Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd

While serving as a missionary in the Northeast of Brazil, my missionary companion and I occasionally visited the home of a dear woman who, years after a divorce, struggled with poverty and loneliness. Despite those challenges, she had remained committed to her faith and was stalwart in doing what was right. One night in her small apartment, we sang together Mary B. Wingate and William J. Kirkpatrick’s hymn, “Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd.” We all felt the sweet reality of the Lord’s love and of His devoted efforts to help and save all of His children. Since that evening, I have often returned to the inspired words of that hymn for comfort and encouragement in the face of trial.

God's love for us is manifest in the life and service of the Savior (lds.org)

Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd  (lds.org)

Dear are the Sheep of His Fold

Jesus Christ declared, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep” (John 10:14). He is the Savior of the World—of each of us—and He knows us. His love for us is individual and personal, not coolly collective. Illustrating His personal concern for us, He asked, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?” (Luke 15:4).

Often, we, as sheep in Christ’s fold, stray. We may be lost in difficult circumstances of life, foolish decisions, or other unsettling trials that leave us, as the hymn says, “hungry and helpless and cold.” As we wander those deserts of life, however, the Savior does not content Himself with the ninety-nine sheep that are safe at home; rather, “He hastens” to bring us back to the safety and peace He offers.

See, the Good Shepherd…Bringing Them in with Rejoicing

Jesus explained that, when the shepherd finds his missing sheep, “he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing” (Luke 15:5). Surely, the Savior has no reservations about welcoming us to His fold, to his grace and loving protection. The late Elder Marvin J. Ashton once said, “We do not have to worry about the patience of God, because he is the personification of patience, no matter where we have been, what we have done, or what we, to this moment, have allowed ourselves to think of ourselves.…God will not forsake [us].” The Lord is very much like the father in a New Testament parable, who, overjoyed, ran to meet his returning son—a son who had wasted his inheritance on things with no lasting value (Luke 15:11-20). Christ will always have us back, no matter where we have wandered.

Saved at Such Infinite Cost

Of course, Jesus did not become our Shepherd and Savior without cost. The New Testament teaches that He endured the pain of betrayal and the agony of death in order to claim the power to redeem us from sin, mortality, and weakness. A Book of Mormon prophecy echoes that truth, saying, “[H]e will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12). His unfailing compassion and solid determination to rescue us from sorrow and sin came through His own experience of our pains and miseries, enduring all so that, according to God’s plan, we might all have a safe escape from the deserts of life.

“Make Us Thy True Under-Shepherds; Give Us a Love that is Deep”

Reflecting on the love and mercy that the Savior offers me fires my own desire to do more good to those around me. Jesus suffered death for each of us—all one hundred percent. He didn’t suffer to save just the top-performing third; He suffered and triumphed to save each one of us. Speaking of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, Elder M. Russell Ballard said:

I believe that if we could truly understand the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ, we would realize how precious is one son or daughter of God. I believe our Heavenly Father’s everlasting purpose for His children is generally achieved by the small and simple things we do for one another. At the heart of the English word atonement is the word one. If all mankind understood this, there would never be anyone with whom we would not be concerned, regardless of age, race, gender, religion, or social or economic standing. We would strive to emulate the Savior and would never be unkind, indifferent, disrespectful, or insensitive to others.

After His resurrection, Jesus explained the duty of those who would follow Him, saying, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:16). As we strive to come unto Christ and follow where He leads, we should remember those around us. No one of us is beneath the notice of the Savior, and nobody, therefore, should be beneath our own. I know that when I have focused on doing good to others, I have felt greater peace and confidence. I have found greater love and more lasting joy. I know that as we do our best to emulate, in our own small way, the Savior’s infinite, redeeming love, we will find great joy and security. As we turn outward, helping and lifting those around us, our own burdens will be lifted, and our hearts will be comforted.