Psalm 23 is one of the most well known passages of scripture we have. It brings comfort to those who are suffering. It brings peace to lives in turmoil. But it gives us so much more!
I have to admit my first memory of this psalm is not very flattering.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
I thought — why wouldn’t I want the Lord as my shepherd?
We don’t use this kind of language much anymore. What does it mean?
When the Lord shepherds us, we have no wants. We have everything we need and more.
Continuing with the shepherd-sheep analogy:
He makes me lie down in green pastures for nourishment and rest.
The good shepherd leads me beside still waters so my thirst is satisfied.
He restores my soul so my emotional and spiritual needs are met.
But it all goes back to the first words of the psalm: the Lord is my shepherd.
What does this mean?
In order to have the Lord as our shepherd, we must give ourselves wholly to him.
What he does
He leads us — his leadership is perfect, flawless, never failing, always best.
The Lord guides us — with correction, with more information, with greater revelation and with insight and discernment.
He provides all our needs — We all have physical needs like food, shelter and clothing. As we follow Jesus, he promises that these needs will be supplied. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:25, 33 (ESV)
We also have emotional needs like love, acceptance and understanding. No one is better equipped and more willing to meet those needs than Jesus. He demonstrated that love through his life. He accepted anyone as they were and showed keen insight into their lives. His death for the sin of mankind was the ultimate expression of love.
We also have personal needs like purpose, significance and meaning. The good shepherd invites us to participate with him in the eternal work of the kingdom of God!
He provides all our needs because he created us. Therefore, he knows us thoroughly. He knows what we need.
I admit, I’m not extremely tech savvy even though I’ve been working with computers for 30 years. When someone develops an app, the developer knows everything that the app will do. But there are lots of end users, like me, who only know the basics of that app. The app creator can optimize the app for us.
The good shepherd alone can optimize our lives!
What we must do
Trust him. No matter what is happening, we must continue to trust. Just like the wedding vows we are so familiar with: for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. To trust him means he doesn’t have to prove anything.
Follow his lead. When we are present with him we can count on him. We follow his lead through prayer, worship, Bible reading and fellowship with other followers. When we are following, he will do active work in our lives.
Live in righteousness. This is where he leads us. We must follow. Why? To honor and exalt his name. People see our lives and glorify God. Our lives can reflect two realities: either, what a mess we’ve made or, what a move God has made!
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 23:4
Living fearlessly is powerful evidence that we trust God. Of course, we can only live fearlessly in the presence of something that inspires fear!
Living fearlessly means we are extra sensitive to the rod and staff of the shepherd. He uses these tools to remind us of his presence, to correct us and keep us on a safe path. So they bring comfort.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. Psalm 23:5
Now the image changes. When we have a good shepherd it means we enjoy special blessing in the face of opposition.
Allow God’s anointing on your life. He desires to anoint you with the Holy Spirit. Anointing also implies a commission to a special task. It is a public acknowledgement of God’s favor. This anointing is to be respected by all God’s people.
Embrace your heritage. The goodness of God is with you all the time. He gives you his mercy or steadfast love. We have the blessing of the eternal presence of God. These things do not fail.
We can and should celebrate all these things. I encourage you to read the psalm slowly and thank your good shepherd for all he has done for you.
And pass these words of encouragement on to someone else!