by Rob Tims
My brother’s in-laws have a family bond around the movie “National Lampoon’s European Vacation.” In the movie, Chevy Chase calls on his son with the phrase “Hey Russ” an insane amount of times. When you watch the movie listening for that phrase, it is all you will hear. My brother’s in-laws have watched that movie together so many times that when they find themselves in large crowds and get separated … or when they lose a member of their party … the father simply yells, “Hey Russ,” and without fail all are reunited.
The phrase is also used to get everybody’s attention whenever it’s crucial, no matter what the surroundings. It reflects an intimate knowledge and bond between father and family, the same kind of intimate bond that exists between God and His children, powerfully reflected in Psalm 23 wherein God is referred to as our Shepherd. Notice two very important things about God from this beloved passage.
As Shepherd, God makes sure I have everything good and right. Verses 1-4 highlight that all the good things I have and need are gracious gifts of a loving Shepherd. And even in walking through the valley of the shadow of death, He is leading me through to a better place than where I once was.
As Shepherd, God hotly pursues me with goodness and mercy. In verse 6, goodness and mercy are said to “follow” us, yet the Hebrew word “follow” means more literally “pursue.” John Piper’s illustration is a helpful one:
Imagine yourself driving nonchalantly down the freeway, when all of a sudden you see a red light flashing in your rearview mirror. And for some crazy reason you make the irrational decision to push the gas instead of the brake. You roar down the freeway at 100 miles per hour and try to get away from the highway patrol. All the times you went over the speed limit flash before your eyes. And as your sense of guilt mounts, all the faults of your life start popping up out of your unconsciousness where they had lain just waiting to make you miserable. And all the while, you remember that if you get one more ticket your license will be revoked and you won’t be able to take that hard-earned vacation to Miami with your wife. But your car simply does not have the power of the highway patrol, and he finally forces you over. You sit there trembling as he walks up to your window and says: “Got a little guilty conscience there, don’t you?” Then he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a wallet and says, “That motel you just left asked me to catch up with you and bring you your wallet you left on the counter.” So you feel an utter fool, and as you reach out to take it he says, “O, and there’s one other thing. They had a drawing this morning for the sweepstakes you registered for at the motel last night, and you won a free trip for two to Miami if you phone in your acceptance by noon today.”
Yes! As Shepherd, God is not just a gracious provider, but one who passionately pursues us with good and mercy and grace. He’s a lavishing God, and nothing was more lavish than the gift of Jesus. Jesus … the Good Shepherd … is proof that is The Shepherd.
Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.