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The Lord is my ... Sheepdog?

It’s time to have a talk with God. Not just any talk. The DTR talk: Defining The Relationship.

This conversation, where roles and expectations are clarified, is helpful for any relationship – at the beginning and over time. Parents with children, and the other side of that coin. Dating. Marriage. On the job. With friends, and yes – with Jesus.

Let’s get started, beginning with the dynamics that never change.

It’s all about love.

Your relationship with Jesus began with and is grounded upon one principle – love. His undying, never-failing love.

You were created in love. You are sustained by his love. Like any compassionate parent, his ears compassionately perk up when you plead for his help, and his face lights up with joy when you lift someone’s spirits. Just like he does.

You are — and always will be – lovingly pursued by him, hoping that you will wake up from your spiritual slumber, be it periodic or lifelong, and respond in love to him. And his affection for you doesn’t vary or disappear depending on how you respond, or whether you do at all. It’s constant. Like we said, never failing.

It’s not about you (singular)

Responding to God’s love means that you accept an invitation to become a member of his larger family, the people of God throughout the ages. No, he does not spark a private love affair that you can cherish and nourish apart from other people of faith.

Why? Because it’s not about you (singular); it’s about being part of a huge we. Us. You (plural).

The most common Biblical metaphor regarding our communal life with God? We’re all sheep*, members of his flock, which includes everyone who bears and has borne his name, throughout the earth and across the ages of time. We don’t get the One – Jesus – without the other – the flock.

He Leads. We follow.

There it is. Four words define our relationship with God. He leads. We follow. It’s that simple, and yet tremendously layered in complexity.

This has always been the practice for the people of God. It began with the directional pillars of cloud and fire in the Exodus desert for our forefathers and foremothers of faith. Jesus’ invitation to his first disciples – follow me – was echoed in the intimacy of his final days. Whoever serves me must follow me.

Our life with God has always been about taking him at his word and following in his footsteps on the path of life.

  • He promises goodness and mercy, and we trust in his faithfulness.

  • He takes on the responsibility of meeting our needs, and we depend on him.

  • He gives and forgives, and we thank him for that and forgive others.

  • He speaks with authority and wisdom, and we listen.

  • He leans in closer when he hears our cries for help and when we run to him for shelter.

  • When persecution and enmity surround us, he calls us to respond as he did, with an active trust in the Father’s care and providence. That means no vengeful retaliation -- not with words, nor with deeds.

  • He calls us to love others as he has loved us.

  • And yes, he commands, and we obey.

Jesus summarized perfectly his role in our relationship in one of his I am statements:

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me … and I lay down my life for the sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. **

The Lord is my shepherd

What’s a believer’s response to Jesus’ declaration? The maybe-all-too-automatic reply is straight out of Psalm 23. Repeat after me: The Lord is My Shepherd.

But is he? That’s the big Q – Is the Lord My Shepherd? Does this really describe my life?

What does it mean to follow God’s lead? That’s the heart of the DTR talk – defining your part in the relationship.

Your ancestors in the faith engaged in the conversation. Abraham and Sara. Mary and Joseph. David and Esther and Amos. Mary Magdalene and Joanna, whose husband was King Herod’s household manager. Saul who became Paul and his friend Barnabas. Each of them faced the impact on their lives to follow the Lord’s leadership.

Although following Jesus includes joining the flock, he insists on having the conversation with you as an individual. In this case, it is about you (singular). And you don’t get the option of comparing yourself to others or excusing yourself because of the actions of others.

How do I know this? Jesus forced the Apostle Peter to have the DTR talk following the resurrection, restoring him to his place among the disciples. After breakfast, walking together on the shores of the Lake of Galilee, with John following behind – maybe with a cup of coffee in their hands? – the following conversation took place:

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Peter turned and saw that [John]was following them. When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” ***

The Lord is My Sheepdog

I started walking with Jesus fifty years ago. I can revisit in my mind the milestones on the path, and have seen Jesus guiding and goading, providing and protecting through many of the big decisions: my college major, the steps leading to my marriage to Linda, the churches we served, my transition to hospice chaplaincy. The Lord has been my Shepherd, and he has faithfully led us.

But to be honest, I serve as the shepherd of my day-to-day existence, demoting Jesus to sheepdog duty – herding my schedule in line with my preferences, and protecting my little flock, the people I love. The Lord is my Sheepdog.

Is this the arrangement I want? Of course not, but it’s a candid description of my reality. I do want Jesus to be my shepherd full-time, and I’m learning to relinquish that role to the one to whom it belongs.

Sound familiar to you? Thought so. Here’s the good news. Jesus loves us – that’s the foundation – he understands us, and knows that we’re slow learners.

Three steps forward, two back & sometimes sideways – but I’m making progress, helped by the development of some built-in checks – like my every-Monday-morning DTR re-alignment, and some helpful reminders throughout the week. I’ve got to be intentional about this.

How about you? Is it time for you to have the DTR talk? What role does God play in your life? As you reflect, don’t be too hard on yourself, or too easy. Be gracious. But be honest.

Here’s our reality – we only thrive in life when we follow his lead, when the Lord is our Shepherd. We flounder when he has any other role, including as our Sheepdog.

The Lord is my __________. (Fill in the blank).

Benediction of Blessing

  • May you be overwhelmed with the unfailing love of God for you.

  • May the Lord give you the courage, wisdom, and grace to have the DTR talk with Jesus.

  • May the Lord be your Shepherd for all of your days.

* Besides reading Psalm 23 again, also check out Psalm 100:3, Isaiah 40:11, Ezekiel 34, and John 10:1-21.

** Here is the list of Jesus’ I am statements in John’s Gospel. I am the bread of life. 6:35, 48, 51; I am the light of the world. 8:12; 9:5; I am the door of the sheep. 10:7, 9; I am the good shepherd. 10:11, 14; I am the resurrection and the life. 11:25; I am the way, the truth, and the life. 14:6; I am the true vine. 15:1,5.

*** The entire episode can be found in John 21:15-23.


DTR – English Coaching/Karolina Pabich

Flock – Andrea Lightfoot – Unsplash

Sheep, Shepherd & Sheepdog – Sean Carey

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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version, NIV. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc. TM

1 Comment

Lydia Richards
Lydia Richards
Jan 28, 2023

Thank you Brian!

Your beautiful piece reminds me that Jesus is not only the one with whom we have the DTR conversation. He went before us. Remember he said “the father and I are one”

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