Often quoted in times of trouble, found on funeral home memorial folders, Psalm 23 comforts us through sorrow. Yet, it is also a psalm whose truth should dominate our everyday life.
“The Lord is my shepherd” (v. 1). I live in a universe where God is. But He is not the remote regent, the unmoved mover, or a disinterested deity. He personally interfaces with my life in the occupational role of shepherd: provider, guider, protector, healer, keeper, shearer, searcher, nurturer, and defender.
When the Lord is our Shepherd, we will not be in want.
Our appetites and thirsts for happiness, plenty, health, fulfilling relationships, and things may prompt us to say: “I want,” “I must have,” “I cannot do without.” Only the Good Shepherd, however, can meet our deepest needs. David shows us the process Jesus uses to bring us contentment.
Rest and nourishment
Life’s cravings may impel us to shimmering oases which appear to be pools of refreshment, but instead are dry holes of disappointment and despair. The Lord sees us exhausted and spent. His first reaction? “He makes me lie down in green pastures” (v. 2).
Though often helpless and powerless, we do not want to lie down. We want to solve our own problems. We want our way. But in green pastures He disconnects us from everything except His grace and care. By lying down we choose an active inner trustfulness in the One who takes us off our feet of independence. That’s the beginning, middle, and end of the Christian life: total reliance upon Him.
He rescues us from the wilderness of self-destructive behavior and brings us into the green pastures where life is restored. The quiet streams of His presence quench our thirst as we drink from His Word, pray, worship, and do His will every day.
Though the green pastures nourish, the Lord does not want us just to lie around the rest of our lives. When we have gained strength, He leads us out from the pasture onto the trail of life, the “paths of righteousness” (v. 3).
My walk is for “his name’s sake.” He causes me to stay on a straight path, a narrow, grooved trail of right rather than wrong, obedience rather than rebellion, service rather than self-absorption, discipline rather than impulse, and cross-bearing rather than indulgence. We know the distinction because “My sheep know My voice.” (See John 10:4.)
He feeds us in the pasture, leads us on the trail, and accompanies us into the dark ravine where unknown danger lurks.
The longest shadows are cast in the late afternoon even as the heaviest tests often come at life’s sunset—when we must go through “the valley of the shadow of death” (v. 4). A wise person by that time will have chosen his Shepherd. On the narrow trail, the Shepherd “led,” but in the most difficult hour of all He is alongside: “you are with me.” In trials, friends and family can only accompany us so far . . . and then we are alone. But He will never leave us. (See Hebrews 13:5.)
His club or rod protects us from attack, and His shepherd’s staff reaches out and pulls us near when fears assail. On the other side of the valley He is there as well, waiting.
Home at last
When David fled from Absalom, a generous table had been spread for him in the wilderness. (See 2 Samuel 17:27–29.) Borrowing, in all likelihood, from that experience David testifies with assurance of God’s abiding provision.
The Lord has gone ahead to ready a lavish table of hospitality at day’s end. (See John 14:1–3; Revelation 22:17.) He knows our inner and outer dryness—so He provides anointing and an overflowing cup. (See John 4:13,14; 7:37–39.)
We eat from His table in the presence of our enemies (sin, death, the devil, problems, adversaries). (See v. 5.) They are now powerless, reduced to being witnesses of God’s bountiful provision.
Experiencing the Lord as our Shepherd and Host, we can say of the future: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life” (v. 6). Do you have the same confidence?
Psalm 23 shows the Lord’s abundant care for us. What is left for us to do? Make Him our Shepherd. When we do that from our heart, we join David in these life-transforming affirmations of trust and decision: “I shall not be in want,” “I will fear no evil,” and “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”