Reading just the first two verses of Psalm 23 reveals a good God who promises to shepherd you personally towards contentment and rest amidst an environment that is dangerous and uncertain. The Psalmist emphasizes that this abundance includes the physical, but also surpasses it, by saying that this shepherd “restores my soul” (23:3).
Psalm 23 assumes you know that shepherding happened in a wilderness with rugged terrain, wild animals, thieves and even flash floods. This kind of difficult environment is where Jesus the Shepherd promises to be with us, lead us and fill us with goodness.
When I travelled to Israel some years ago I went looking for the green pastures (and the girls with bonnets) that I envisioned from the Christian bookstore posters I had seen growing up. But the time of year that I went to Israel was quite dry, as it often is, so the wilderness was rocky and arid. I had to be reminded that the work of a shepherd was most often not an easy one. Not only did he (or she) have to fight off wild animals looking to feed on the sheep, but the topography of the land might not be advantageous to easily keeping them alive. A good shepherd not only had the heart to provide abundant pastures to feed on, he had the skills to find enough food to keep the sheep alive. God is portrayed in Psalm 23 as a generous shepherd whose sheep have had their fill to eat. They can lie down because they’re full. They’re resting because they’ve feasted abundantly on what the shepherd provided.
Believing that God offers a life that lacks nothing might be theologically simple for some, but for everybody there comes a time when our daily lives clearly don’t feel like a life of abundance. We get a cancer diagnosis. We lose our sobriety. The investment doesn’t work out. A relationship sours. Depression comes back. Our leadership is criticized. A rumor spreads. An unjust rule hinders us. When life seems to crumble, where is this “life without lack” that Psalm 23 offers?
The picture I get of Jesus as I read Psalm 23 (and the Gospels) is one of a brave shepherd who leads a suffering people through dark valleys, securing people with love so they can do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with Yahweh (Micah 6:8). I hope this picture of the Suffering Shepherd both comforts you amidst challenges and confronts you to be a better leader.
When you do usually hear Psalm 23? Most often you will hear it recited as part of a funeral, emphasizing God’s presence and ongoing care of the one who has died. You would be hard pressed to find Psalm 23 in a wedding! But it’s nevertheless unfortunate that Psalm 23 gets relegated primarily to funerals because it really is a Psalm for everyday life. We need Yahweh not only as we transition from this earth, we need him as a Kingly Shepherd every day.
King Jesus not only demands our total commitment, he provides a place of rest for the weary. This commitment to have Jesus rule my life begins with and is sustained by taking refuge in this good and powerful king.
Psalm 2 is the only place in the Old Testament where God’s Messiah, God’s king and God’s Son are all spoken of in one place. Christians cannot help but think of Jesus when they read this Psalm. All the other kings must answer to this one true king (Psalm 2:6), God’s own son (Psalm 2:7), the anointed (Psalm 2:2). Psalm 2 paints a picture of a king who expects his followers to daily submit their little kingdoms under his lordship.
Knowing that you aren’t the messiah of your company, your ministry, your family or your community is a good thing! John modeled and Patrick lived what all followers of Jesus should aspire to be: humble servants who know that the only joy in life is found by submitting to Jesus, our humble Lord.
Our leadership may call us to confront some kind of system, power or authority in order to do what’s best for the people and organizations we serve.