Passage- Psalm 23
As a ‘baby boomer’ (born in 1950’s & 60’s roughly) the underlying belief of my generation is that we’re in control. Life is about personal achievements, amassing as much as we can and leaving a legacy. The war time generation had to learn to do without and make the best of difficult circumstances, but for us boomers we fed on a regular diet of ‘the sky’s the limit!’. It is this backdrop which makes the current circumstances created by Coronavirus so hard to handle for many, especially, but not exclusively, us boomers. We’ve come face to face with something we can’t handle. Money can’t buy us out of it; who we know is of little value; and our reputations count for nothing. If the penny hasn’t dropped yet, it soon will- we’re not in control!
Psalm 23 is the most well-known and loved of all the psalms. For this psalm to impact our lives like God intends, we have to firstly go through a humbling realisation, and it’s this- I’m a sheep! That’s a tough one for proud boomers to handle, but it’s not easy for anyone to come to terms with. After all, Sheep are not exactly held up as the model of wisdom or known for their ingenuity. Indeed, the expression ‘you’re just like sheep’ is a disparaging one, accusing people of failing to think and act for themselves. But as we’re going to see in Psalm 23, it’s really not about the sheep, but the Shepherd. The question that we’re confronted with is this- Is He my Shepherd?
Let’s take a quick look at the Shepherd and how he looks after his sheep. I encourage you to take more time by yourself to read the rest of the psalm. It is a psalm of King David. Given that he grew up as a shepherd, he knew about sheep!
Let’s firstly meet the Shepherd. “The LORD is my shepherd” (v1). When you see ‘LORD’ (upper case) it is the covenant name of God, who makes and keeps his promises. The God who has made himself known to us in His Son, the Lord Jesus. It is one of the many metaphors that Jesus took upon himself- “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11,14). For Him to be ‘my shepherd’ I must have turned and put my life in his hands by faith. We can know about ‘the’ shepherd but he has to be ‘my shepherd’.
If he is ‘my shepherd’ then the first implication is staggering, “I shall not be in want”. One of the consequences of Coronavirus has been how rapidly expectations have changed. Things we thought our lives depended upon have been taken from us, and lo and behold, life continues!! As someone put it- “When Christ is all you have, you’ll realise that Christ is all you need!” As our idols (god-substitutes) are stripped from us, may we trust the Lord Jesus more and more. A friend bore witness to this. He told me that all his life he’d lived with the fear that the one thing his faith would never cope with would be his father’s death. But when his father suddenly died recently, although grieving deeply, amazingly he told me his faith held firm. It’s not our faith that makes the difference but who it’s in. The Psalmist tells us- If I have Jesus I want for nothing!
In v2-3 David describes four things that the Shepherd will do for his sheep.
- “He makes me lie down in green pastures” There has been a massive upheaval due to Coronavirus and our lives have been turned upside down, but have you spotted
some ‘green pastures’ that the Lord has opened up for you? Perhaps the time and desire to read the scriptures more and feed on the truth; maybe prayer has become more vital and outward facing; you’re having conversations at a far deeper level with folk; you’re looking at others differently. It’s not so much about what you can do for me, but how I might serve you!
- “He leads me beside quiet waters” Through the pages of scripture, turbulent seas and violent storms are often a metaphor for chaos and evil, but here the Lord leads his sheep beside “quiet waters”. A friend texted me this week and said, “It’s all a bit of a roller-coaster, how do those who don’t know God manage?” Therein lies the serenity that ‘His sheep’ might experience even in the face of a pandemic and the chaos it has caused. My faith is not in one who is fighting the stormy waters, but the one who has conquered them by his death & resurrection and now rules over them.
- “He restores my soul” This is a promise of restored life and vitality where once it was under threat. Perhaps Coronavirus has made you even more aware than ever of the gift of eternal life that is ours in Christ Jesus. Not only life that is everlasting but life with the everlasting one! David captures this soul restoration beautifully later in Psalm 62- “My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I shall never be shaken.” (v1-2) Do not be surprised if your grow in your assurance during this difficult time.
- “He guides me in paths of righteousness for his names sake” Any genuine spiritual renewal that takes place at a heart level will manifest itself in a greater desire for Godly-living on the part of His sheep. This might be a much more ruthless treatment of sinful habits; the shedding of stuff that has been hindering your Christian walk; loving deeds in service of others; all for God’s glory. Peter sums it up- “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:12)
Points to Ponder
-The upshot of all this is the wonderful, liberating realisation that we are not in control. Point of fact, we never were. It was just an illusion. But, as His sheep, we are gladly following our Good Shepherd, who is in control.
-What ‘green pastures’ have I been led to over these past days that have been the source of unexpected blessing?
-Are the present circumstances exposing the fact that I know about ‘the shepherd’ but he’s not ‘my shepherd’. Talk to God about this and ask him for eyes to see.
-Take time to read the rest of Psalm 23 and reflect on the reassuring truths contained.
Dear Lord God, thank you that you love and care deeply for your sheep. Thank you Lord Jesus that you laid your life down for your sheep. Thank you Holy Spirit that you live in your sheep and we can know that you are always with us. May we, as your sheep, listen to your voice above all others and obey. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.