Declaration of interest: I read a draft version of The Shepherd God and offered some feedback on the manuscript.
Psalm 23 is probably the best-known passage of the Bible, short enough to memorise and with words that have spoken powerfully to many who have read and heard it in the three thousand years or more since it was written.
Simon Lucas is one such person, for whom this psalm has been particularly poignant, speaking directly to his situation when he faced a period of anxiety and depression. “The Lord is my shepherd,” it says. It became a constant companion and comfort to him, as he read it over and over and saw in a richer and deeper way what it meant for God to be his shepherd.
This book is the product of reflection and study of the psalm that has been so important to Simon. Yet while it is a deeply personal book, it has value far beyond the obvious catharsis it has brought to the writer. It is more than just a tale about how God has worked in someone’s life in a particularly difficult time. It’s a thoughtful reflection on the nuances of a psalm that is often read but rarely understood with the depth of clarity it deserves.
The result is a book that is readable but deceptively detailed, covering a lot of ground about how God relates to his people and what his desires are for us. The style is never overly technical, packed with short analogies and anecdotes to illustrate the points being made. A totally new addition since the initial manuscript I saw are a series of reflection or discussion questions at the end of each chapter. I read through the book on the train and found myself pausing on one or two of those questions each time, gazing out of the window as I considered a particular challenge or encouragement.
Above all, the most helpful thing about the book is that it is unashamedly gospel-centred. Simon never takes the attitude that the psalm was written just for him – the things it speaks of are universally true, and point beyond any dark valley we might experience in our lives. So it is a book about our eternal future hope in Jesus, the good shepherd, as much as it is about our present comfort in the loving care of our shepherd God. This is crucial to understanding the psalm well, and firmly roots Simon’s discussion of his own experience within the context of God’s wider plan to draw his people to himself.
If you want to get to grips with the depth of meaning in the most famous psalm, this book would be a great starting place. And if you enjoy biblically-based testimony of how God reveals himself to those who cry out to him, you will find that parts of Simon’s story make for powerful reading. For me, it’s a reminder that God is faithful and will use even the toughest times of our lives to further his work in us. I’m grateful to Simon for his openness, honesty and clarity in sharing his story, and hope it will encourage many others, too.