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  • Writer's pictureMark Hallock

Reflecting on Psalm 23: Our Good Shepherd

Alongside John 3:16, Psalm 23 may well be the most famous and most often quoted passage in all of Scripture. This is true for both Christians and non-Christians alike. Over the years of leading funerals as a pastor, I can tell you that Psalm 23 is by far the passage most often requested to be read. By far.

And rightly so.

It is a passage that points us to the goodness of God. It is a passage that reminds us that our Maker loves us and is with us, even in the deepest and darkest of valleys. It is a passage filled with words of truth, hope and comfort for those of us making our way through a world that is broken. A world where things are not the way they are supposed to be.

The author of this Psalm is King David. He wrote it as a word of reminder and encouragement, not only to himself, but to all of God's children, of the faithfulness and trustworthiness of the Lord.

The Psalm begins in verses 1-3…

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”

Over 200 times in Scripture the Lord refers to Himself as a Shepherd.

Sam Storms writes, “There are countless descriptions of God in the Psalms: he is a King who rules over us, a rock of immovable stability, a deliverer in times of distress, a fortress in whom we find refuge, a shield behind whom we safely retreat. But there's something special about his being a shepherd. There's a dimension of personal tenderness and intimacy in the image of God as the one who shepherds his lambs. David well remembers the attentive watch and protective love he had for his sheep. "Yes," he may well have cried out in a moment of revelatory insight; "that's what God is to me and you!"

The Lord is our Shepherd! And friends, we need a Shepherd because we are just like sheep.

While we may be too stubborn and prideful to admit it, we are weak. We are vulnerable. We are needy.

Just like sheep.

And we realize this truth most profoundly when we are suffering. Not when things are going great, but when things are hard. Really hard. And dark. And scary.

Friends, we need the Lord, our Good Shepherd. We need him desperately. Far more than any of us realize.

But the good news that we see here in Psalm 23 is that the Lord desires to be our Shepherd. And as our Shepherd, in Him, we have all we will ever need. And much, much more.

Notice the second phrase in verse 1…

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

What does this phrase, “I shall not want,” mean?

David is saying, “I shall not want because in Him (in the Lord) I have every want and every need satisfied.”

In other words, “The Lord is my Shepherd, thereforeI lack nothing!There is nothing that God has not or will not supply for me that I truly need. In Him I am complete, I am full.”

When we are suffering, to say with David, “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want,” is to say the only thing I desire, the only thing I want, the only thing I know I need is more of Him because He is better than all things. He is better than life itself! He is the only One who can meet the deepest needs of my soul, especially when I am hurting so badly.

David's point is simply this:

The Lord + Nothing = Everything

Everything – The Lord = Nothing

Do you believe that? I pray you do. In the pit of pain and despair, many times the Lord is all you’ve got. But the good news is that He is all you need.

David continues in verses 2 and 3 and notice how he mentions three things that the Good Shepherd has provided us…

#1: The Good Shepherd provides spiritual food.

Verse 2 says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures.”

“Green pastures” is a picture of where God meets with us and feeds us and restores us. It is a place of good food and nourishment and rest.

Notice, the Lord does not make us RUN in green pastures or pace nervously and anxiously in green pastures. No, He makes us lie down in green pastures.

This picture of lying down is a picture of dependence. Total dependence.

If there is ever a time when we ought to recognize our dependence on the Lord, it is in our pain. When we have no strength left and are forced to lie down.

I know there have been many times in my life where I have been so busy, so overloaded, so tired, or so broken, that God has made me lie down out of His deep love for me. Hear that? Out of His deep love. I didn’t want to slow down, but He made me. He knows better than I do what I need. The same is true with you. This is the love of God in action.

Whether in sickness or burnout or some other trying circumstance we hadn’t planned for, God in His kind providence makes us lie down. He makes us lie down for our good, the good of those around us, and for His glory.

Perhaps the thing we need most right now is to humble ourselves and lie down in God’s green pastures. Because the pace we are currently on is unsustainable for us. Or perhaps because we need to spend some time grieving, mourning over a loss of some kind we’ve recently experienced in our life.

I don’t know what it is for you, but I know this. The Lord is inviting us to rest in Him.

#2: The Good Shepherd provides spiritual drink.

Verse 2 continues, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters”

This phrase “still waters” can literally be translated, “waters of rest.” The picture is calm, cool waters that quench the thirst of the flock so that they can be still, so that they can rest.

Just like sheep, we cannot truly rest, we cannot truly find peace, if we are spiritually thirsty and our souls are dry.

In John 7:37-38, Jesus our Good Shepherd cries out, “If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.’”

Jesus quenches our spiritual thirst like no one and nothing else can.

But the problem is that instead of running to Jesus to satisfy our thirsty souls, we run to other sources that we hope will quench our thirsts. They never do.

In his book, “A Shepherd looks at the 23rdPsalm”, Phillip Keller writes,

“You see, sometimes stubborn sheep will not wait for the clear, pure water that the shepherd is leading them to. They stop to drink from the polluted potholes along the trail, contaminated with the manure and urine of previous flocks. It satisfies their thirst for the moment, but it will eventually riddle them with parasites and disease. It’s the price they pay for instant gratification and not following the shepherd to clear water.”

Some of us are just like these sheep.

Let us humble ourselves and allow our kind and gracious Lord to lead us beside still waters that our thirsty souls might be quenched.

This leads to the third thing we see in this passage…

#3: The Good Shepherd provides spiritual restoration.

Verses 2-3 reads, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters, He restores my soul.”

The Hebrew word for “restore” here means to replenish, to return to it’s original state. Like when your car gets banged up in an accident, goes into the shop to have body work done, and then comes back fixed, looking like new. Your car is restored, back to the way it is supposed to be!

Here in verse 3, the phrase “my soul” simply means “my life.”

It is the Lord who restores my life.

It is the Lord who revives my life when I need strength.

It is the Lord who gets me back on my feet and back into the fight when I stumble and fall.

It is the Lord who puts my life in proper perspective and helps me see things with a Godward, eternal perspective.

It is the Lord alone who restores my soul.

In our pain and in our brokenness, we cannot restore ourselves.

Another person cannot restore us. Our job can’t do it, nor can some hobby or toy you buy for yourself.

Only the Lord, our Good Shepherd, who loves us with a power and tenderness we cannot comprehend, only He can restore our souls.

And He desires to do so.

Run to Him. Lie down. Drink. Be restored.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”


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