Psalm 23

1The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 3He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. 4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. 6Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. – Psalm 23 NASB

The context in which we typically hear Psalm 23 is in response to trouble. It is read in hushed tones at a hospital bedside or with grasping confidence at the loved one’s memorial service. And yet the Psalm itself is rich not with yearning but with contentedness. It is a statement of provision from the Shepherd. In a chaotic and troubled world, it is remarkable that in the providing shadow of the Shepherd, the psalmist can say “I shall not want.” In another translation, the text says “I lack nothing.”

The age we inhabit is one of ambition, both for personal meaning and materialistic relevance. It could be accurately defined by a never-satiated consumptive thirst, and ill-contented rush for more, greater, and better. We need Psalm 23 now more than ever. We can spend our days chasing the winds of satisfied accumulation (which seem to be always just beyond our grasp) or we can recognize the true Provider, the Lord. In His presence, we lack nothing. We shall not want.

Shepherd God

A shepherd is utterly responsible for those in his care. Their fate hangs on his ability to lead and protect, to know and correct. For the Lord God, the Creator of the vastness of the universe and the intricate designer of life, to be called a shepherd is astounding. The Lord is bigger than time and space, beyond imagination and scope. And yet, the psalmist says, He is my shepherd. Tenderly, He cares for each sheep, intimately responsible for every individual.

Do you see God as the Good Shepherd? Or do you limit him to example, judge and dispensary of grace?

Sometimes it is easier to love others and even ourselves sometimes than it is to let God love us, and care for us.

Do you let God love you? Not just believing, but engaging with with him?

Simple Sheep

The noble shepherd in the Psalm is contrasted with the simple sheep. Sheep are known for neither their intelligence nor their independence. They are helpless. They need a shepherd, as they are utterly reliant on his provision for their survival. This can wound us, since our pride recoils at the comparison. More profitably, it should humble us. Our role and reliance should cause us to see the truth of the matter — we need a Savior at every moment, a Shepherd upon whom we can truly rely.

Many times our strength and identity is based on our ability to survive. Each of us have been through tremendous experiences. We have made it this far, even against many odds. Yet, in many cases we take credit for what we have done. We feel like we don’t need a shepherd.  We can make it on our own. Jesus declares in John 10 that he is the Shepherd and that he will protect and lead His sheep, if they will follow.

Do you come to a place to realize that you are helpless and need a Shepherd?

Are there areas of your life where you feel insecure or inadequate?

Do you have situations in your life where you struggle with seeking the Lord? Situations where you feel that you need to take charge and be your own shepherd? Confess the need for change and seek your true Shepherd.

Provider of All

Consider the needs of a sheep — they are many. How many more needs must a son or daughter have? Beyond the simple physical provision (safety, food, water) that a sheep needs, we each have unique physical, emotional, an spiritual needs. And yet the Shepherd of Psalm 23, the Lord, provides for those needs in such a way that the psalmist can say with certainty, “I shall not want.” When we are found in the arms of the Lord, our Great Provider, we can be fully content, fully cared for, truly lacking nothing. What more could we want?

Abiding in Contentment

The deep satisfaction and rest that the psalmist experiences in Psalm 23 is an offer to us all. Like sheep, though, we wander from the flock. We peruse the periphery of the landscape, always convinced there is some greener grass to find, not realizing that its verdant glow is only there because we’ve yet to jump the fence and trample it. When we abide in Jesus, however, we have the capacity for depths of love and joy that are otherwise unimaginable. (John 15:1-11). After all, to abide literally means to remain or stay. When we remain in Jesus, stay with the Shepherd, we find true contentment.

What are the areas of your life that distract you? What desires do you turn to, such as money, success, positions, titles, spotlight? What are you striving to be known for?

Resisting Self-Reliance

sheep-hidingOur culture praises the self-made person, championing individualism and independence. The psalmist calls the shepherd “Lord”, which is to convey that he does not own the rights to his own life.  To be self-reliant is to need no one else. yet the truth is that we all have a deep, unquenchable need for a transcendent Savior, for one who will save us from ourselves. It is the Lord our Shepherd (and not ourselves) who is truly able to meet our deepest needs. True contentedness isn’t found in self-reliance but in reliance on the saving King Jesus.

What interrupts, contends or restricts you from fully abiding in the Shepherd?

Good Father

Our willingness to rest, to abide, in the Lord and find HIs fullness is ultimately about trust. Do we trust the Good Shepherd to take care of us? In teaching His disciples to pray, Jesus reminded them that the Father is trustworthy. What father, he asked, would have a child ask for a fish and give him a snake instead (Luke 11:11)? How much greater is the love our Father has for us than any earthly father has for his child. Our God did not withhold His only, most precious Son, but gave Him up to save us (Romans 8:32). If we are truly to say “I shall not want”, we must constantly remember and trust in our good and generous  Father.

Closing Prayer

God, help us to see you as the Good Shepherd who loves us personally and completely. We confess we too often paint you into a corner as a cosmic judge or unknowable dispensary of grace. Forgive us, Father, where we live as if you are distant when your Word says you are always near. Let us know your embrace today.

Lord, show us our true self, insecure and inadequate. Tear down the walls we have built in our pride and expose in us the tender yearning for your covering in my life. Forgive our insolence as we pretend to be so capable and, in your mercy, supply your grace that I might live fully while recognizing our full reliance on you.

Lord, we long for the satisfaction only you can bring. I scratch and claw for fulfillment and satisfaction in the world. We look for significance in the success of love, money, or status. Yet is you, Father, who truly makes us whole. We are significant as children of the King, fully accepted by you. Make that reality true not only in mind, but in the depths of my heart and soul.

Father, we are so easily distracted from your goodness. We admit that our eyes search for something other than you, that we too often find ourself worshipping idols of money or success or status. Lord, we long for rest in you. Lead us to grow in our desire to abide in you. Overwhelm us with your irresistible grace that we may know it freshly each day.

God, we are so often deluded into thinking we can save ourself or fulfill our needs. You saw, however, how incapable we were and sent Jesus long before we even knew we needed a savior. Thank you for forgiveness and redemption, for the depth of your love. Remind us today, Lord, that we need you more than anything.

Father, we are humbled by how much you love us. We forget so often the depths of your love and the lengths to which you went to redeem our souls. We confess to being afraid to ask of you, lest you not deliver what we want. Let us be convicted of our selfish desires that embarrass us to ask. God, grow our trust in you that we might pray for your will over our wants. In light of Jesus, may we see your provision in our every waking moment and live our life as an offering of things to you.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

adapted from Psalm 23 Devotional by Kyle Burkholder