How does God’s goodness pursue us? Here’s one example: An acquaintance of mine had attended a conference in Istanbul. He’s a committed follower of Jesus, yet discouragement had set in, and he’d begun feeling distanced from God. When the conference ended, he stayed in the city to visit the sites for a few days. One afternoon, he sat in a coffee shop next to a window. Imagine his surprise when a Christian co-worker who attended the same conference happened to walk by and see him. The co-worker immediately joined him in the shop, and their impromptu get-together turned into a much-needed time of spiritual encouragement for my acquaintance.
What are the chances of this happening, really? More than 15 million people live in metro Istanbul, and there are too many coffee shops to count. There’s no way this was a coincidental crossing of paths. It was a beautiful picture of God’s goodness, a real-life demonstration of Psalm 23:1 in action.
How Does the Shepherd Care for His Sheep?
Psalm 23:1 says, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” In the verses preceding it, the writer describes a shepherd’s goodness toward his sheep in taking responsibility for their well-being. For instance, the shepherd goes before his flock to clear the path of anything harmful and to watch for wild animals looking for lunch. He treats them for pests, and he deals with friction within the flock so the animals can rest properly. He ensures they have clean drinking water. He searches for them when they stray, and he rescues and carries the injured back to safety.
Just as a wise and experienced shepherd cares well for his sheep, so the Lord cares for His children. He takes responsibility for our well-being, and each of the actions He takes evidence His goodness in our lives.
Within Scripture, the word “goodness” can be likened to the word “grace.”
God, in His goodness or grace, gives us what we don’t deserve. Think about this for a moment within the context of Psalm 23: There’s a reason Scripture likens us to sheep. These woolly creatures aren’t exactly the smartest animals on the farm. Neither are we as smart or self-sufficient as we might like to think. Sometimes we do things that are just plain dumb. We ignore the Lord our Shepherd, stray onto a path that seems right in our own eyes, and cause self-inflicted pain. Sometimes we get angry at God and blame Him for what’s happened. And how does He respond?
The Lord our Shepherd could just wash His hands of us, but He doesn’t do that. In His goodness, He gives us what we don’t deserve. He exercises patience toward us. He disciplines us to bring us to our senses so we can once again flourish. He sends His Holy Spirit to convict us, He forgives us when we confess our sin, He gives us another chance, and He uses our hard-earned lesson for His glory. It’s amazing, really.
It’s also amazing to realize God’s goodness toward us displayed in countless ways every day.
There are the obvious things like food and a roof over our heads. But let’s not forget the things like our ability to take our next breath and then the next and the next. Let’s recognize His goodness to us in giving us ears and the ability to hear a baby giggle and birds sing and worship music sung. Let’s acknowledge His goodness in giving us eyes to see the dawn break across the sky and the look of delight on a child’s face when discovering the spots on a ladybug’s back. In His goodness, He gives us strength to face difficulties and the power to persevere on the days when we feel like giving up.
God’s goodness follows us in ways too many to count. So does His mercy. Let’s compare the two:
Goodness is God giving us what we don’t deserve. Mercy is God not giving us what we deserve. Every time we think a judgmental or lustful or envious thought, we sin against His holiness. Every time we complain or gossip or refuse to heed the Holy Spirit’s nudges, we do the same. There’s no way we can measure up to God’s standard of holiness. As a result, we deserve death, but when we place our faith in Jesus for forgiveness and salvation, God gives us life instead.
It’s easy for us to be mindful and appreciative of God’s goodness and mercy toward us when everything is going well. It’s not as easy when we land in a hard place.
But the truth remains—His goodness and mercy are with us even when we suffer a tragedy or when life takes an unexpected and disappointing detour. They accompany us even on the days we don’t feel like getting out of bed, on the days we feel unloved, and on the days we lose sight of hope. Surely God’s goodness and mercy follow us all the days—all the days—of our life, no matter whether they’re good or bad because He can turn bad to good.
My friend in Istanbul experienced the goodness of God in a sweet and special way. The Lord, his Shepherd, took responsibility for his well-being. He knew that this fellow was discouraged so He sent a friend to talk and pray with him when he needed it most. Such is the character of our good, good Shepherd. He knows our needs and takes responsibility for us. Let’s keep our eyes open so we don’t miss the ways in which He fulfills His responsibility toward us.
How have you experienced God’s goodness recently? Feel free to leave a comment. I love hearing your responses, and other readers benefit, too.