Topic: Christian Living Passage: Psalm 23
Summer in the Psalms
Grace Community Church
July 11, 2021
Let’s turn in our Bibles to Psalm 23 as we continue our Summer in the Psalms series.
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 paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 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 goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.(Pray)
Psalm 23 is probably the most well known and most beloved of the psalms. Although it describes us as sheep and the Lord as a shepherd, there’s something about Psalm 23 that connects with us on a deeply human level. Its words minister comfort and peace to our souls.
David wrote Psalm 23 shortly after he became king of Israel, drawing from his years as a young man tending his father’s sheep. During those long days and quiet nights, David began to see the connection between his watchful care over his sheep and God’s watchful care over his life.
Psalm 23 ministers to us in every stage of life. It describes this journey we call life and reassures those who trust in the Lord that we don’t make this journey alone, the Lord is my shepherd, the Lord is with me. When our kids were young, Janice and I encouraged them to memorize psalm 23 and recite it when they struggled with fear. On the other end of the journey, I’ve watched this psalm give tremendous comfort to individuals in their final moments of life. Psalm 23 ministers deeply to our souls in every stage of life.
One reason Psalm 23 connects with us so deeply is that it is very personal. David doesn’t say, “the Lord is our shepherd”, or, “the Lord is a shepherd”, he says “the Lord is my shepherd” and the rest of Psalm 23 speaks in the personal terms of I, me, my.Jesus reinforces this personal, intimate relationship in John 10 when he, as the Good Shepherd, says that he knows his sheep and calls them by name. Jesus knows your name. When Jesus thinks of you, he thinks of you by name. When he calls you, he calls you by name.
Together we are God’s people, members of God’s family, and that is a blessing but deep inside we long to be known as individuals, we want to be known for who we are. Jesus knows your name.
Psalm 23 is personal to us and it gives promises to us. It has four sections, each one containing a precious promise from God to carry with us as we journey through life.
Promise #1: The Lord restores our soul
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 paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
We could say this is a promise to provide for us, and that’s true, but I think the bigger promise to us is
restoration for our souls. That’s bigger than having the food and shelter we need provided for us.
I’ve noticed that when people ask me how I’m doing, I’m usually pretty quick to say “I’m doing good.” I’m not being dishonest – I usually feel like I’m doing pretty well. But when I say I’m doing good, I realize that I’m also not looking very deep. Life gets busy, it has its demands, it has its pleasures, it has its challenges. We work, we chill, maybe we take a vacation (Janice and I just got back from a wonderful week in Maine), we take care of our families, hopefully we connect with friends.Then we rinse and repeat.
So when we say we’re doing well often what we’re thinking about is how we’re doing juggling the plates in our lives, or how we’re feeling emotionally, but the Lord’s care goes deeper than how we’re handling our responsibilities or how we’re feeling. The Lord cares about how you are doing. How your soul is doing. Life can be going great and our souls can be doing bad. Life can be rough, and our souls can be doing really well. The Lord is my shepherd, David writes, he restores my soul.
Our souls need to be restored because they get depleted. Just as our bodies get run down, our souls get weary. Sometimes our souls become depleted because our bodies get run down. Sometimes our bodies are fine, and our souls are wearing away and we might not even know it. Life, with all its demands and craziness, ups and downs, successes, and failures, has a depleting effect on our souls.
As we follow Jesus our Shepherd, he makes us (makes us!) lie down in green pastures and leads us beside still waters. This is a picture of our souls being restored in peace and calm. It’s turning down the noise, slowing down the pace, coming to the quiet. Jesus leads us to make soul-care a priority.
Green pastures and still waters might look different at different times, as Jesus restores our souls in practical ways. For someone it might mean taking a vacation. Or building down time into our schedule. It might simply be getting away from people and alone with God for a while. Jesus regularly got away from his disciples and the crowds to spend time alone with his Father and recharge his soul. If Jesus needed to do that, we do too. For someone who struggles with laziness, green pastures and still waters may actually require working more, not less, because there’s a kind of rest that doesn’t restore, it depletes. Laziness is incredibly tiresome to the soul. Working to be more productive might be the path we need to restore our soul. Green pastures and still waters may look different in different situations, but one thing it always includes is spending time in God’s word. Our souls waste away when we’re not spending time in God’s word. The flock is fed by the word of God. Spending time in the Bible each day helps nourish our thinking, fill our emotional banks, and most importantly, restore our souls.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. (vs. 3)
I think this continues the thought of the Lord restoring our soul. Sin might bring pleasure to the flesh but it wearies the soul. The path of unrighteousness leads to the deepest emptiness of soul. The Lord leads us in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. He gets glory by leading us in right paths. But what does paths of righteousness mean? It means two things – not two separate things but two interconnected things – for the Christian.
First, he leads us in paths of righteousness by being our righteousness. When we believe in Jesus, God gives us the righteousness of Christ as if it were our righteousness. It’s not based on what we do, it’s based on believing in what Christ has done on the cross. Call this the righteousness of believing.
Jesus also leads us in the path of doing what’s right. Call this the righteousness of becoming. Really practical, this is the Holy Spirit empowering us to do good, do right, love and live out our faith. As we follow Jesus, we are becoming more like him.
Both come from Jesus and are vital to following Jesus. If we focus only on becoming, we will get legalistic, thinking that our good works are making us righteous in God’s sight. If we focus only on believing, our actions will contradict our beliefs. We’ll speak of grace but have little in our lives to show of it. We need the righteousness of believing and the righteousness of becoming.
Both righteousness’s come from Jesus: one is imputed to us, the other imparted to us. Jesus makes both possible so he gets all the glory! And as we are freed from the soul-crushing grip of sin, our souls are restored. Promise # 1 is He restores my soul.
Promise # 2: The Lord protects us as we walk through dark valleys
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Verses 1-3 are all about the Lord’s leading in David’s life and that doesn’t change in verse 4. David is walking through the valley of the shadow of death because the Lord led him there. Sometimes the Lord doesn’t lead us around dark, shadowy valleys, He leads us through them. Our confidence isn’t that we will never have to walk through valleys. Our confidence is that Jesus will be with us as we walk through them.
Valley’s have a way of revealing what our faith is in. If we walk through a valley and all we see is the valley, we don’t see that the Lord is with us, the problem isn’t with God. The problem is with our faith. I don’t say that harshly or judgmentally, I know what it is to falter in my faith, when fear seems really big and God seems really small.
Our wise and loving Shepherd sometimes leads us into the valley to help us learn that we don’t need to be afraid – he is with us. Even when the valley is deep and the shadows long and we can’t see what the Lord is doing we can say with confidence “I will fear no evil, for you are with me!”
Notice that David intensifies the personal depth of the psalm, going from talking about the Lord (the Lord is my Shepherd) to talking to the Lord (for you are with me). Valleys can press our knowledge of our Savior from knowing about him, to knowing him.
And the more deeply we know him, the more our confidence in him grows, until we can honestly say, I’d rather be in a deep, dark valley with my Lord, than on a sunny plain without Him! I’d rather have a hard life with Jesus than an easy life without him! I will fear no evil for you, Jesus, are with me!
The Shepherd is with you, his rod guides you, his staff protects you. Every step of the way. Are you in a dark valley now? Keep going, and trust that your loving Shepherd is with you every single step of the way. He will never leave you; he’ll bring you safely to the other side. Trust him and be confident!!!
And one day, unless Jesus returns first, we will all enter the valley of the shadow of death and not come out on the other side. The shadow of death will not only loom over us, it will cover us. And when it does cover us that one last time, the believer will find that the reality of death is just a shadow. There is no final substance to it as we awaken on the other side and find our Savior has walked us safely through the valley to eternal life. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?
Promise #3: The Lord invites us to a rich banquet in the presence of our enemies
Time doesn’t allow for much to be said about this except that the picture changes from the Lord-as-shepherd to the Lord-as-host setting a rich and bountiful feast before us in front of our enemies.
This isn’t primarily a feast of food, it’s the feast of a rich life. An overflowing life, abundant life. But why is this bounty laid out in the presence of our enemies? As we go through life there will be people who will oppose us and treat us unjustly because of our faith. People who will purposely misrepresent us and slander us. And we will burn with a desire for that to be set right.
One day, it will be. In the end, those who trust God enjoy the vindication of a rich, full life, and those who oppose God will have an empty cup, an empty life. They will miss out. Vindication. Of course, we aren’t supposed to seek vindication or vengeance, we are to pray for our enemies and the best vengeance possible is for our enemies to become our friends by their coming to faith in Jesus Christ.
This picture is a foreshadow of the great wedding feast at the end of time.
Promise #4:The Lord pursues us with goodness and mercy
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 mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
The word translated “follow” doesn’t completely reflect the meaning of the Hebrew word. In the Hebrew the word means to “pursue”. As we follow Jesus, goodness and mercy are fast in pursuit of us.
It reminds me of Jesus’ instruction to seek first the kingdom of God and all other good things will be added to us. If we follow after those other things, we come up empty. If we make God our priority, all the other good things are added to us, they pursue us.
But I think there’s another meaning in this as well. As we follow our Shepherd, not only are we personally blessed with goodness and mercy, but our lives will leave a trail of goodness and mercy behind us. The richest life is one that leaves a wake of blessing behind it. Riches aren’t really riches until we share them.
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. If Jesus is your Savior, he is your Shepherd, and he’s the Good Shepherd. Draw near to Him and trust him. As we follow him, he restores our soul, protects our lives, provides abundantly, and pursues us with goodness and mercy.
If you can’t say that, if Jesus isn’t your Savior and Shepherd, he is inviting you into a personal and loving relationship with him today. Will you turn away from trying to find your life in this temporary, fallen world that eats away at the soul, and turn to Christ to save and restore and protect your soul even through the valley of the shadow of death into eternity?