In my last two posts I shared about how God began to bring me from a place of spiritual confusion to one of healing and peace. When working through some sort of spiritual trauma, I find it helps to return to the basics. Like,
“Jesus loves me.”
“Trust and obey.”
“Do justice; love mercy; and walk humbly.”
And, one of my favorites: “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”
Psalm 23 has got to be one of the most beloved passages in the Bible. It’s certainly one of the most familiar. As I was learning to embrace more of the grace offered us in Christ, I spent a significant amount of time with this handful of verses. I often quoted it to myself as I was falling asleep at night, comforted as familiar words soothed my troubled heart.
What are the simple truths of this one thought? Much ink has been spilled breaking this down over the centuries so my summary will just scratch the surface. But here goes.
Simple Truth #1: The Lord, the God of the Universe, He is my Shepherd. As in, my personal Shepherd. The mind-boggling idea here isn’t so much that it’s somehow supposed to be all about me, but that He is a God who cares about individuals. Yes, we’re all part of something bigger than ourselves, but He knows my face. He designed my fingerprints. He knows what I’m going to say before I say it. It’s personal for me, because He made it personal for Himself.
Simple Truth #2: He is my Shepherd. God has many descriptors and, in the sophisticated culture of the 21st century, shepherd is not an image we readily identify with the way the first readers of the psalm would have. But this name or title of God tells us He is one who nurtures, protects, loves, notices, provides for, and cherishes those for whom He has taken responsibility. This is the God who invites us to crawl up into His arms and rest there as He meets our needs.
And that leads to Simple Truth #3: “I shall not want.” It could be tempting to assume this is where God is telling us that, if we belong to Him, He will give us everything we want. But, that isn’t the point. The rest of Scripture and church history fill out the context for us, not to mention the realities of our lives. How many of us really want what is good for us anyway? Boy, am I ever grateful God has spared me from some of the things I thought I wanted at different times in my life!
To understand what David (the author) is getting at here, we can look at what he goes on to say in the following five verses. The Shepherd provides green pastures, guides toward still waters, restores souls, and leads in proven paths of righteousness. These represent peace, provision, rest, safety, and security … precious commodities even to cosmopolitan readers in 2014. And He does so, not because we’ve earned it, but because of Who He is.
Even when we walk through the infamous “valley of the shadow of death” – notice it’s not if, but when – we can walk without fear because He is right there with us: protecting, guiding, comforting, providing, anointing, and preparing a place where goodness, mercy and love exist forever.
My job as a sheep is simple: to trust, follow, and allow myself to be nurtured, led, and loved. As we head into Holy Week on the path to celebrating Easter next Sunday, it’s a good time to remember that we enjoy the rights of the chosen sheep because of the high price our Shepherd willingly paid. Simple for us, not so simple for Him.