Psalm 23. It is sometimes referred to as “The Children’s Psalm” but it could also be thought of as “The Sufferer’s Psalm.” It is often read at funerals and clung to by those who are in the midst of dark and difficult times.
Joe mentioned Psalm 23 in one of his sermons and I have not been able to stop thinking about it since. While it is a Psalm of comfort I have found that it raises a number of hard questions.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
I can think of many Christians who are in need. Some need healing, a job in order to pay their bills, or wisdom and discernment. There are Christians around the world who don’t know where their next meal will come from, who are lonely because family and friends have deserted them. And throughout history Christians have needed to be rescued from the evil hands of lunatics like Nero and Hitler but instead experience death.
How is it that those whose shepherd is the Lord will lack nothing? I'll come back to that.
“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.”
This is such a calming picture. A picture of quietness and peace, of tranquility and happiness. But where are the green pastures for those who have lost a child or a spouse? Where is that serene brook for those marriages are falling apart, who have been abused, or whose constant companion is illness? Where is this place of peace and quietness?
“He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
While this Psalm is a Psalm of comfort it does not promise ease. This world and our lives are filled with hardships, evils, dangers and sadness. But our Lord is also our shepherd. He lives with us so we are never alone, he is our refuge which means we have a place to hide and he is our guard.
He promises protection. But what he protects is much more valuable than our circumstance or even our lives. When David says, “I shall not want” he means we will lack nothing we need for the life he has planned for us. He provides for us and protects us. Specifically, he protects our souls. Because he is the guardian of our souls we can be confident that no matter what we go through on earth we will live with him forever in paradise, in his kingdom, as his royal and beloved bride.
The NIV says that “he refreshes my soul”. The best way our soul is refreshed is by immersing ourselves in his word and hanging out with fellow believers. He also helps us navigate life and shows us the right way to live.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,”
Really, I will not fear anything? I don’t know about you, but there is plenty to be fearful about. Serious illnesses, the “unknown,” losing your home, torture, being alone … I am sure together we could come up with a long list of serious things that would be very scary to go through, but here David is saying that even though we face death we do not have to fear evil. How is that possible?
“for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
Because God is with us! This is why we can face hardships and not be afraid. I don’t think we really experience this because we don’t really believe it. This is not some pie-in-the-sky idea. It is actually possible because not only is God with us, but also because he has made his home in us. When God says he will be with us always do we believe him or are we secretly calling him a liar?
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
At first glance this seems quite nice. But reality is that we are surrounded by danger and evil and it is in the midst of this that God prepares a banquet for us.
“Our Good Shepherd is Master of the world, stronger than all enemies,
Conqueror of all, and is able to provide for His sheep in any place!”
- J.R. Miller
He is always caring, always providing, always creating a way out of temptation. He has given us an armour to wear in order to fight the devil and his word to guide us on our journey. He promised to give wisdom to those who ask and through prayer and thanksgiving he promises a peace beyond our wildest imagination (Phil 4:7). Our cup truly overflows.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Is goodness and mercy is with me when I am devastated? Is goodness and mercy is with the orphan and the widow? Yes, because those who have been bought with the blood of Jesus have God as their father. This is mercy and goodness. It is more than we ever deserve. With this undeserved favor we are also promised a life in the very house of God.
Psalm 23 does not promise life without danger, but grace in the midst of danger. We have the promise of present and future grace. A future, an eternity free of evil, hardship, darkness and tears. All because the Lord is my Shepherd.