Sheepdogs for Christ: An Orientation Devotion from Psalm 40.1-3

SheepdogThis Orientation Devotional was originally given on August 24, 2009, as “The Two Things to Remember in Seminary from Psalm 40.1-3” by Michael A. Milton, Ph.D., President and Professor of Practical Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina (Interim President, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida).

Welcome to Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte! We have been waiting for you! And you have been coming here, haven’t you? There are so many stories of how God has been working in your hearts, opening and closing doors, making His presence plain to you, His hand of guidance personable, and His ministry to you palpable. And why? Because God is calling you to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ! He is calling others to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth with a mission agency! And for some of you, you still wait on the Lord for further word!

This morning I want to help you start your journey with what we do here: we read and explain the inerrant and infallible Word of the living God. Whether you are taking Hebrew or Greek or Old or New Testament or Pastoral Theology or Systematic or Missions or Church Polity: one thing will remain absolutely resolute: you will be taught from the Word of God. For it is the Word of God, the old Reformed faith, and a commitment to the Great Commission that forms our very nucleus here at RTS.  Everything else flows out from that Biblical core. So this morning I want to read from that Word, from Psalm 40.1-3:

I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. Psalms 40.1 He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD. Psalms 40.3

Now here are the two things that I want you to remember, from this passage, about your seminary experience:

1.    Welcome to seminary and don’t forget to bring your testimony!

David began this marvelous ascription of praise to his deliverer by recalling how God saved him,

“He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of miry bog.”

There may not be any miry bogs around here like I knew as a boy growing up in Louisiana, and like David obviously knew from the sheep fields of his boyhood. But there are miry bogs of family pain, sinful choices, hard hearts that led us to seek out answers in ungodly places, boggy places that sucked us down into the life-suffocating mire of life without God . But Jesus Christ saved you out of that. He saved you in the same by grace, through faith but he saved you in different ways: through the witness of a dorm roommate, or a professor, or a pastor, or maybe your parents. That is your testimony. St. Paul, likewise, when he was addressing Timothy, began with speaking of his testimony and how God was so rich in mercy and saved him and made his life to be a “pattern” for others who would believe. Gospel ministry always begins with what God has done in our lives personally. And this place, this seminary, should be a place where sacred stories of God’s grace are told and re told to the glory of His name and to the encouragement of us all. And for the rest of your ministry, you should be telling that old, old story of Jesus and His love.

The other thing I would say to you from this passage is this:

2. Welcome to seminary and don’t think that ministry starts later! It starts NOW!

No, ministry starts now! Indeed, to live your life out what God has done for you is to naturally, supernaturally, flow into living witness for Christ to others. Listen to David:

“He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God, Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD” (verse 3).

Do you see how the testimony of what God has done for David flows into witness for what God will do for others? For “many?”

And so don’t be fooled into thinking that once you walk across that platform and get that degree, THEN you can start ministry! No! You are in the ministry now! You are not ordained, perhaps, and you don’t have the credentials of your church to pastor a church, perhaps, but you are in the ministry! We all are! But even more so, you who are studying the Word of God, who have dedicated a “tithe” of your lives to sit under the pastor-scholar-mentors here at RTS, are here to minister the Word of Christ to others. I pray that while you are here, many people will come to “see and fear and put their trust” in the LORD Jesus Christ. From this sacred ground, we pray that many will go forth and preach Christ to the ends of the earth. But I ask God that many will know Him RIGHT HERE because of you. This place ought to be a live wire of testimony and witness. May it be so.

I conclude with the insightful theological reflections on the pastoral ministry by one of my favorites, Evelyn Underhill. Many have said that the pastorate has gone to the dogs. But Miss Underhill believed that the dogs “the sheepdogs” were actually a wonderful metaphor for what we are called to do, and be:

“They [the sheepdogs] were helping the shepherd deal with a lot of very active sheep and lambs, persuading them to go into the right pastures, keeping them from running down the wrong paths.  They did it, interestingly, not by barking, fuss, ostentatious authority, or any kind of busy behavior.  The best dog she saw never barked once; but he spent an astonishing amount of time sitting perfectly still, looking at the shepherd…The dog was the agent of the shepherd, working for a scheme that was the shepherds and the whole of which the dog could not grasp; and it was just that which was the source of the delightedness, the eagerness, and also the discipline with which the dog worked.”[1]

There is a lot of wisdom in that dog story. Indeed, I want to use it to summarize what we have learned from the Psalmist (who also knew something about shepherding).

Let this time in your life be a time of discipline, “patiently” waiting, as David put it, to be that kind of “agent of the Shepherd.” But keep your eyes on Him. Remember how He picked you up, a whipped pup out of the miry bogs of life, and set you on a course of caring for others, finding wayward sheep and obediently shepherding them to the Master’s way. But always, always, keep your eye on Him.


[1] John H. Westerhoff, Spiritual Life : The Foundation for Preaching and Teaching, 1st ed. (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994), as quoted from http://www.ethicsdaily.com/news.php?viewStory=13946 .

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About Michael Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D. (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David's College), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author. He is, also, an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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