Psalm 23 King James Version (KJV)
23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever
Psalm 23 is probably the most beloved passage, and most often memorized of scripture, save John 3:16. In a brief six verses it paints a picture of a total life in God. The picture is very personal. “The Lord is My shepherd.” This is not a group image. It is the heart of the Psalmist, David, reaching out to the heart of God. In the agrarian society that Psalm 23 is written, a shepherd is so necessary. The shepherd kept the sheep together; led them to the necessities of food and water, and protected them from predators. Jesus uses the image in several places, In Matthew 9:36, Jesus stands looking out over Jerusalem and the crowds gathered. “Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were troubled and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” We so desperately need a shepherd. We find ourselves troubled and helpless, living in difficult times. Not only did Jesus use the image of shepherd, he expanded by indicating that he was the Good Shepherd. In the Gospel of John Jesus speaks to the gate of the sheep, the guard, and the shepherd. Hear these selected verses from John 10.
John 10:3-4, 7, 11, 14-15
3 The guard at the gate opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 Whenever he has gathered all of his sheep, he goes before them and they follow him, because they know his voice.
“I assure you that I am the gate of the sheep.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and they know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. I give up my life for the sheep.
What more could we want? A shepherd who know us and we know him; a shepherd who gave his life for us. A shepherd who is willing and able to lead, protect, and provide – willing to do a shepherd’s job. What does a shepherd need? A shepherd needs a flock who will follow!
In today’s world, there are a lot of so-called authorities who are willing to lend us their wisdom. One persistent question for me is who has the truth? Who do I follow?
When I was in Boy Scouts we went on many unknown adventures – at least unknown to us boys. Tom Sholes, our scout master, was a careful leader. He would have scoped out where we were going before taking us all along. We trusted him because he had been there before, knew what it was like, what we needed to take, how we needed to prepare. He was easy to follow. Our shepherd, the Good Shepherd, is easy to follow if we are listening, watching, remaining attentive – trusting that he will lead us in good paths. It is our following Jesus that moves us toward God-Centered Living.
Let’s look at Psalm 23 with an eye to structure. Verses 1-3 are a declaration of faith in and obedience to the ways of God’s shepherding; verse 4 is the confident assertion that God’s presence and guidance brings comfort and confidence; then, verses 5-6 pictures God as a gracious host, sustaining life in so many ways.
GOD-CENTERED LIVING is a call to confidence. There is a old question that motivational speakers used to use. “What might we do if we knew we couldn’t fail?” Psalm 23 is a statement of that kind of confidence. Since we know the Good Shepherd is keeping track of his sheep – of us – with never-failing vigilance, we can have confidence – if we choose to rely on his shepherding.
God-centered living gives us a foundation for living. A good foundation lends itself to confidence. God is our source of well-being. In the middle of this Psalm (especially evident in the Hebrew in which it was originally written. It is 26 words from the first word of the Psalm and 26 words from the last word of the Psalm.) is the phrase in verse 4 “… for thou art with me… .” Just knowing God is with us, providing for us, give\s great confidence for living. Hear Psalm 23 in verses 2-3 for what God provides when we follow: “2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.” Just listen to what God offers, rest, refreshment, restoration. All are amazing gifts from an amazing God. And in those gifts we gave a sure foundation for life. Our necessities are fulfilled.
In Hebrews 13:20-21we have a doxology – a summation of faith, an offering of spiritual well-being. “May the God of peace, who brought back the great shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus, from the dead by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with every good thing to do his will, by developing in us what pleases him through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory forever and always. Amen.” This speaks of confidence in the shepherd who has done it all!
It also leads me to another aspect of GOD-CENTERED LIVING. When we focus on God, giving God the glory, seeking his shepherding, he fully equips us for life. Jesus has been there, done that, and has the t-shirt. He has been tempted, tested, persecuted, unjustly accused, and even died. There is nothing that we can face that Jesus cannot understand and guide us through. We can trust his leading. The Psalm unequivocally tells us that the shepherd will equip with every good thing. In the last two verses, David reminds that God is a gracious host and sets a table for us. Whenever I think of a table set for a feast I think of Janna’s mom, Mary Jane Mitchell. A Thanksgiving meal was not complete without at least three different meat entrees and more sides than you could count. The spread was so amazing it to every inch of counter space to set it all out. In addition, top kitchen drawers would be pulled out, covered with boards, and more food offered on them. This is the kind of “table set before us” that I imagine God will set. Abundance! But that table is also set in the midst of life, even of challenges and of enemies. This is God’s everyday table! Tables are an important place to recall the blessings of God. Our family table was one where we might talk for hours about the day we had, what was accomplished, what the challenges were, and so on. Jesus forever changed the Passover with his disciples around a table. In Psalm 23 there are a pair of images used at this point. First there was the anointing with oil. The anointing signifies a sanctifying or cleansing of the one anointed in order to set them apart for God. Kings were anointed to indicate being set apart of the service of the nation. Priests were anointed to indicate being set apart of service to the Lord. In this Psalm of the people, David celebrates that God anoints each of us for God-Centered Living. The second image is “My cup runneth over,” implying an abundance of equipping – not just a cupful, but running over! As a child I can remember occasions of being given a quarter to purchase some candy, or a dollar to purchase a souvenir on a trip. I would carefully weigh the options to get the most out of what little I had. I would spend it down to the last penny if I could. His is an example of living from a perspective of scarcity. This is not the image in Psalm 23. God is indicating an abundance for us to live for God. We can have confidence that we will have what we need when we need it. When the shepherd sends us out, we will have all that we need for the tasks we are called to accomplish. When we are faced with challenges, we can know we will have what it takes to meet those challenges. Ultimately, to live a God-centered life is to embody the image in which we were created. Paul says in Ephesians 5:1-2, “Therefore, imitate God like dearly loved children. 2 Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. He was a sacrificial offering that smelled sweet to God.” Christ, the Good Shepherd, is the ultimate template for living. We are to love and give generously.
Finally, GOD-CENTERED LIVING gives us a purpose in life. Lots of people want to give us a purpose: to make money; to gain wealth; to achieve status; to make something of ourselves. While none of that is necessarily bad, God wants to give us a purpose that will truly fulfill our lives. Psalm 23, verse 6, says we will be equipped with “goodness and mercy” and we will dwell with God and heed his shepherding. God-centered living is letting God make something of us. We may indeed gain wealth or status or make something of ourselves, but it will put to work in service on the one who blesses us with all of that. Our status may put us in the to influence persons for Christ. Our wealth might enable us to share with those less fortunate. Acknowledging that God has made us who we are, and that it is good, enables us to help others find that sense of Christ-confidence.
Colossians 1:9-12 is an amazing statement of our purpose.
9 Because of this, since the day we heard about you, we haven’t stopped praying for you and asking for you to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will, with all wisdom and spiritual understanding. 10 We’re praying this so that you can live lives that are worthy of the Lord and pleasing to him in every way: by producing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God; 11 by being strengthened through his glorious might so that you endure everything and have patience; 12 and by giving thanks with joy to the Father. He made it so you could take part in the inheritance, in light granted to God’s holy people.
We are filled … so that … . When we live God-Centered Lives we live lives worthy of God. We are producing fruit in every good work. We are strengthened to endure. “We are called to be an honor to God’s glory… .” [Ephesians 1:12] No matter what our occupations or talents or spheres of influence, our shepherd longs to guide us, to have us dwell with him so he can instill confidence in living. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”