Most of us are familiar with the 23rd Psalm, and its comforting opening verse, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Many are likewise familiar with the declaration of Jesus, “ I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep (John 10:14-15; ESV).” Perhaps less commonly known is that biblical verse which we might describe as, The Sheep’s Prayer.
This verse, so described is the very last verse of Psalm 119, a psalm dedicated to meditations upon the written word of God, and it reads as follows: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments (Psalm 119:176; ESV).”
If we are sheep, belonging to God in Christ, what kind of sheep are we? The Bible offers an answer, saying, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way (Isaiah 53:6);” and, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23; ESV).”
No matter our intentions or sincerity, we are going to at some point, in foolishness and sin, wander away from where we should be in our relationship to God. Perhaps we think otherwise, but the Bible reminds us, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” and, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:8, 10; ESV).”
Knowing that we are like a sheep gone astray is not an excuse to turn away from God and his Word. The Psalmist, confessing his condition, nonetheless is mindful of God’s revealed will, declaring, “I do not forget your commandments.” Indeed, one might justifiably think that it is because of his knowledge of the Scriptures that the Psalmist knows he is lost. The Scriptures are given to us for our own good. They are the power of God unto salvation, in Christ (cf. Romans 1:16), able to make us wise for salvation, instruct us in righteousness, and equip us for all that God wants us to do (cf. 2 Timothy 3:15-17). Yet again, the word of God, in all its wisdom, power and beauty is not a guarantee against personal choice and foolishness.
Adam and Eve in the Garden had God’s Word, given to them directly and in person, yet when the Serpent spoke, they listened to his deception and so sinned. The best of men, with one exception, knowing God’s word, nonetheless each at some point succumb to self-will and pride and listen to the devil’s deception and so fall. And what then.
Thus the prayer of the wise sheep who discovers he is lost: “seek your servant!”
Even as the young child, discovering he is in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by strange people, cries out for his father or his mother, so too the child of God, realizing he has gone astray, cries out to God for guidance and rescue. And the marvelous message of Scripture is that God does indeed seek the lost sheep, desiring to rescue His plaintive children. Jesus taught, saying, “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? (Matthew 18:12; ESV)” In the same way, we read, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Son (John 3:16a),” and, “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).”
When you know that you have messed up, whether in life, in relationships with your fellow man, or in your relationship with God. When you know that you have, like a sheep, gone astray, remember that there is a God who loves you, who has given you wise counsel and guidance in His word, who has given you commands and precepts by which you should live your life, and turn to Him for salvation. Like a wise lost sheep, like a child calling for his parents, remember to call out to God, “seek your servant!” And remember the promise of Scripture, “all who call upon the Lord will be saved (Joel 2:32).”
Call to Him in obedient faith, be baptized and wash away your sins in His name (cf. Acts 22:16), and cling to Him, knowing that if his children will confess their sins to Him, He is faithful and just to forgive those sins (cf. 1 John 1:9)
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.