FOR AUDIO VERSION CLICK HERE.Maybe one of the most familiar passages out of the Bible is Psalm 23. It seems to be read at every memorial service or graveside. Yet this little psalm is even more powerful for us, if we use it in our lives rather than in death.
I think what this little psalm is saying to us is, "Everything you need is already available to you through the Good Shepherd!" It's all there!
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters. 3 he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
There is an extremely popular book written by a Canadian entitled "A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23". Philip Keller, unlike most of us, is an actual modern-day shepherd, who has spent many years in agricultural research, land management, and ranch development in British Columbia. From Keller's first-hand experience, Psalm 23 has burst open with many new insights and surprises. For example, what does it really mean to say "I shall not want"? Keller says that this is a picture of "a sheep utterly satisfied with its owner, utterly contented in the Good Shepherd's care and consequently not craving or desiring anything more." Does this describe our personal day-to-day lives? I remember seeing a poster which read: "Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have."
Why does Psalm 23 talk about "lying down in green pastures"? Keller tells us that sheep will never lie down until four conditions are met:
1. They must be free of all fear. 2. They must be free of torment by flies or parasites. 3. They must have a full belly. 4. They must be in harmony with their fellow sheep.
Green pastures did not just happen by accident. A good shepherd would put tremendous work into clearing rough, rocky ground into lush pasture land. Psalm 23 tells us that Jesus the Good Shepherd desires to take away our fear and disharmony so that we can find the inner peace that we have always been looking for.
What about "leading us beside still waters"? What difference does that make? Keller tells us that sheep are made up of about 70% water on average. Without a clean water source, sheep become restless and dehydrated. As well, sheep will not drink from fast, flowing waters, but rather from still calm waters. So, too the Good Shepherd desires to fill each of us with calmness and stillness, with living water that can quench our deepest thirst.
Probably the most familiar of all is the phrase: "though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me". Keller tells us that the only way to the mountainous green pastures is through the dangerous mountain valleys where wolves and coyotes are in hiding, waiting for their next victim. Psalm 23 reminds us that the Good Shepherd is also a warrior who will fight for us and protect us, even in times of death and tragedy.
A famous actor was once the guest of honor at a social gathering where he received many requests to recite favorite excerpts from various literary works. An old preacher who happened to be there asked the actor to recite the twenty-third Psalm. The actor agreed on the condition that the preacher would also recite it. The actor's recitation was beautifully intoned with great dramatic emphasis for which he received lengthy applause. The preacher's voice was rough and broken from many years of preaching, and his diction was anything but polished. But when he finished there was not a dry eye in the room. When someone asked the actor what made the difference, he replied "I know the psalm, but he knows the Shepherd."
Do you know the Shepherd or just the psalm?