THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD
Key Verse: 23:1
“THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD, I LACK NOTHING”
Good morning. How was your Thanksgiving Day? I hosted my in-laws and enjoyed good food and fellowship. Missionary Tunde used to deliver our Thanksgiving messages. His family used to go to his mother-in law’s house and celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Shepherdess Folake said he ate the food and went upstairs to work on his message. This time I had to prepare this Thanksgiving message and could understand him. It wasn’t easy for me to struggle with God’s word but as I meditated on this psalm God has given me his blessings.
Psalm 23 is King David’s poem. In this psalm, he confesses that God is his shepherd and describes all the things God has done for him as his shepherd. He sings the joy and happiness of having God as his shepherd. David expresses God’s abundant blessings and his goodness and love he received from his shepherd. Based on his past experiences on God’s mercy and love he makes a decision to continue to live with him forever. Do you want to be happy and joyful? Then, let’s find out what God has done for us as our shepherd.
Let’s read verse 1. “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” David declares that God is his shepherd and he himself is God’s sheep. This shows what kind of relationship he has with God. David was a shepherd boy who took care of his father’s flock. So, he knew exactly what he meant when he said the Lord was his shepherd. A sheep and shepherd relationship is very close and intimate. David doesn’t call God “our shepherd” but MY shepherd. David’s relationship with God is very personal.
Let’s read verse 1 once again. “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” David says that he lacks nothing. Wow! Who can say “I lack nothing”? I asked this question to missionary Joshua during Monday night group Bible study. I expected him to say “I lack nothing” since God has given him so much. But surprisingly he said, “I lack something.” He didn’t tell us what it was. We live in a world of material abundance. We possess so many things. But if we compare ourselves with others who are a little richer we feel lacking something. We feel we don’t have enough money. We wish to have a better paying job. We wish to have this and that. Because of this sense of deficiency, we are not happy while living in material abundance. When we are stuck with one thing we wish to have, our eyes can be blinded to see God’s love and goodness for us. How could David say “I lack nothing?” Did he say this because he was a king who had lots of gold? I don’t think so. David could say this because he had God as his shepherd. David experienced God’s personal provision, guidance and protection as his shepherd. He experienced God’s personal care, goodness and love for his life. When David remembered everything God had done for him he couldn’t but confess “God is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” David felt God’s goodness and love were fully sufficient so he had nothing more to ask from God.
In order to understand the background of this Psalm I read a book titled “A shepherd looks at Psalm 23”. This book was written by W. Philip Keller who was a Christian writer and lay pastor. He owned a sheep ranch and raised sheep for many years. In this book, he describes how a good shepherd takes care of his sheep. I’d like to quote some of his writings to help us to understand this Psalm. Verses 2 through 5 describe what God did for David as his shepherd.
Let’s read verse 2. “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters”.
How peaceful it is! The strange thing about sheep is that they won’t lie down unless four requirements are met. Owing to their timidity they refuse to lie down unless they are free from all fear. Sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with other sheep. When you look at sheep they naïve and gentle. But they fight with each other. A strong sheep crashes his head against other sheep to get better grass. They won’t lie down if tormented by flies or parasites. Lastly, sheep will not lie down as long as they are hungry. If they are hungry they keep on moving in search of food. In order for sheep to be at rest there must be a definite sense of freedom from fear, tension, aggravation, and hunger. A good shepherd knows all these problems and does things necessary for his sheep. He applies oil on their heads to protect his sheep from flies and parasites. He protects his sheep from the predators. He leads his sheep to green pastures to eat fresh grass and drink clean water. The shepherd provides everything his sheep need and takes all measures to protect his sheep. Most of all, the shepherd’s presence gives his sheep the most comfortable and safest atmosphere that his sheep can lie down and relax. I learned from my experience of having a dog. Whenever I and my wife sit on a sofa my dog comes to us and begins to chew a bone. It is the same with human beings. When we are full of fear God comforts us and assures us not to be afraid. He also provides all our needs, both physical and spiritual, so that we may be content and live in satisfaction and peace. Unlike animals we have spiritual hunger and thirst. When we come to him our good shepherd satisfies our spiritual hunger and quenches our spiritual thirst. Jesus says in John 6:35 “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Last Friday night seven MDJ members shared their 20 thanksgiving topics. Missionary John Ha was one of them. He began to work at NIH about 10 months ago. He said that he was afraid of his boss because his boss had threatened to fire him. So, whenever he couldn’t understand his boss’ words and didn’t produce results he was afraid of being fired. Then he memorized and held onto one Bible verse –2 Chronicles 15:7 “But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” Wow! How could he find the verse? I didn’t know if the verse even exists until I heard from his last Friday. He also began to read the Bible, 3 chapters a day. Then his boss rebuked him less and less and he began to produce some results. Then his boss’ attitude toward him began to change and she began to treat him kindly. God helped him to overcome the fear of his boss. He also shared how God has provided all necessary things for him and his family. God gave him a new car to commute, a house to live in, co-workers to study God’s word and have fellowship. God gave physical healing to his family. God gave him a new notebook and new phone and many other things. He was full of thanks to God who provided for all his physical and spiritual needs. Last Wednesday during my fellowship group Bible study I asked Missionary Tunde: “Can you say ‘I lack nothing?’” Surprisingly he answered, “I lack nothing because God has given me everything I need.” He said that when he came to America he had only $40 dollars in his pocket. But God has provided everything he needs including two grants this year; one grant to attend a conference in Barcelona, the beautiful city in Spain and another for him to focus on thesis writing for his Ph.D. His advisor gave him a grant so that he doesn’t have to work but only write his Ph.D thesis.
Let’s read verse 3. “He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” This verse has two parts. First, “he refreshes my soul”. The old version of the NIV says “He restores my soul.” At first, refreshing and restoring seem to have two different meanings. But when I checked the meaning of ‘refresh’ I found it also means to ‘restore’. How does God refresh and restore our soul? “David, the author of this psalm knew what it is to be downcast and dejected. He experienced a feeling of hopelessness and without strength in himself. In Psalm 42:11 he cried out, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God….” Now there is an exact parallel to this in caring for sheep. Sheep are often turned over on their back and can’t get up again by themselves. They are called “cast sheep”. A cast sheep is a very pathetic sight. Lying on its back, its feet in the air, it frantically struggles to stand up but without success. In a very hot and sunny day a cast sheep can die in a few hours. If the shepherd doesn’t find the cast sheep soon, it can be a prey for its predators such as vultures and coyotes. We are like this cast sheep who often stumble and fall. Sometimes we feel downcast and hopeless. We become weary and burdened with many concerns and struggles in our life. But Christ comes and gently lifts our soul with his word and spirit so that we can get back up, stand and walk. God refreshes and restores our hearts and souls through his word. He renews our spirits and strengthens us to challenge our difficulties again. Psalm 56:13 reads “For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God.”
Shepherdess Therese said that whenever she prays to God her soul and spirit is lifted up and she is filled with joy. Shepherdess Folake works night shifts, sometimes four nights in a row. She also takes care of three active children. She can become easily tired and weary. But she said, “My Bible study time is my rest. The word of God refreshes my spirit and soul and body.” I experience the same thing. Sometimes my heart was troubled and heavy before attending Monday night bible study. But through studying God’s word my heart was uplifted and restored. I remember one day my work was not going well. I was frustrated and was afraid of losing my job. My heart was heavy and troubled and I attended the bible study. But during the bible study I heard God’s voice through Isaiah 7:4 “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart.” God seemed to speak to me directly and I held onto these words and nothing bad happened. God has refreshed and restored our soul through his word we hear early in the morning and Sundays. How different it is before and after we study and hear God’s word! God refreshes and restores our soul.
Second, “he guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake”. Sheep are notorious creatures of habit. If left to themselves, they will follow the same trails until they become ruts; graze the same hills until they turn to desert waste; pollute their own ground until it is infected with disease and parasites. In order to prevent all these problems a shepherd moves his sheep from pasture to pasture periodically. Our behavior, patterns, and life habits are so much like those of sheep. Scripture points out that most of us are like stiff-necked and stubborn sheep. We prefer to follow our own fantasies and turn to our own ways. Isaiah 53:6 says “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” And this we do deliberately, repeatedly, even to our own harm. Just as sheep will blindly, habitually and stupidly follow one another so we humans cling to the same habits that we have seen ruin other lives. Turning to our own way simply means doing what we want. And this we do in spite of every warning. The difficult point is that most of us don’t want to follow. We don’t want to be led in the path of righteousness. Somehow it goes against our nature. We actually prefer to turn to our own way even though it may take us straight into trouble. So many times, we are led astray from following our shepherd. We are led astray because we follow our instinct not our shepherd’s voice. Then we get lost and wander in sin. A lot of times we don’t even realize we are in the wrong path and don’t foresee the serious dangers waiting for us. And even if we know the danger we keep on going on our way to destruction. But our shepherd comes after us and finds us and brings us back to him. He helps us to realize that we are in the wrong and dangerous path and gives us warnings to turn back. He convicts us of our sins so that we can repent and turn to him and follow him again.
Why does God do all these things? He does these things not just for our well-being and happiness. God has a bigger reason. He does these so that we can live for his name’s sake; his honor and glory. This is why whenever we stumble and fall he restores us again and again. This is why even though we go astray from him numerous times he doesn’t give up on us and brings us back to him. David was a great king in Israel. But while he was king he committed terrible sins; adultery and murder. God sent the prophet Nathan and helped him to repent. Then God forgave his sins and restored him so that he could be the shepherd for his people. Like David we all stumble and fall. We fall into temptations and wallow in our sin. But God forgives our sins and restores us again and again so that we can live for him and his glory. In Romans 1:5 apostle Paul says, “Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith for his name’s sake.”
Let’s read verse 4. “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.” Sheep stay in their ranch during winter and spring. Then the sheep travel to a high mountain during summer. And the best route to the top is always through the valleys. It is because there is refreshing water along the way through a stream and generally the choicest meadows are in these valleys along the streams’ banks. I remember when I used to climb mountains following the stream in the valley. The sheep can feed as they move toward the high mountain. The valley floor itself may be in dark shadow with the sun seldom reaching the bottom except for a few hours around noon. While this is the best route there are dangers too. Predators like coyotes, wolves, or cougars can take cover in these broken cliffs and prey on the flock. These valleys can be subject to sudden storms and flash floods that send walls of water rushing down the slopes. There could be rock slides and a dozen other natural disasters that could destroy or injure the sheep. But in spite of such hazards the shepherd knows that this is still the best way to take his flock to the high country. He spares himself no pains or trouble or time to keep an eye out for any danger that might develop. David, the author of this psalm walked through many dark valleys, valleys with the shadow of death. King Saul who was his father-in-law attempted to kill him several times by throwing a spear at him in a short range. David and his men were almost caught by Saul’s army. During a battle, David was about to be killed by a Philistine warrior. David said to his friend Jonathan “Death is one step away from me.” Can you imagine his life? But God was with him and rescued him and protected him from all his enemies.
What could be our darkest valley? There are many kinds of dark valleys. Some of them could be an uncertain future, failing classes, fear of losing our job, fear of losing our loved ones, etc. When we go through these dark valleys the sky looks dark. We become fearful and desperate. We don’t see an exit or any human help in sight. But in these dark times when we turn to God and seek him through his word God will speak to us. Then we will realize that God knows our problems and what we go through. This realization itself is great. Jesus says, “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” When we realize that God knows what we go through the whole prospect changes. We can find strength and courage to walk through every crisis and every chilling circumstance of life. It is most reassuring and comforting for us to discover that, even in the dark valleys, God knows our problems and he is there with us.
Shepherd David Brogi has walked through many dark valleys. One time he fell from a tree and almost died. But God healed him miraculously and he recovered. Then, a few years ago, he was diagnosed with melanoma cancer behind his left ear. He had an operation and it was removed. Then he was told that the ear cancer had spread to his lung. The tumor was getting bigger in his lung and it was getting harder for him to breathe especially at night. He felt the power of death over him. Then he began to read the Bible and the word of God touched his heart, especially Psalm 73:25-26. “Whom have I in heaven but you and earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” When he read these verses, he was greatly encouraged. He learned that when God is his strength he can overcome the fear of the failure of his body. He received the assurance that God alone, now and forever, is his glory and portion. He said, “We know God is all good, God is everything. We are so blessed to be with him forever.” God also helped me to overcome the fear of losing a loved one. One night I was laying on my bed and I felt the power of the devil overwhelming me through fear. I was helpless not knowing how to overcome it. Then I could remember John 11:25 and 26. “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” When I held onto these verses suddenly the power of the devil that overwhelmed me disappeared and I could sleep well. There have been numerous occasions that I was in fear of something. But God spoke to me again and again through his words and assured me and comforted me. While walking through many dark valleys David, the author of this psalm, experienced God’s presence and protection and came to trust in him. He says, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and staff comfort me.” I recommend you memorize this psalm and keep on meditating on it. If you can’t memorize I’d like to recommend you to memorize just one verse which is verse 4. When we walk in darkest valleys in our life we can remember that God is with us and we will fear no evil.
Look at verse 5. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Now the sheep led by the shepherd almost reach the top of the mountain which is called a ‘table land’. A table land is a broad level elevated area. Normally the shepherd doesn’t take his sheep right into this area. He goes before the sheep and surveys and prepares the table land. He checks if the place has any poisonous plants. If there are he avoids the place or removes them. Another task the attentive shepherd takes on is to keep an eye out for predators. He will look for signs of wolves, coyotes, cougars, and bears. If these raid or molest the sheep, he will have to hunt them down or trap them so that his flock can rest in peace. It is only his preparation that can possibly save the sheep from being slaughtered and panicked by their predators. David had many enemies who tried to take away his life. But God rescued him and protected him and gave him victories over all his enemies. God subdued all his enemies before him. Then God honored him and made him king of Israel so that he could be the shepherd for God’s people. David received God’s abundant blessings. David was so thankful that God chose him and blessed him so much. So, he says, “my cup overflows”. As God chose David he also chose us as his people and blessed us through our good shepherd Jesus. Jesus came as our good shepherd so that we have life to the fullest. Our good shepherd Jesus laid down his life for us so that we may be saved and have eternal life. Not only has he saved us but he has also used us for his work and blessed us abundantly. When I heard our co-worker’s 20 thanksgiving topics I could see how much God has blessed them and used their life for his glory. Because we have God and Jesus as our good shepherd we are happy and thankful. Amen. Like David we should also say, “My cup overflows.”
Let’s read verse 6. “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.” Verse 6 is a summary of everything David has said so far. David experienced God’s goodness, mercy and unfailing love for him throughout his life. Based on his past experiences on God’s grace and mercy he is confident that God’s goodness and love will continue to follow him all the days of his life. And he expresses his longing and decision to live in the house of the Lord forever. After tasting his shepherd’s tender mercy, love and goodness David longs to be with him and live with him in God’s house forever. In John 14 Jesus promised his disciples and us that he will come back and take us to be with him so that we may be where he is. Based on his promise we long to live with him forever in our Father’s house. Our life on earth is not the end and we will live in the house of the Lord forever where our good shepherd lives. I thank and praise God who is our good shepherd. He is our good shepherd who takes care of us and love us. Because God is our shepherd we lack nothing. We are most blessed and happy because of our shepherd God and Jesus.
Let’s read the key verse 1. “The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing.”
[CB1]The shepherd’s ranch? I suggest rewording to clarify