The Lord is my shepherd,
I lack nothing.
Along with John 3:16, there may be no better-known part of scripture than Psalm 23. Many of our children, from a very early age in Bible classes, learn this psalm. Many can recite it for memory. Yet even though it is so familiar, we may often overlook the value of this psalm for our lives today.
Part of the failure to fully appreciate the psalm, aside from its familiarity, is that we (and by we, I mean most adults) have been conditioned to believe that our value comes from our ability to work hard and have something to show for our hard work. Ask just about anyone you see in any given church on a Sunday morning: “How’s life?” or “How’s work?” and you will most likely hear the answer: Busy. We take pride in our ability to prove our busy-ness. (Never mind if our being busy benefits us or the world we live in. We just need to be able to say we have more to do than we know how to get accomplished.)
So, contrast this need for accomplishment through our busy—and dare I say, important—occupations with a psalm that basically says: God gives me everything I need. No wonder we assume Psalm 23 is great for children, but has lesser value for us. We need to remind ourselves OFTEN that our busy-ness and our hectic, frantic pace of life is not valuable, nor a blessing from God. What is important is the realization that just like a shepherd does his sheep, God takes care of our needs.
Another failure of ours to appreciate the importance of Psalm 23 can be found in verse 3, where we read that God guides us for “his name’s sake.” The tasks we must do, or at least the tasks we choose to place in important positions on our To-Do lists, should be rooted in the value of giving glory to God. This goes back to my original point. We work hard to have something to show for our work, then of course we want to take the credit for those accomplishments.
What if we stopped and knew that anything we do or accomplish is only possible through the power of God at work in our lives. If we took on this attitude, I think we would find ourselves much more willing to give him the praise. It would be for “his name’s sake” that we celebrate our accomplishments because we know it was him working in us in the first place.
The last misunderstanding I will point out (and you could certainly find more) is this: We do not understand the power of God in the presence of our enemies. You may have heard people lament that America is no longer or at least moving away from being a Christian nation. Oftentimes, this cry is accompanied by a sense of despair that people who do not hold the same values as followers of Jesus will take over and as a result, we will be faced daily with the “presence of our enemies.” They will, the assumption goes, force us into accepting things contrary to God’s will.
I always wonder what the psalmist was thinking of his enemies when he wrote about sitting at a table with them, a table prepared by God. Surprisingly, perhaps, we do not hear the psalmist lament the power of his enemies or all the bad things they have done. Just as surprising may be the fact that we do not hear how they have been destroyed or how God puts them in their place. The enemies of the psalmist are faceless, nameless, and I would add powerless people. There are present, but without any standing, really. They garner but a brief passing mention from the psalmist. Why? Because the Lord is the one who has the power and gives goodness to those who follow him. We do not have to fear the overthrow of God’s rule. It’s not going to happen.
Instead of being fearful, we celebrate in the Lord’s house. Forever.
•What is your earliest recollection of Psalm 23? How did you learn it and in what ways has it held value for you throughout your life as a follower of Jesus?
•When you read about the anointing of David as (future) king of Israel, what most surprises you about the way this story goes? How important is it to you that God looks at the heart, not the outward appearance? In what ways can we ensure that our heart yearns for God?
•Ephesians 5.1-14 gives us quite a list of things we are to avoid as followers of Jesus. How serious do we take this list? In what ways do we perhaps overlook some of the things Paul mentions in this passage, thinking: Well, you know, God understands? How can we work on making sure we live pure and holy lives for God?
•In what ways do you encounter people you would describe as “spiritually blind?” How can you help others see God clearly, or stated another way, how can you help them not be blind to who God is?