Probably one of the most familiar psalms in scripture is Psalm 23. You know, the one that begins with the words, "The Lord is my shepherd." I've asked myself often why this particular psalm has such an amazing following. I confess that I too have found much comfort in the words of this psalm, but beyond that as I look at each phrase within this passage it occurs to me that there must be quite a bit of identification with the poet that penned these words. Perhaps the poet that penned these words knew something about suffering. Perhaps the poet, like each of us, looks for comfort because in our everyday lives we experience things we can't explain and we need something to hold on to that will accompany us through the pains life often brings across our path. Walk with me as we look yet again at the message penned by the psalmist.
"The Lord is my shepherd." In this one phrase we find acceptance and inclusion. Have you ever been in a place where you didn't feel included? The idea that the Lord is "MY" shepherd gives those hearing the message that they have a place to be, a place to exist. It speaks of being a part of something much greater than ourselves. It portrays the idea of connectedness. When Jesus told his disciples that He had other sheep that were not of this fold that he needed to include as well certainly spoke of a fold much larger than the one his disciples imagined that included Jews and Gentiles alike.
As the psalm continues, "... I shall not want," may indicate that because the Lord is my shepherd he supplies just what I need. This idea of having our needs supplied may just be what people hold on to when they struggle with their surrounding circumstances. The Apostle Paul indicated that God will supply all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.
"He makes me lie down in green pastures." If you have ever had the privilege of watching a shepherd tend his or her flock of sheep it does not take long before you begin to understand that the shepherd's ability to lead their sheep to the best grazing land becomes quite a benefit for their flock. The healthier the sheep continue to be the more they will produce and reproduce. It has been said that only when a sheep feels safe will it lie down. The shepherd leads his or her flock to the safest places. The scriptures indicate Jesus saying, "My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me." For those hearing the words of the poet we quickly insert ourselves into that green pasture where we experience the trust and love of the shepherd and the magnificence of our surroundings.
"He leads me besides the still waters." As I pondered this particular phrase I recalled reading something that assisted me in the following thought. Still waters unlike rushing waters will allow us to see our reflection. Is it possible that it is beside the waters of reflection that we remember who we are, that perhaps much like the prodigal son, we need to experience that moment of coming to ourselves in order to remember who we are and whose we are? It occurs to me that the Good Shepherd would lead us by such a place so we can see ourselves as the Shepherd has always seen us.
"He restores my soul." As I have pondered this particular phrase it is beginning to make sense to me that the restoration of soul is what naturally occurs when we discover ourselves in the Good Shepherd's flock, grazing in green pastures and awakening to our true reflection and seeing ourselves as Jesus sees us. As we experience His warm embrace and know that our inclusion within this sheep fold was of God's doing and not ours we begin to see ourselves as the restored people that God in Christ through His resurrection has re-created us to be.
"He leads me in paths of righteousness." I believe our God is a righteous God and because He is I believe his desire for each of us is that we follow him in righteousness. Unfortunately, there are times when perhaps due to circumstances one may choose to go astray. However, the hope in this sheep going astray is that the Good Shepherd will leave the rest of His sheep safe within the fold and will embark upon a journey to continue looking for this one who has gone astray until he finds it. The amazing thing about this picture of being lost is that this sheep cannot be lost unless it belongs. And the shepherd does all of this for his name sake because we all bear His Name. We belong to the Shepherd!
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil." I suppose we all have a working definition of "evil." As I have pondered my own definition of evil I am becoming aware that evil is what occurs when I lose sight of my identity in Christ and I forget who I am and whose I am. When I do this then I no longer see myself as the Good Shepherd sees me. Unbeknownst to me I begin reflecting an attitude of death. As long as I retain my focus of my inclusion within the fold of the Good Shepherd being aware that I'm there because He placed me there then walking through the valley of the shadow of death becomes much easier because I know that I am not alone for the Shepherd is with me. His rod and His staff bring much comfort to me. As a matter of fact His comfort is emphasized within me when I experience His anointing presence which overflows my life.
"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." What a fitting end to this marvelous psalm. The promise that the fold of the Good Shepherd will continue beyond this life is perhaps the most dramatic and comforting words we can hear. These words take us beyond the unknown. It occurs to me that every blessing that is offered within this psalm will also continue beyond this life. The Lord is MY Shepherd and WE are the sheep of his pasture. So enter into His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise. Be thankful unto him and bless his Name for the Lord is Good and His mercy is everlasting and His truth endures to all generations.