“In every pew is a broken heart. Speak often on suffering and you will never lack for a congregation.” – Joseph Parker
THE 23RD PSALM
There are some risks inherent with preaching or writing about Psalm 23. What I mean by that is it is such a well-known, popular psalm that it’s easy to tune out what is being discussed because it is referred to and addressed so often it can lose its power packed punch. As we take a brief look at this psalm I ask that you set aside all the information and preconceived ideas you may have heard and/or read regarding Psalm 23 and try to approach it with a fresh and open mind.
One thing that helps me keep it fresh and anew is to think of the psalm this way: Psalm 22, the psalm immediately before it, informs us about all of the sufferings on Mount Calvary. Psalm 24, the psalm immediately following it, shares with us the glories of Mount Zion. Well, purposefully placed right between the two we have a lush valley with green grass, calm waters, and peaceful sheep grazing in the pasture – we have a pathway of righteousness that flows from the cross to the crown under the precious escort of the Good Shepherd.
Introduction: Psalm 23 is such a calming psalm. It’s a great passage to look at as it is loved by so many and gives comfort to those hurting. In verses one and two we find the tone and theme of the psalm being set: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” If the Lord is our shepherd, we have everything we need. Notice I said “need” and not “want.” If we are first seeking His kingdom and righteousness, then the rest will be added to us. As we go through Psalm 23 we find it answering just what it is “we shall not lack. We shall not lack:
His Peace – verse 2: One can find the word peace over 425 times in Scripture. Although it’s not specifically found in Psalm 23, it is vibrantly pictured with descriptions and terms such as: green pastures and still waters. This description is meant to portray peace and tranquility. When these words are read or quoted it puts our minds right in that field laying on that plush grass while we listen to the still waters and relax. Being the thinker I am though, I wonder if the symbolism of this might go deeper. I wonder if the green pastures is meant to refer to the Word of God as well. I’m not trying to be overly allegorical, but might there be an implication of this? In it we find the food for our souls, what we need for spiritual nourishment. We feed on God’s Word, or at least should, just as the sheep feed on the grass of the green pasture. And I can’t help but wonder if the still water is a reference to the Holy Spirit. Scripture often uses water as a symbol for the Holy Spirit. Once a sheep eats and gets full, they go to the water to drink in order to help in the digestion process, to get the food to assimilate through their body. This seems akin to me of the Holy Spirit taking the Scripture that we read and meditate on and applying it to our souls and lives. The result is the same for us and the sheep, peace and strength as well as replenishment and restoration. Well, just a thought to ponder.
His Plan – verse 3: Just as a shepherd gives guidance to the sheep, so to our Shepherd gives guidance to us. He leads us into paths of righteousness, and even in the smaller matters of life that we face (Prov. 3:5-6). I’ve come up with six ingredients that may be of help to you as you seek to find and do God’s will in your life:
1. Prayer. Of course prayer is first and foremost. It’s on everyone’s list and you know why? Because it works. Commit your decision to Christ in prayer.
2. Scripture. And of course this one makes every list as well. Again, there’s a reason for that. It too works. Use it for direction.
3. Seek advice from wise, Christian elders who know more about the issue than you do. Getting advice from a mature believer who has already been down the path can be invaluable.
4. What are the circumstances going on around you indicating? Where are they pointing?
5. Listen to your gut. Or better yet, listen to the Holy Spirit. Is there any kind of conviction going on inside of you one way or another? Try not to decide things strictly from a place of emotion. Listen to that still, small voice of the Spirit.
6. Last, just logically think through the issue. God gave us a brain. It’s not all about some magical impression. If you’re living for the Lord and are in prayer, Scripture, seeking counsel, and evaluating your circumstances, then just think on it. We are expected to make decisions. We are told to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength but far too often we neglect the mind portion of this directive.
His Presence – verse 4: There’s a subtle but extremely significant change that happens at this point in the psalm. Up until this point God was being addressed in the third person; but now the pronoun changes to the first person. It becomes more directly personal in nature. We now read “Thou art with me.”
His Provision – verse 5: Phillip Kegger suggests in his book “A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23,” that at this point it appears that the shepherd has led his sheep from the lower meadows, where the grass and water had started drying, up through the canyons and further on up the hilltops where there would be more moisture so the sheep could again graze comfortably and continue to have water to drink. All of the while the shepherd keeps a very close eye on his sheep to protect them from predators and other dangers. We see a table being prepared even in the midst of enemies. God knows our needs, again I say needs and not wants, and when we put Him first He provides and protects. That is quite a comfort.
His Promises – verse 6: If the Lord is truly our Shepherd then we will never lack for peace in our lives, righteous pathways, protection from above, provision for our needs, and, all along the way, His promises for our journey through life.
Conclusion: The 23rd Psalm is so universal because it’s so individual. Are you living each day as if the Lord is your Shepherd, leading you, guiding you, protecting you, and providing for you?
A lot of people don’t realize that sheep have horrible eyesight. It’s true, their vision is poor and cloudy, and sort of like animal glaucoma I guess. They can’t see very far down the path they are traveling at all. They absolutely need a shepherd to guide them and look out for them. Well, so do we. Our eyesight for the path of our lives is poor and cloudy. We need a Shepherd to guide us. Remember in John 10 that Jesus said His sheep follow Him because they know His voice. Let’s take both Psalm 23 and John 10 to heart and really put Christ in place as our Shepherd.
Featured Image: The 23rd Psalm by Tokuyama; CC BY-SA 2.0
This was a guest post from Dr. Jeff Hagan.
Jeff is an ordained Christian minister with over 23 years of ministry experience. He has attended Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Luther Rice Seminary, Tyndale Seminary and a handful of other institutes as well. He has earned several degrees including the Doctor of Christian Education and the Doctor of Theology.