Who is your Shepherd?
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack nothing.” We read this in times of need: Psalm 23. We read it at funerals when our hearts need hope. To those who are sick and need encouragement. When we are walking through the toughest of times it becomes our prayer. It is easily the most recognized Psalm in Scripture. In this week’s Devos we will look at this amazing Psalm, which starts with a remarkable statement if you stop and think about it. Another translation has it this way: "The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.”
Think for a moment on that first statement, “The Lord is my shepherd.” The God of the universe is my shepherd. I don’t know if you have ever been around a shepherd with his or her sheep. The thing about shepherds is that they would live with their sheep. You can still find shepherds caring for their sheep in many parts of the world.
And what do these shepherds do? They protect their sheep, find the lost ones when they wander away, set bones when they break, bring them to places where the food is good and the water is fresh. They literally look after all the needs that the sheep have because by themselves, sheep very quickly wander off and get themselves lost and in trouble. To be honest that sounds a lot like me left to my own devices. Maybe you.
Sheep come to the shepherd because they recognize the shepherd's voice and know that with the shepherd they have security. They trust the shepherd to take them to the right places and when lost, they look for the shepherd. There is a deep relationship between a shepherd and their sheep. In historic times, the shepherd will sleep with the sheep to protect them even at night. Thus the shepherd knows the sheep and the sheep know their shepherd.
Against that backdrop, think of the implications of David’s statement that the Lord is my Shepherd. The God of the universe, the creator of all things, the high and lifted up and holy and all powerful, all knowing and all present God is my personal shepherd. He is the one who walks with me through life and even through the valley of death - those very tough times when hope is scarce and life is hard. He and no other is my shepherd who provides, protects, and gives me all that I need. The Lord is my shepherd, and yours, if you have made Him the Lord of your life.
That is why David can confidently say, “I shall lack nothing.” If my creator and the God of the universe is my personal shepherd, what can I lack? Or what can I be afraid of? So why do we worry like we do? Why do we live with fear and doubt and anxiety when the Lord is our Shepherd. There is no power or love greater than His. And we are His sheep. His!
Father, help me meditate on this simple and powerful truth today. “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall lack nothing.” Thank you Jesus. Thank you! Amen.
The Ultimate Soulcare
My observation is that many of us have weary souls today. The pace of life, the stresses of our lives, the burdens we carry and the innumerable things we worry about. Add to that the 24 hour news cycles that would have us believe that the world is on the brink, every day and we are reminded over and over and over. Our souls easily become weary with the pace and stress of our lives.
Into that reality steps another reality. “The Lord is our Shepherd, I shall lack nothing. In fact, “He, our Shepherd, makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” Think of the contrast between what David writes about the Shepherd of our lives and how we experience our lives. Why the disconnect? The closest we seem to get to green pastures or quiet, still waters are in pictures on Pinterest. It looks like some place I would love to visit but I live in the real world.
The writer of Psalm 23, David, was a shepherd and he knew that God does for us what he did for his sheep: Mainly to lead them to green pastures where they could rest in peace and beside still waters that were refreshing to drink. In fact, God offers that kind of peace and rest for us every single day if we would simply stop long enough to spend some time in His presence and experience His peace.
You see, it is not that Jesus cannot lead us to places of peace and rest. He can, even in the middle of our frenetic lives. The issue is not Him but us. Because He Himself is the source of that peace we long for. He is the source of the rest our souls need. But we have to find time to stop, take moments in His presence in prayer, meditation, worship or Scripture and allow Him to fill up our empty hearts and bring peace to our stressed minds.
But remember, He Himself is the source of that peace so unless we go to the source and spend time there we will not experience it. Ironically we look for all kinds of ways to find rest and peace in our daily lives when all we need to do is go to the source and spend time with Him. God says elsewhere through the prophets, “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still and experience the green pastures and quiet waters that God desires to lead us to. And it is there that we find restoration for our souls.
If your soul needs restoring today, take some time away from the noise and distractions around you and spend time with Jesus. He is your shepherd. He will lead you to green pastures and quiet waters and you will find rest for your soul. Try doing that every day and your life will look different and it will be more peaceful and your soul will no longer be tired.
Father, forgive me for not coming to you when I so desperately need what only you can offer. Help me find time today to experience the peace and restoration that my mind, heart and soul so desperately needs. And thank you that you offer it to me each and every day. Amen.
God will never give you bad advice
One of the challenges of the information age is that there is too much information out there. Take financial planning for instance. How do you plow through the plethora of advice, information, experts, would-be experts, financial strategists that all claim to have the best strategy for your retirement account. Many of us have learned the hard way that the advice was not always what it was advertised to be.
In Psalm 23:3 we read this promise from the Lord who is our Shepherd. “He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Or as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, “you send me in the right direction.” In our complicated world with competing worldviews what we need to know is the “right direction.” And David says God will never let us down in that regard.
What is interesting about God’s direction is that it is often the opposite of what we are told we should do. For instance, God says that by being generous with Him and others we gain true wealth. He says that to become great we must become small. To experience real life we must die to ourselves. To get ahead in His kingdom we must act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. All of these are counter intuitive and counter to the practices and advice of our day.
In all the mumbo jumbo of our day, there is only one guide who will not steer us wrong and it is our shepherd. In fact, his says are paths of righteousness which are the paths that He himself has laid out for us. Just as a good shepherd would never steer his sheep along unsafe paths that would lead the flock in the wrong or dangerous direction, our shepherd will never do that.
The key, though, is that sheep need to trust their shepherd. Sheep wander. So do we. The classic definition of sin is found in Isaiah 53:6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” That is the ultimate problem we have. We like to go our own way, do our own thing and make our own rules but ultimately it comes back to hurt us.
As we pay attention to our shepherd and His teaching, we will learn to walk in paths of righteousness which will never hurt us and always protect us - even from ourselves. That is a great promise. He will only lead us in paths of righteousness that benefit us and keep us off the wrong paths. It is also why he says that he brings peace to our souls. That peace is found not in our own wisdom but in God’s wisdom. By ourselves we bring chaos to our souls. He brings peace.
Father. Thank you that I can trust you to lead me in paths that are best for me because they are your paths of righteousness. Remind me each day to look for your paths and not my own. Amen.
When life is hard and hope is scarce
If Psalm 23 is the most famous Psalm, verse 4 of that Psalm is perhaps quoted more than any other verse. “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.”
I have walked through some very hard times in my life. One of the hardest was a hospital stay of 45 days, 30 of which were in the Intensive Care Unit and on a ventilator. The list of complications was long including MRSA pneumonia, multiple system failure, a failed mitral valve in my heart, heart rates of 200 plus beats per minute, Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome where you literally start to drown in your own fluids and I could go on. Hard, tough times are part of our lot in life. In fact, in the aftermath of that event which took me more than a year to recover from, I wrote a book called, When Life Comes Undone, walking by faith when life is hard and hope is scarce.
Think of those times in your life when life came undone, when life was hard and hope was scarce. I call these tsunami shifts in our lives when we realize life will never be the same. These are real and they test our faith. Notice that David acknowledges that we will face these times. He says, Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. It will happen, he says, but it does not need to be a place where we surrender to fear. Because you are with me. We never walk through tough times alone as Christians. The Good Shepherd is always there as our unseen but present guest. We are never alone. Ever.
One year after I was discharged from the hospital I was admitted to another. This time in Thailand with virtually the same issues. But this time I was awake on a ventilator knowing my odds were small of surviving. The one thing I could ask of God was that He would be with me and as I meditated and prayed for his presence He gave me a deep peace even if I did not survive. It would be fourteen days where every hour seemed like 24 hours but He was there with me the whole time.
David goes on to say, “your rod and your staff, they comfort me ” in these times of trouble. The rod and staff are one and the same. On one end, the walking stick end, the shepherd can defend the sheep from wild animals as well as prod the sheep in a certain direction. The other end of the rod has a staff which is a rounded portion that extends the reach of the shepherd to rescue a sheep that is in trouble. He can even lift it out of a crevice by its neck in the staff. In other words, the watchcare of the shepherd in the moments when life is hard and hope is scarce gives us confidence and hope that He will be and is with us. Our Shepherd is not a passive onlooker but there to help and protect and care for us. We are never alone. That, says David, comforts me. And it should us.
Father, thank you that we are never alone. No matter how dire our circumstances may seem, you are there with us and will protect and comfort us. Even today with the issues I face, I ask for your protection, presence and peace. Amen.
The goodness and love of God that chases after us relentlessly
If you ever want to understand the posture of God toward His children, it is found in the last two verses of Psalm 23, verses five and six. It is a truly extraordinary statement. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Those who follow God will have detractors. Yes, even enemies. Those who choose to live in the light, who choose to follow the paths of righteousness, verse 3 are a threat to those who choose to live in darkness and follow their own paths. Those who stand up for justice for instance become a threat to those who prefer to ignore those issues. Those who won’t fudge the ethical boundaries at work can be a threat to those who do so regularly. Those who speak up for the underdog, or speak out against racial injustice incur the wrath of those for whom these are not priorities.
How does God respond to those who follow the paths of righteousness. He spreads a banquet table and anoints our heads with oil, a sign of respect and honor. The allusion to the banquet table is quite colorful because in the ancient world when a party was thrown those who were not invited would gather to watch those who were invited eat and drink and party. That is why in the Gospels the Pharisees criticized Jesus for hanging around with sinners. They were there watching the festivities. So here, what David is saying is that those who follow God, who have God as their shepherd will be honored by God in front of their detractors. It is who God is. He honors His people.
But the coup de gras is found in the statement, “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” The Hebrew here is colorful. First, the word love is the Hebrew word, “Hesed.” It is virtually untranslatable into English. Contained in that word Hesed are the concepts of love, mercy, grace, compassion, and goodness. It is a powerful word of God’s great and amazing grace toward us.
But notice that we read that goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life. A literal translation is that God’s Hesed will chase after us like bees to honey all the days of our lives. It is who He is and how much He loves us. Even today, God is chasing after you with His amazing grace and love and goodness. And that lasts not only in this life but for eternity.
This is our God. A shepherd, one who gives peace and rest for our souls, one who walks through the hard times with us, one who leads us in righteousness. One who honors us in front of our detractors and enemies and one who chases after us all the days our lives with his goodness, love and mercy. That is our shepherd!
Father, all I can say is thank you for being this kind of shepherd to me. Thank you. Amen.