June 7, 2020
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I 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 goodness and mercyshall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
Years ago I served as a mountain guide as part of a Young Life ministry in the coastal mountains of Canada, where throughout the summer we’d take groups, mostly high school students on these week long backpacking trips. And for just about every camper it felt like stepping into the unknown – they were likely meeting me and my fellow guide partner for the first time, they were hiking a route and through terrain they had never seen before and even more, many of them had never gone backpacking before. And so, there was no shortage of questions that would be asked of us guides – everything from ‘How many miles are we hiking today? Are we there yet? What’s for dinner? Where do I go to the bathroom? Quickly followed by, “Wait, howdo I go to the bathroom again? Don’t worry, I’ll stop there. It was question after question after question, and understandably so. I’m amazed by what an incredible act of faith and trust it was on their behalf. These people we’re pretty much coming in blind and trusted us with their every step.
And I think in many ways, guiding those trips, and the role I played for each camper, reminds me of what our Psalm today illustrates as to how God relates to us and the role he wants to play in our lives. King David, the author of this Psalm, begins by saying, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
Where just as a shepherd cares for his sheep and just as my guide partners and I would care for our campers, so the Lord cares for his people, providing for their needs, guiding them, protecting them.
And so today, as we conclude our series in the Psalms, I thought it would be appropriate to look at what might be the most famous Psalm of all – Psalm 23. And in studying over the last couple days, it’s become clear to me that we will barely, if at all, be able to do this Psalm justice in 14 minutes or less. Yet even still, this morning, I want to highlight four truths that this Psalm puts before us – four truths about what it means, what it looks like for the Lord to be our Shepherd.
The Lord, as our Shepherd leads us.
This leading language comes up a couple times.
“He leads me beside still waters.”
“He leads me in right paths.”
This of course, is no surprise, after all, this is what shepherds do and this is what our God does. He leads. And as his sheep, well, you guessed it, we follow.
Now truth is, growing up in the city, I don’t know that much about sheep, and my hope is to not embarrass myself too much in front of those listening who do. But at the very least I know this, sheep are not the smartest of animals. They are, in fact, rather dumb. They can’t be trained. If you throw a ball, they won’t play fetch. And they are utterly defenseless and dependent creatures. Their very survival is contingent upon following their shepherd.
Now, are all those qualities true of us? Well, no of course not. Nevertheless, the metaphor highlights the great chasm between us and God, the same that is true of a sheep and their shepherd. And just like a sheep with a shepherd, we’re in desperate need of someone who will lead us. And of course leading and following go hand in hand and one of the ways we follow is by listening and obeying.
That is, one of the things that’s true about sheep is that over time they learn to follow their shepherds voice. And so one of the ways we can follow our Lord is to listen to his voice. The primary way we do this is through reading His word. Or maybe we schedule into our day or week times of silence and solitude. Or times of prayer. Or listening to the advice of good Christian counsel. Or maybe we’re simply listening for those thoughts that pop up in our head that clearly aren’t our own thoughts. Have you ever had one of those? Maybe it’s inviting a co-worker out to lunch or a neighbor over for dinner, something that you wouldn’t have likely come up with on your own, yet there it is … maybe, just maybe that’s the Holy Spirit nudging you in that way.
This is what sheep do. They listen to their shepherd’s voice. And as they do, the Lord as their Shepherd leads us. And the shepherd wants to lead us towards green pastures and still waters. He wants to point us towards life giving, nourishing, fulfilling things that will sustain us.
Which brings us to the second thing the Lord, as our Shepherd does -
The Lord, as our Shepherd restores us.
This is the second truth we see in our Psalm this morning. Shepherds restore and nurture and provide for their sheep, just as the Lord restores our soul.
We see this in the life giving imagery of green pastures and still waters. Later it says, “you anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.” In ancient times, when a guest would come over the host would anoint them with oil or perfume or cologne. Something that would make you smell good, something refreshing at the end of a long day.
Friends, do you realize that this is what God wants to do for us? He wants to restore our soul. You may have seen driving around town or in the paper about the restoration projects that are taking place with the old Andrus Hotel or the old Shopko building. And in both of those projects, we see some someone taking something that was and is and breathing new life into it. And this is what God wants to do with us and for us.
So you all, how are you letting God nourish your soul in this season? Maybe it’s through your bible reading or devotional time or maybe it’s through times of prayer, but don’t underestimate the nourishment God wants to provides through a sunrise, a peaceful evening walk, or a scenic drive, or a funny movie, or a good book or a backyard bonfire with friends. All of those things can be nourishing to our soul.
I know for many people these last few months have felt like Groundhog’s Day. A lot of monotony, the days blurring together. It can be draining in it’s own unique way. So friends, how are you allowing God to nourish your soul? Or how might you be able to provide this for someone else? Spouses, here’s a challenge for you – what if you sent your spouse out on a night away, where you offered to take the kids for a night, and allowed your spouse a peaceful night away, into the green pastures and still waters where there are no dishes to do, no toys to step on, no laundry to fold. C’mon now, that sounds pretty great.
This is what the Lord, as our Shepherd does for us. He restores our soul.
The Lord, as our Shepherd is with us.
Verse 4 says this, 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,I fear no evil;for you are with me;
Even though our Lord leads us in good directions and restores our soul, truth is, we’ll have to walk through the deepest valleys too. Back in Israel, during the summer when the grass is dried up, shepherds would lead their flocks up to the mountaintops where there was greener, lusher grass. But the only way to get to that mountaintop was through the valleys.
Truth is, sometimes you’ve got to go through the valley. Currently one of Noah’s favorite books is called, ‘We’re going on a bear hunt.’ Which yes, seems like the wrong lesson to teach our kid, but oh well. There’s this repeating theme throughout the book where the kids have to cross a river, or walk through mud or brave a snowstorm and the common refrain is, “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, Oh no, we’ve got to go through it.”
Which is a great lesson, at least better than the bear chasing part. And that is, often times, when we face a valley, whether it be loss of a loved one, a divorce, a cancer diagnosis or the loss of a job, our only choice is to go through the valley. Yet the good news is, we can fear no evil, ‘for the Lord goes with us.’
This in the valley is often our greatest comfort, that the Lord goes with us.
I recently read a story about a guy in his 30’s at my previous church who had gone through a really difficult season in life. The company that he started had failed, so he didn't have a job. He and his wife had suffered several miscarriages and his mother died at way too young an age all within the space of a year. And he said, "It's been really hard but the weird thing is I've never been happier." He said, "Last night, my best friend and I were on our knees praying for me, and I realized I've never had such good friends before. And I know he loves me for me, not my achievements because I just failed in my business and he still loves me. And the miscarriages were horrible, but they brought us closer together. My wife and me, we've never been closer. And God right now is more real to me than the ground I walk on because I'm relying on him every single day. And my wife and I also got involved with a group that is helping kids in Africa and it's way more thrilling, way more exciting than anything I've ever done in business. So, thank God for hard times. I've never been happier."
This is a guy who knows firsthand what it means for the Lord to be his shepherd. A shepherd who leads, restores and is with him even in the darkest of valleys. All of which has given him not only great comfort, but also great joy.
Alright, we’ve got to wrap this up, here’s our fourth and final point.
The Lord, as our Shepherd lays down his life for us.
Now, you might be thinking, wait a second, I don’t remember it saying anything about the Shepherd laying down his life for us … well, believe it or not, it’s in there, it’s just that I’ve skipped a few pages ahead.
In John 10, Jesus picks up on this shepherd metaphor. Everyone in the crowd that day would have picked up on the connection immediately – that Jesus is alluding back to Psalm 23. After all, the Old Testament Prophets told the Israelites that there would one day come a ruler who who would shepherd his people.
And so here’s part of what Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Truth is, there are some pretty remarkable parallels between Psalm 23 and some of the events and moments that took place in the days leading to Jesus’s death.
In the Psalm we read, “Our cup overflows,” emphasizing the shepherd’s generosity. And yet in his night before his death Jesus cries out to the Father asking if this cup, his imminent suffering and death, could pass from him.
In the Psalm we read, “You prepare a table before me, in the presence of my enemies,” while on the night before he did, Jesus was the host at his final supper with his disciples, where sitting at the table that night was one who would betray him later that night, Judas Iscariot.
In the Psalm we read, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley.” Which, as many of you know, is often translated ‘through the valley of the shadow of death.’ Jesus walked that valley for us, he took on death itself, so that ultimately we would only face its shadow.
The shepherd leads, He restores, he’s with us. All of that is good, good news. And yet, it’s rooted in a greater truth.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
And because of all this, here’s how the Psalm ends -
6 Surely goodness and mercyshall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.