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The Lord is my Shepherd… - Psalms 1:1 (NIV)
The 23rd Psalm is among the world’s most familiar and best-loved pieces of literature. Originally written as a song, it’s been a chart-topper for 2,500 years. We could rightly call it David’s “greatest hit!” This week we’ll take a look at some of its keywords and phrases.
David begins by comparing us to sheep--among the most helpless of animals. Sheep have zero sense of direction, can’t defend themselves, and are easily frightened. They also have a terrible time finding food and water. Bottom line? Without a shepherd they’re toast!
On July 4, 1776, America declared her independence from Great Britain. In Psalm 23 David declares his dependence on God. Years ago I made the decision to stop trying to live independently of my Creator. I realized that most of my worst mistakes were the result of following my own instincts rather than following my Shepherd. Can you relate?
Years ago we had a class at Southland called, “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.” Toward the end, they talked about “dog and cat” theology. A cat thinks, “My owner feeds me, cares for me and cleans up after me. I must be God.” A dog thinks, “My owner feeds me, cares for me and cleans up after me. He must be God.” This is why, when you come home at night, your dog jumps all over you and licks your face. Your cat? He could care less. The difference? Dependence... dogs seem to get it, cats don’t. By the way, I’ve owned both!
So David penned this wonderful declaration of dependence on his Shepherd. It was his way of saying, “I desperately need God’s help. He’s strong; I’m weak. He’s wise; I’m not. No one can help me more, or lead me better. Indeed, the Lord is my Shepherd.”
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. - Psalms 23:1 (NIV)
Are you content? How’s your “want list” these days? David begins Psalm 23 saying, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” His next three words? “I lack nothing.” The NLT translates it, “I have all that I need.” Have you felt or said that lately?
One of the advantages of living a number of years is the opportunity to look back and see all the ways God provided, especially through so many anxiety-filled days. When there was too much month left at the end of the money, somehow He provided. When kids came, He provided. When college came, somehow He provided. You can’t put it on paper but you experience it as you trust the Good Shepherd along the way.
I once heard Max Lucado say that the most the most populated prison in the world has a sign out front with four letters on it: “W-A-N-T.” Inside, no one’s contented. Gratitude’s a stranger. The most common attitude? “It’s never enough.” The most common emotion? Envy. All the “prisoners” want something better--something newer, faster, sharper, nicer, younger, thinner. The most oft-used phrase? “Then I’ll be satisfied.” I’ve been there myself. It’s a terrible place...dark rooms, corridors. Virtually no joy there. And yet, people can’t wait to get in. In fact, there’s a long line.
David never served time there. He managed to avoid the “crime” of discontentment. For one reason really... he was totally connected to the Shepherd. The result? Joy became his best friend.
Our society is predicated on greed and desire. Advertisers promote a never-ending quest for satisfaction. An army of smart people devote all their working hours thinking of ways to convince us of two things: 1) We are or should be discontented, and 2) Contentment is so very, very close...just a purchase or two away.
I prefer David’s approach. “I’ve got everything I need.” In fact, if we take it a step further he was saying, “My Shepherd is all I need.”
Read this passage carefully and prayerfully. Ask God to give you the heart of its author.Share Tweet
Yea, though I walk through the valley… - Psalms 23:4 (NIV)
Life’s full of what I call valley experiences... broken relationships, difficult medical conditions, tragic accidents, depression, divorce, bankruptcy, betrayal. Ever been there? Are you there now?
Truth is, we emerge intact on the other side of most valleys, but some valleys can dent us for life. They leave wounds that don’t seem to heal; pain that won’t seem to subside. Physical or sexual abuse...the death of a child. Answers are few and far between, and it’s tough to fight back the emotions...for years. Shadows lurk around us, even on days when the sun is fully alive in a clear blue sky.
I’ve had my share of valleys. Here are three things I’ve learned:
God provides in the valley. “He prepares a table before me,” said David. Often we don’t know that till we know that. It’s present tense. You have to be there to experience it.
He abides in the valley. We’re not alone, friend. He doesn’t abandon us, ever. If you’ll still your heart, you’ll hear His footsteps, maybe out in front of you, maybe a few steps behind, and you’ll know, “I am not alone.”
He guides in the valley. When you feel as lost as lost can be, a new path appears and you know it’s Him, intervening, caring, making a way.
Ever been to one of those Asian restaurants where they cook the meal right in front of you? While you’re eating an appetizer, you can see the main course being prepared, and soon you’ll know it was worth the wait. Know what I’ve learned? Sometimes God’s like that. He puts you in a position to smell a blessing coming...even in the valley! And you’ll emerge, hands raised, not in surrender, but in praise. This, my friend, is the Christian life. Please stay the course. You will sing again. I promise.
I will fear no evil… - Psalms 23:4 (NIV)
I’ve struggled with fear all my life...fear of man, fear of the future, fear of public speaking…. Fortunately, it’s not as bad as it used to be. Maybe I just don’t care as much as I used to, or maybe I’ve just come to understand that most of the things we worry about rarely ever happen. What makes your fear list? An insensitive boss? A husband who “dabbles” with porn? Kids who don’t share your values? A retirement account that’s woefully underfunded?
We’ve been learning that sheep are interminably afraid because they have little control over anything. Without a shepherd, they just can’t survive. When I was a boy I had an uncle who managed a rural airfield just outside Valparaiso, Indiana. Sometimes I’d visit and he’d take me flying in one of his small planes. It always seems to be windy and often the plane would just drop like a lead weight, yet I don’t recall being afraid; not that I was particularly brave, but because of who was flying the plane, an accomplished pilot with 30 years experience, a former military pilot who survived WWII.
I would watch his face and there was no fear, so if he wasn’t afraid, I wasn’t afraid. I thought, “If he’s in control, I can maintain control too, and he’s always in control.”
“I will fear no evil,” David said, because “the Lord is my shepherd.” ‘Nuff said. I’m in! Here’s the most important thing I’ve ever learned about fear: Trust decimates its power over us. Try it. It works.
Here’s the bottom line: Nobody can trust God for us. We have to do it ourselves. But when we do...fear takes a knee. We have a choice, friends. We can assume full responsibility for every nagging problem in life or... we can trust the Shepherd. I’m not advocating some power of positive thinking or a slick brand of manipulative self-talk; I’m advocating trust. You’re not the solution-maker, friend, your Shepherd is.Share Tweet
...I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever - Psalms 23:6 (NIV)
Can I be honest? If there were no Heaven, I probably wouldn’t be too interested in Christianity. Heaven’s a big deal to me. Huge.
I talked recently with a devout atheist, a good man, a brilliant man, whom I very much like. We talked about evolution, and the problem of evil, pain, and suffering. He seemed surprised that I’ve read some of his favorite authors, renowned unbelievers. He also seemed glad that I didn’t try to belittle his viewpoints. Though he accepts Jesus as a historical figure, he questions His divinity and doesn’t believe in the resurrection.
I asked him what he thought happens when people die. His answer? “Nothing. We’re buried and we decay. It’s over.” I asked him about the power of personality, spirit, life... “Do you believe the soul that is obviously inside all of us can live on?”
“I wish I could,” he responded graciously, “but death is death.”
“But what if the resurrection is true?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Jesus is still a man who lived and died 2000 years ago. What’s that got to do with me?”
Then he asked me a question. He said, “Gary if I taught a lot of great things and gained a lot of fame and recognition, would you surrender everything that’s important to you and follow me?”
“If you conquered the grave,” I said, “I’d be first in line.”
He said, “Well, that seems logical.”
I replied, “It does, doesn’t it.”
Heaven is real, friends. If it’s not, we may as well all line up for the high windows. I believe it’s based on a historical fact--Jesus’ resurrection. In fact, I have no doubt, but I respect people who do. I pray for them too and love them. In the meantime, this one thing I know: “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”