Psalms 23 – The Lord is Our Shepherd
Intro – A few weeks ago my son woke up from sleep around 11PM. He came to me almost in tears and said he had a nightmare. He was afraid and worried to go back into bed on his own. After talking with him, I asked him to read Psalm 23. After he read it, he said, “Dad, this is really helpful. Even when I walk in a dark valley God will be with me and protect me.” With the encouragement from this chapter, he went back to bed and slept calmly and peacefully through the whole night.
Psalm 23 is one of the most famous passages in the Bible. There is a reason that believers around the world turn to this passage for encouragement and comfort during difficult times.
Today we continue our study of Psalms in chapter 23. Most of you are already familiar with this passage, but God has also brought you here today for a reason. I believe He has something important for you today, maybe even only a reminder of something you already know.
Let us come before the Lord and pray that He will lead us to a better understanding of this passage and a better understanding of Him.
The Lord is my shepherd –
This is a Psalm of David and David was a shepherd. He understood the special relationship and care a shepherd has with the sheep. So he calls the Lord his shepherd as a beautiful illustration of his own relationship with God. He does not just say that the Lord is a shepherd. But he said, “my” shepherd.
John 10:27 – My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
Sheep learn their master’s voice. And they learn to follow their own shepherd and not others. Sometimes two shepherds of two different flocks will cross paths for a while. The sheep intermingle behind them as they chat and walk along the road together. When the shepherds go their own way, their own flocks hear their voice and follow. An observer would see the sheep separating as they follow their own shepherd.
In the rest of the passage we will see all the things that God does for His sheep. But all of those things are conditional upon a basic premise. The Lord must be your shepherd as He was David’s.
Can you say like David did, “The Lord is my shepherd?” While sheep do learn to recognize their master’s voice, they don’t start off that way. Newborn sheep instinctively follow the flock around them. They go where the other sheep go. Only later on do they learn to follow the shepherd instead.
In the world today, people are like sheep. They naturally follow after what everyone around them is following after.
What do people in your country or culture follow after? In the US, it is degrees. The world has said that a person must pursue higher and higher degrees because then they can make more money. So people take out very large student loans to pursue these degrees because that is what everyone else is doing. This is a sheep mentality. You should not take out a loan and study more and more for advanced degrees just because that is what everyone else is doing.
Perhaps it is the idea that a couple must purchase a house prior to marriage. Your friends did this. Your parents tell you to do this. Your classmates say it is necessary. Who are you following? Who is your shepherd?
Perhaps your marriage has hit a rough spot. Culture all around is pressuring you to just look after your own interests and get a divorce.
Exodus 23:2 – You shall not follow a crowd to do evil.
Who is your shepherd? If you have never made the Lord your shepherd and committed yourself to following after Him instead of the world, then that is the application you need to make from the message today.
And for many, you have committed yourselves to the Lord before. But is there some area of your life that you struggling between following after the shepherd or the flock of the world around you? Think for a moment yourself. If there is something that comes to mind, then brother or sister, that is what you need to confess to the Lord and take the first step toward putting that area of your life under His wise shepherding hand. God wants to have that personal relationship too. All of the things we will look at in this chapter, He will do for you, but you must be willing to call Him, “My shepherd.” If you are willing to follow whole heartedly after Him then turn to your neighbor and say, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
The shepherd takes care of the sheep
I shall not want -In this verse “want” is a synonym for “lack.” God’s people do not lack any good thing. Whatever is good, whatever is beneficial, He will provide it for us.
Psalm 34:10 – The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger, but those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing.
Our God in heaven is the Creator of the entire universe. Everything belongs to Him. The world came into existence by the force of His spoken word. Nothing is too difficult for Him to give to you. If He has not given it to you, it is because you do not need it.
I sometimes have the opportunity to share with new believers about prayer. And I ask them a question, “If you pray for a new car, will God give it to you?” Many of them immediately answer, “No.” Perhaps they think that such a prayer is selfish or unrealistic. Perhaps they think that God cannot move in tangible ways like giving a car, but instead only acts to give us peace or comfort.
What do you think, if you pray for a new car will God give you one?
The answer is: If it is good for you, if you need it, God will give it to you.
Application: Probably all of us have been around wanters, people who always want more and more things no matter how much they have. Most cultures in the world are like this today. Materialism breeds greed and discontent. Companies constantly market the need to upgrade perfectly usable products or electronics to the latest and greatest “must have.” Once someone asked Rockefeller, the richest person in the world at that time, “How much money is enough?” He said, “A little more.” And he lived that way.
Some people go through their life being discontent. They wish away their present while dreaming of the greener grass on the other side of wherever they are now.
- If only I could get a promotion, then I would be happy.
- Once I get my degree and get a job and reach independence then I will enjoy my life.
- If I could just travel more, I could be happier in my job.
- If I could just upgrade to the Iphone X then I would never need another phone again… until the Iphone 11 comes out.
- If I could just get married and have a family, then my life will be perfect. For the singles out there, let me tell you something. I have four kids and a lovely wife. I love my kids to death and would not trade them for anything. I heard a few of our students tell me that their hobby is sleeping. After you have children, you can forget about this hobby. In the last week, about four different times my wife and I finally laid down very tired and started drifting off to sleep… like a perfectly set timer one or another of our kids woke up crying. Being single is wonderful and has its own challenges. Being married with kids is wonderful and has its own challenges.
Brothers and sisters, let me tell you, the grass is always greener on the other side. If you are not content with what God has given you now, you will not be content in the future either.
There are two options when you set your hope on a thing rather than on God:
- Either you will not get what you hope for so you will be discontent
- Or you do get what you hope for and it doesn’t satisfy you either so you are discontent
Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who strengths me.
Next time you struggle with discontent, and we all do sometimes, remember that you don’t lack. God has already given you everything you need. Change your complaining into thanksgiving and count your blessings.
The Shepherd Refreshes the Sheep
Green pastures and quiet waters – A shepherd takes care of the well being of the sheep. That means providing nourishment, rest, and refreshment. All of these are pictured here. I assume that a sheep loves eating fresh, green grass rather than wilted, dry grass. At the same time a sheep must enjoy drinking from a calm stream rather than a dangerous, raging river.
These green pastures don’t just happen. Dry. Barren area.
The spiritual nourishment the Lord gives is good and satisfying. Jesus said that He is the “bread of life” and the “living water.” When God created people, He created us with a need for Him. When Adam and Eve sinned people became separated from God. Their relationship with God was broken. This created a void in people’s hearts. People feel empty….lost…lonely…depressed. They attempt to fill this void with all kinds of things. Pleasures. Thrills. Money. Achievements. Relationships. New age spirituality. False religion. While these things may cover over the feelings of emptiness for a while, they don’t take it away.
The only thing that can fill this void is a relationship with God. And when we have that He satisfies us spiritually.
When I was studying this passage I noticed something I had not paid attention to before. David says “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” Why does he use the word “make?” Does the shepherd force the sheep to lay down in green pastures?
Sometimes sheep are uncooperative. Sometimes they may want to roam around. They may not be interested in going to the pasture or in staying there. So the shepherd makes them.
I am reminded of the story of Martha and Mary. Mary was at Jesus’ feet listening to His teaching and enjoying being with Him. Martha was busy working and preparing the meal. She asked Jesus to make Mary help. Jesus told her that Mary was the one doing the more important thing. Sometimes we are like Martha.
Turn to your neighbor and ask “How have you been lately?” Now answer, “Busy.” Almost everyone is busy. There are so many things vying for our attention. Our lives are “go, go, go.” There seems to be so many things to do and so little time to do it. Our work is busy. Our study is busy. Our family life is busy. We need to shop. We need to pay the bills. We need to see the doctor. We need to prepare for the exams. We need to deal with visas, with house payment, with car paperwork. We have ministry responsibilities. The list goes on and on. Even when we take time to pray or read the Bible our phones are often right beside us. Do you ever feel like Martha? I often feel like that.
But you see, God does not want us to feel like that all the time. He wants us to be more like Mary. He wants us to enjoy the green pastures and quiet waters. He wants us to lay down there with no distractions. We are sometimes unruly sheep. And we don’t always take time off voluntarily. So every now and then he prods us or even makes us. I watched a video of a shepherd forcing a sheep to lie down and it looked really awkward and uncomfortable. While God may do this at times with us, it is still a lot more comfortable for us if we choose to take a rest. God made the world in 6 days for a reason. He showed people that He wants them to rest.
Application: Today I want you to think about your own lives for a moment. If you feel overwhelmed by business or distractions, you need to find a time to come before the Lord in a quiet place free of distractions. You need to set aside your worries. You need to turn off your phone so you won’t be tempted by the vibrations or red notifications. If you are a mother of little kids, you need to get dad to help or find a babysitter. And you need to have a rest. This rest is not primarily sleeping, although that is good too. It is a time to quiet your heart and come before the Lord to receive feeding from Him. To tell Him what’s on your mind. To meditate on His character and His blessings. It is a time to “Be still” before your Maker. It is like a personal retreat. Prayer, songs of praise, meditation, time in the Word are all good content for this personal retreat.
“One of the great uses of Twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the Last Day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.”
― John Piper
Chinese New Year is right around the corner. Maybe you have plans to travel, or meet up with people, or sleep a lot. That’s ok. But make sure to make a time to come to the green pastures and still waters. If you do, then He will refresh you. The first part of verse 3 says that He will restore your soul. I believe that there are many here today who are weary. Tired. Sick. Busy. Make a commitment today to come before the Lord and He WILL restore your soul.
The shepherd leads the sheep
He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
The land of Israel where David shepherded is for the most part a bleak and barren place. It is a rocky, desert terrain. In some places it is dangerous. Green pastures are few and far between. A sheep doesn’t know where to go. There could be many paths, but only one path to the destination the shepherd has in mind. This is why the sheep need someone to guide them. They don’t know the way.