the Lord is *my* shepherd

A psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
forever.

Psalm 23

It is good to have a good friend and sincere encouragement from them when one’s down. We need that. But when it’s all said and done we need more. We as followers of Jesus have him as our shepherd. We are in this life together, but each one of us are inescapably on our separate journeys. No one can know us inside out except God.

Note that this psalm is expressed with an individual faith. One could well say that the Lord is our shepherd. But in this most well known of psalms, God is called “my shepherd.”

I think that’s helpful. There’s no escape from the fact that we live in our own private world. We have our own thoughts and feelings. We want to enter into the life of others in community, but we do so inevitably as individuals. Doing so can help us change for good. But we never lose our own individuality. As Dallas Willard wrote/said, something like we’re to become like what Jesus would be if he were us. In so doing we’re moving toward the fullness and completion of the realization of what God created us to be. But that’s as Jesus would be if he were Mary or John, or you or I.

The Lord is our shepherd, God is our shepherd in Jesus (John 10). Yes. And the Lord is “my” shepherd. I can count on that today and every day, no matter what, to the end. In and through Jesus.

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my go to passage nowadays

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Psalm 23

Life is utterly crazy in a good number of ways. I wish it was more laid back and less eventful, really. That’s true at home, as well as in the news we’re inundated with. Life comes crashing in. And for some of us, the life inside has not been any kind of paradise. Really, just the opposite. We press on, but in spite of raging voices or feelings inside of us.

I’m finding for myself that Psalm 23 is becoming my go to passage from the Bible nowadays. Something I keep repeating it over and over again, praying about it, until finally it seems to take hold and become part of my own experience. Or even if it doesn’t.

I’m just a sheep in need of the good Shepherd. That doesn’t excuse me, or any wrongdoing. In fact, that gives me hope that no matter how I might get off track for a moment, or even more, the Lord is present to help me, to be my help. That he loves me no matter what. I’m one of his sheep.

That gives me all the hope I need in the faith and love that is in Jesus.

is God my shepherd?

A psalm of David.

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Psalm 23

“Lord” in “the Lord is my shepherd” is an English translation capitalized in most English versions when it translates “Yahweh,” the personal Hebrew name for God. Of course in the New Testament Jesus is revealed as the human who not only enacts this, but does so because he in fact is the God-human. So what is meant in Psalm 23 is God, and later that is fulfilled in Jesus, certainly true of the Triune God.

We are called sheep in Scripture, and for good reason. We go astray, are easily lost, and are quite dependent. To understand sheep better would be a good study in itself, but we need to be careful not to press those analogies from Scripture too far. We need to consider them in their contexts in Scripture. No question that sheep in Scripture are said to go astray, to be vulnerable against attackers such as wolves, helpless and harassed in need of a shepherd. And interestingly, sheep know the voice of their shepherd, each of them having their own name so that they’re known individually by their shepherd.

I am glad that this psalm is attributed to David. David was a shepherd early on which prepared him to be king over God’s people. Kings in the best sense of what they were to fulfill were to be shepherds. David was certainly no perfect shepherd, especially evident from his horrific sin involving Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. He had other faults as well. Yet he was a man after God’s own heart, having a heart for the people.

As I recently picked up from Dallas Willard, Psalm 23 is a prime passage to memorize so that one can meditate, reflect and pray through it. I think one can do well to say it again and again, and talk to God about it. Asking God if God really is our shepherd.

Jesus calls himself “the good shepherd” in the classic passage in John 10. He calls his sheep by name and leads them out to find good pasture, even life to the full. And he lays down his life for the sheep.

The psalm is quite personal. God is “my” shepherd. Oftentimes to push against the individualistic emphasis in our culture in which little else matters except for “me and mine,” we neglect the reality that our faith is personal and that God really does care about and for us individually. Each sheep he knows by name. Yes, each of us are dear to the Lord. He knows us through and through, and really does love and care for us.

I don’t like a lot of things about myself, and have struggled to like myself at all. I often just put up with myself. But that’s not what God wants. The Lord wants us to accept the truth that he made each one of us, and that redemption and reconciliation is for each one of us in and through Jesus. In Jesus the shepherd analogy of Scripture fits to a tee. Do we see Jesus and God in Jesus that way?

We must not let go of this. Everything in Psalm 23 is meant for us, yes each one of us, individually. And we need to see it for others as individuals, as well. Each and every line. Here it is again, to be read and pondered and prayed over until it becomes more and more our own in and through Jesus.

A psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

 

the abundant life the Lord speaks of

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10

A post on a recent book led me to think of our Lord’s description of why he came. Jesus speaks of himself as the good shepherd who ultimately lays down his life for his sheep. God is likened to a shepherd to his people in the Old Testament, perhaps the ultimate, certainly must endearing passage being the beloved Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

David who according to the superscription either wrote the psalm, or it somehow is tied to him, knew firsthand what a good shepherd was like since he tended sheep as a boy, having some significant experience in doing so.

Scripture does liken people to sheep, an analogy which was meaningful to many people during Biblical times. Sheep are dependent, and given to self-destructive behavior, in short: rather dumb. They really need a shepherd, and when having a good one, they end up flourishing, taking for granted safety from would be predators, and enjoying green pastures.

While Psalm 23 adeptly focuses on the individual, which is of basic importance, passages in Jeremiah and Ezekiel and our Lord’s words in John 10 focus on the flock. Humans are meant to flourish together. And as we especially see in the passages quoted above, it’s from the Lord that such abundant living takes place.

In this world there’s no way that life always seems good. There is many a pitfall, and sin diminishes the good that is to come out of a love that is meant to be for all. So Jesus’s words about laying down his life for the sheep figure in there. That ends up being necessary for the good of humanity and the world. And while such flourishing begins in this life, its complete fulfillment awaits the next life when heaven and earth become one at Christ’s return in the new creation

But make no mistake, Jesus’s promise of life to the full begins in the here and now. And that beginning is in itself both an indication as well as guarantee of what’s to come. Lived in all its variety of gifts from God in God’s love. In and through Jesus.

what would Jesus do? Jesus is with us by the Spirit

WWJD bracelets used to be worn by quite a few Christians, standing for “What would Jesus do?” That is not a bad question. And in order to try to understand at all what Jesus might do in a given situation, we must certainly be in scripture, particularly in the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And in prayer.

But something that can be missed in this endeavor is the reality that our Lord is indeed with us by the Spirit, that God is present in Jesus. As we seek to hear our Lord’s voice, we should refrain from raising our own voices, or depending on the voices of others. That certainly doesn’t mean that we don’t listen to others, and try to take everything into consideration. But it does mean along with that that we pray and seek the Lord’s voice so that we can somehow grasp something of the Lord’s mind and heart on any given situation.

As Christians, believers and followers of Christ, we are said to have the mind of Christ. But it’s another thing to live by that. Too often we’re moved by our own minds that have been shaped by others who are not necessarily being shaped or moved by God to know God’s will.

Even when we do think we may have something of the mind of Christ, we need to be humble, and realize that we probably don’t have all of it for a given matter. We know in part; we prophesy in part (1 Corinthians 13). Our part might indeed be an important contribution to knowing and sharing in the mind of Christ. We may be getting the heart of the matter completely right. But we need the contribution of others with their different gifts and experiences to contribute to the whole in that.

Something for all of us in Christ and a part of how we’re blessed to be a blessing.

what is the prevailing voice in our lives?

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

John 10:27

Jesus was talking to the Pharisees who saw themselves as the guardians of God’s tradition given to Moses, considered the same by a majority of Jews then. So people who listened to them may have been very well quite religious and faithful to the tradition they were brought up in. But according to Jesus that wasn’t enough. Of course Jesus was present and God had been on the move in a way in which the faith tradition had not anticipated or was prepared for.

But to us today: What are the prevailing voices in our lives? Or the prevailing voice? Often it’s our own voice in tune with voices of the past, often disparaging, and giving us a voice which is anything but helpful most of the time. We never measure up, and at least some of the time are worse than that. And then there are the voices in the world. Today in a near scream, certainly in rage, and it seems with ample justification at times, even if the rage itself is not good.

This gets to the heart of what I hope is a new revolution in my own life: the simple discipline, if you may, of practicing seeking to hear the Lord’s voice. Through the word, particularly while reading the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). With a sense of hearing the Lord’s voice. And with a focus set on listening for the Lord’s voice, so that my focus is not on my own voice and thoughts, nor on someone else’s.

I have found this particularly edifying the last few days. Like so many things that may seem to be revolutionary and helpful, they all tend to fade away in time, maybe leaving some kind of impact on one, but lost and gone. But this “discipline” might last as long as I can keep up the practice by God’s grace.

This can certainly help us to pray for others, to bring them to God’s throne because we’re living in response to the voice of the Lord, and not having our spiritual life drowned out by our own voice and many other voices.

But this does not shield us from struggles, pitfalls, and wrongdoing. But God’s grace is present always as we go back to this: listening to the voice of the Lord, the Good Shepherd who loves us, his sheep.

trusting in the Lord when faced with difficulty

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
    In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?

Psalm 56:3-4

The Lord prayed the psalms, as is evident when he was on the cross. Perhaps this was one passage he prayed during the course of his life on earth. It is certainly apt for us, although our circumstances will likely be different than were that of the psalmist. But the crux of the matter, facing opposition, or something which threatens are well being can be the same.

Being afraid is a part of life. Our bodies when healthy feel pain through the nerve endings in place. That is protective. It’s not like all fear is bad. One evangelical evangelist said that to be afraid and trust in the Lord is good, but to trust in the Lord and not be afraid is better. Maybe so, but I don’t see the two that way myself. I do think we can go through them as stages, the first being the initial fear we naturally have over something overcome by trusting the Lord. The second simply being our disposition and choice, based on faith in God and God’s word, his promises to us.

How we face perceived danger might be the question. Faith insists that it will be alright in the end (see Psalm 23), no matter what we have to walk through. God is with us in Jesus, and will protect us.

Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

It may not be fun to walk through, but the Lord will be with us no matter what. The rod and staff in the Psalm was an instrument of the shepherd to gently guide the sheep, and to protect them from danger. We can gather from that thought that God will guide us and protect us from danger, from falling off the cliff, or going off by ourselves as if we can take care of it, or maybe simply out of fear. The Good Shepherd (John 10) will be present to keep us on track and comfort us.

Trusting in God must be our present and default position. I mean that whether things are okay, or not, we need to trust in the Lord. And at times we will need to renew that commitment, at other times simply grasp and hold on to it for dear life. But no matter what we face or ultimately have to walk through, we can know that God will be present with us to help us in and through Jesus to the very end.