I really don't know, but my guess is that he was extremely nervous. God had chosen him to share a really inconvenient truth with the most powerful man in his world. In fact, this man in power had killed other men for less. So I can visualize Nate with sweat on his upper lip, his palms clammy, a catch in his throat that he couldn't quite clear, and his tongue an oversized cotton ball with a throat as dry as dust. He knew the stakes — his life or the king's character. Nate's job had forever ramifications for him and for the king and his kingdom.
The king had a reputation for having a heart for God, but when he blew it, he blew it big and bad and ugly. And this was one of those times. So as Nate cast about for a way to confront the king, the Lord led him to a story — a story close to the heart of God and hopefully close to the heart of the king. Nate must have prayed that the king hadn't become so enamored with the palace and power that he had forgotten his roots, his heart, and the integrity he had so carelessly thrown away for a season of power lust. Nate tried to clear his throat one more time and began:
There were two men in the same city — one rich, the other poor. The rich man had huge flocks of sheep, herds of cattle. The poor man had nothing but one little female lamb, which he had bought and raised. It grew up with him and his children as a member of the family. It ate off his plate and drank from his cup and slept on his bed. It was like a daughter to him.
One day a traveler dropped in on the rich man. He was too stingy to take an animal from his own herds or flocks to make a meal for his visitor, so he took the poor man's lamb and prepared a meal to set before his guest.
Nate didn't have to wait for a reaction. The king responded immediately!
David exploded in anger:
"As surely as God lives," he said to Nathan, "the man who did this ought to be lynched! He must repay for the lamb four times over for his crime and his stinginess!"
Nate silently thanked God for guiding the story to the perfect place in King David's heart. He looked the king in the eye, and without hesitation or flinching at just the right moment, Nate said, "You're the man!"
You probably recognize the story from the prophet Nathan's rebuke of King David's sins of adultery with Bathsheba and of the murder of her husband, Uriah (2 Samuel 12:1-7 MSG). Both were a betrayal of David's power and position. Even worse, they were a betrayal of God, who chose David because of the "integrity of his heart" as a kind shepherd to be the shepherd of his people (Psalm 78:70-72 NKJV).
David, the shepherd king, was chosen because of those shepherd-like qualities — qualities that were near to the heart of God, who described himself as a tender shepherd:
He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep (Isaiah 40:11 NRS).
This same David gave us the comforting and beautiful Shepherd Song that has comforted many of us in our times of greatest loss, heartache and trail:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me (Psalm 23:1-4 ESV).
So when Nathan has to confront David, what does he do?
He tells him a shepherd's story — a story near to the heart of God and near to the heart of David's experience. The story hits its mark and David is convicted of his sinful abuse of his power and position as well as his betrayal of his role as a shepherd for God's people (Psalm 51:1-17).
God's leaders must have as their goal to lead like the Great Shepherd David describes in his famous psalm. It's not about the size of the flock or the reputation of the flock, but it's about the flock being sheep that have been led to abundant life by their shepherds (John 10:10), sheep who lack no good thing (Psalm 23:1).
So as you look for leaders to follow in God's family, go back to David's famous of description of God as our Shepherd (Psalm 23:1-4) or Jesus' description of himself as the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18). Then ask yourself; does this shepherd smell like the sheep? Do I see the qualities of the Good Shepherd in this leader?
And if you want to lead God's people at any level — because shepherding is not just a role, but it is also a mandated style of leadership in Scripture regardless of your position — are you following the Good Shepherd to learn to bless others? Are you doing the things in the lives of others that lead them to recognize your shepherding care? Can people describe your leadership being done with "integrity of heart" as a shepherd? Do you go out ahead of people and when you call, they follow you? Are you feeding them, giving them rest, restoring their spirits, giving them assurance in difficult times, and walking beside them in tough times?
God is looking for people with shepherding hearts to step into the lives of the flock and guide them to better things, better resources, and better care. Let's not settle for less than real shepherds for God's flock!
Here are a few other questions to consider as you think about the issues of shepherding in your life. I would love to get your feedback on my blog — http://tinyurl.com/hl102209 — or you can use these questions for your own growth or in a small group Bible study as well.
Why do you think the image of a shepherd, as a leader, is so important in the Bible?
Why is it used to describe God so frequently and intimately?
Who has been the shepherding leader in your life — whether the shepherd was an official leader or not?
For whom can you be a shepherding leader?
What trait of God as Shepherd blesses you most?