staff — they comfort me” (v. 4).
The rod was typically used to protect the sheep from predators, but the staff was often used to protect the sheep from themselves. If a sheep wandered too far away, the shepherd could use the staff to grab the sheep, poke it, or prod it to bring it back to where it was supposed to be. If a sheep got stuck some place he shouldn’t have been, the crook of the staff could be used to grab the sheep and pull it from further harm.
God does that with us. He will use his staff of discipline to poke us, prod us, and pull us back to where we ought to be. It might be painful in the moment, but when we let Him do His work, we come back to a better place.
As followers of Christ, we do not need to confuse His discipline with punishment. God does not punish His children. Jesus Himself took our punishment on the cross. We have been forgiven in Christ. But since we are His children, He will discipline us. His discipline is a by-product of His love for us, and He disciplines us for the purpose of bringing us into a closer walk with Him.
When my sons were teenagers, they would periodically do dumb things. (Teenage boys and dumb things seem to go hand-in-hand.) And they usually did it alongside a friend or two. Depending on what happened, my sons often faced some form of discipline. I never disciplined their friends, though. They weren’t my sons. I cared about my sons (and still do), and I would do what it takes to mold them into the young men they needed to be.
“Keep in mind that the Lord your God has been disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son” (Deut. 8:5).
We don’t like discipline, but if you experience the discipline of God, it’s because He cares for you. He loves you. You are His child. The writer of Hebrews said this about God’s discipline:
“He does it for our benefit, so that we can share his holiness. No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:10-11).
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He will care for you, tend to your needs, and do what is best for you. But remember, that may sometimes include the staff of His discipline. Don’t fight it. Don’t run from it. Embrace it. Because as the Good Shepherd, everything Jesus does is to benefit you.
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