Good Shepherd of My Soul

Hymnology: Good Shepherd of My Soul

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
~Psalm 23:1

Hymn Story

In the Fall of 2012, Keith and Kristyn Getty released their album Hymns for the Christian Life. As they shared in this interview, their goal in this season of their ministry has been to write hymns which will serve churches by addressing topics often neglected in modern Christian worship music. This has remained their objective with hymns written since the release of that album, including the prayerful “Good Shepherd of My Soul.”

Co-written with Fionan de Barra and Stuart Townend, this hymn expresses both penitence and a commitment to follow Christ, making it very suitable for Ash Wednesday (which is today). This is the first day of Lent, a season in the Church’s liturgical calendar during which we acknowledge our great dependence on Christ.

Traditionally, Christian churches which observe Ash Wednesday do so by placing ashes upon their foreheads. In this article about Ash Wednesday, Anglican pastor and songwriter Glenn Packiam writes:

The “imposition of the ashes” on our foreheads is an echo of the Scripture’s injunction: “Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.” It’s a way of confessing our finiteness, admitting our limitations, and trusting Christ to break through our own “dead ends.”

One of my favorite things about this hymn is its unique melody, which at times has the feeling of a mixed-meter (as in Townend’s “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”), though it actually remains in 4/4 throughout. Listen and be blessed as you reflect on the lyrics:

Lyrics

Good Shepherd of my soul
Come dwell within me.
Take all I am and mould
Your likeness in me.
Before the cross of Christ
This is my sacrifice:
A life laid down
And ready to follow.

The troubled find their peace
In true surrender.
The prisoners their release
From chains of anger.
In springs of living grace
I find a resting place
To rise refreshed,
Determined to follow.

I’ll walk this narrow road
With Christ before me
Where thorns and thistles grow
And cords ensnare me.
Though doubted and denied
He never leaves my side
But lifts my head
And calls me to follow.

And when my days are gone
My strength is failing
He’ll carry me along
Through death’s unveiling
Earth’s struggles overcome
Heav’n’s journey just begun
To search Christ’s depths
And ever to follow.

Hymn Study

Sheep are not smart creatures. They are completely helpless, prone to wander, and utterly dependent upon their shepherds for sustenance, guidance, and protection. Not exactly a comparison we’re eager to make for ourselves! Yet that is exactly how Scripture describes each of us in our lost condition: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).

By the grace of God, we who are in Christ Jesus were not left to our own devices! There is one who, though he never wandered, never sinned, took our place, being led “like a lamb… to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7). Yet this was no sheep; it was the Lord of Heaven, the “good shepherd [who] lays down his life for his sheep” (John 10:11). He bore our sins so that we could live righteous lives. By his wounds we have been healed, and have now returned to the Shepherd of our souls (1 Peter 2:25).

Christians are led by Holy Spirit, who dwells within us. The Spirit is our Helper and our Comforter (John 14:16). He gives us wisdom (John 14:26), strength (Ephesians 3:16), and conviction of sins (John 16:8-11), and causes to walk according to the law of God (Ezekiel 37:27) while moulding us into the likeness of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Under the guidance of the Good Shepherd of our souls, we find peace and rest. And though like a father he disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12:6), his rod and staff are a comfort to us (Psalm 23:4). We lay our lives down, ready and determined to follow at his calling.

Those who belong to this shepherd will never be lost (John 6:39); he will never leave us or forsake us (Joshua 1:5). When we come to the end of our lives on Earth, he will carry us home to Heaven, where we will have the pleasure and privilege of following him forever!

Blessings to you as you follow Christ. May this season be one of joy as you find your sufficiency in Him!

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