I have gone astray like a lost sheep;
seek thy servant;
for I do not forget thy commandments.
When I was ten years of age, I was introduced to scripture memory. My mother had memorized sections of scripture and no doubt thought it would be beneficial for me. Rather than starting with the usual John 3:16, I was directed to the 119th Psalm. To help motivate me in this endeavor (the longest chapter in the BIble, and that for a ten year old!), I was given a dime for every eight verses. Each eight verses in my Bible were listed under the sequential letters of the Hebrew alphabet, as many of our Bibles are to this day. I made it through Aleph, Beth, Gimel, Daleth, and He before I ground to a halt after only forty verses. It seemed like all the verses were continually saying the same thing. Sixty two years later, as I reflect on her choice of my memory program, I can realize now the value of her choice.
Lorne Sanny once delivered a short message on Psalm 119:176. In his comments he pointed out that all but a few verses in the Psalm included a reference to God’s word. It is referred to as commandments, judgments, precepts, laws, statutes and testimonies. Additionally, the vast majority of the verses are prayers; asking for direction, understanding, teaching, mercy, protection, or consisting of praise and worship. The writer of this Psalm, therefore, was a person with a heart for God, for His word, and a heart that was stedfast in prayer. The question to be asked, then, is how such an individual could arrive at the position in which they found themselves in verse 176, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep.”
In I John 2:1 we read the following, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not.” The Apostle John has this goal in mind for our lives in regard to sin, namely, not just that we avoid major sins, but that we avoid sin altogether. Leroy Eims, in speaking about this verse, made the following comparison. “As a marine in the South Pacific in WW II, my goal was not to have just a minor wound, my goal was not to get hit at all!” Nevertheless, we are reminded in I Corinthians 10:12 that “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” And again in Romans 12:3 we are warned “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.” The world, the flesh and the devil all work in concert to lead us astray at times, even to the point where we may regard ourselves as did the Psalmist, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep.” It is for this reason that the latter half of I John 2:1 is written. “And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” Jesus Christ is the One who has come to seek, to save, and to restore.
In Psalm 119:176, we see several steps that lead to this restoration. First is remembrance, “For I do not forget your commandments; the second points to repentance,”I have gone astray like a lost sheep; and the third is restoration, “seek thy servant.” Many individuals relate how a memory of a praying grandmother, a Sunday School teacher, or a verse of scripture was remembered later in life and used by the Lord to turn that person to Him. Edith Schaeffer writes that shared experiences of children with godly parents form memories that act as barriers to the child going astray later in life. The more memories that are built of relationships with godly people, the more experiences of the Lord’s guidance in our lives, the more answered prayers, and the more verses studied and memorized the more quickly we realize that we have gone astray, which should lead to repentance.
Repentance is not merely admitting we are on the wrong course in life and have headed the wrong direction. Nor is it sorrow for having done so. It is a change of direction. If I were to enter the turnpike wanting to go to Kansas City, and instead found myself heading south to Oklahoma City, I may freely admit to myself and others that I was headed the wrong direction. Still heading south, I may even express sorrow and remorse for having done so. Neither of the above are repentance. To repent means to change direction. As one southern pastor I once heard describes it, we need to take the repentance off ramp, the grace overpass and the restoration on ramp heading in the right direction in our lives.
The act of God in restoration enables us to remember, guides us into repentance and provides restoration. Our Lord is the Good Shepherd, a specialist, if you will, in restoring sheep that have gone astray. Psalm 23:3 relates, “He restores (literally turns back) my soul. He guides me (literally drives me) in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” He does this, then, for the sake of His name. His name, YHWH, means the becoming One who becomes all we need Him to be. To be true to His name, He will seek, save, and restore. “For this is what the Sovereign LORD says; I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. (Ezekiel 34:11-12) There is no location so remote, no path so treacherous, and no depth so deep that our Shepherd will not find us. And we can be assured, that once restored by our Shepherd, we can again walk in His ways and be pleasing to Him.
“May the God of peace, who through the blood
of the eternal covenant brought back from the
dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of
the sheep, equip you with everything good for
doing his will, and may he work in us that which
is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to
whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”