Life has been hard lately, and I've found myself clinging to Psalm 23. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He lies me down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul."
Oh, that sounds so good. But if I'm truly honest, I don't feel those things most of the time. I know it's available, but I don't feel the peace and the nourishment and the restoration of my soul. But I surely do feel that valley. I feel like an antsy sheep, not at peace to lie down. And there are lots of things I want. Lots. And I think, am I doing something wrong?
No, I don't think so. The more I read my Bible, the more I see the struggles that all our Bible heroes had in their lives. Their times of struggle and hardship, and sometimes waiting decades for God's plan to come through. It does, but not without some pain. And I believe they trust God, but they're not necessarily feeling Him close by and restoring their soul every single step of the way. But praise the Lord, He is there through it all.
Jesus said in John 10:11 that He was the good shepherd and a good shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. Before we even existed, before we even knew of Him and were saved, He was looking out for us and protecting us. He did so by dying on the cross so that we would be saved. And also safe under His care.
John 10:14 Jesus says "I am the Good Shepherd and I know my own and they know me." If God and Jesus are our Good Shepherd, that means that we are the sheep. We're not just one in a gazillion sheep that God looks after. No, He knows us each by name. He knows the desires of our heart Psalm 37:4 and how many hairs are on our head Luke 12:7. He has our name engraved on His hand Isaiah 49:16. There is an intimate knowledge of us as individuals. He knows us better than we know ourselves. There is a peace in knowing He knows us, and He cares about us, and He loves us.
Sheep are not very smart animals. They can't defend themselves. They can't find their own food or water. They won't rest when they need to. Their wool will get so heavy they can't even move. And the flies and other bugs will bother their eyes and ears and nostrils so much that the sheep will bash their heads against rocks and trees to find relief. It may not sound attractive to say that we are sheep, but when we're struggling with anxiety and fear, we are definitely just like those sheep.
According to Psalm 23, we see that God is our Good Shepherd, providing us with everything we need. Remember, we are the sheep, the ones who are supposed to follow, not lead and control the outcome of situations we are worried about. But if we just rest in the fact that we have a Good Shepherd, who loves us so very much that He would die for us and will provide us with everything we need, that kind of perfect love drives out all fear 1 John 4:18. Rest in His love, and watch the rest and the guidance and the comfort and the provision fall into place by our loving Shepherd.
Psalm 23:1 God provides us with everything we need. Not always everything we want, but everything we need. Tell God your worries and your needs, and He will provide you with the strength to continue, and provide you and your family with what they need in His own way in His own timing. It's a beautiful thing letting Him be in control.
Psalm 23:2 God provides us with the rest we need. If you're feeling exhausted, go to God, and be still and know that He is God Psalm 46:10. You'll find your mind calming. Your spirit calming. You'll be reminded of God's love for you. And you'll find rest.
Psalm 23:3 God provides us with a clear path when we're feeling confused. If you are unsure of what path to take, or if you're on the wrong path, tell God about your concerns and your worries. You'll find that the very path you are on is one that God has guided you to and will use for His glory. It'll lead to your God-given destiny, or it will lead you to a dead-end which will lead you to a mighty breakthrough and another path.
Psalm 23:4 God provides us with protection and comfort. The shepherd would use the rod and the staff to guide, care for, and protect his sheep. Although we may long to hear God's voice and see His presence in person, we are guided by God's word in the Bible, the stirrings in our soul from the Holy Spirit, the words of others in our lives, and His never ending presence in our lives. We are never alone and unequipped with God by our side. If we are feeling fearful, uncertain, or lost, just know that He has given us tools to guide and care for us as well.
Psalm 23:5a God provides us with protection, even when He feels far away. The mention of the shepherd preparing a table refers to not a physical table that we would eat on, but rather a high plateau in the mountains. A shepherd would go up to the table before leading his sheep there to make sure there were no enemies for the sheep, as well as removing any poisonous weeds the sheep might eat and finding out where food and water sources for the sheep were. So if you are feeling like God is far away, if you are feeling unsure of what is going on around you, just know that God is preparing something good for you. It could be something in your future, or it might not be until you are in heaven, but God has not forgotten about you and not stopped providing for you. He is a good God that can be trusted.
Psalm 23:5b God provides us with protection and purpose through anointing. A shepherd would anoint a sheep's head with oil that would keep away the bugs that would get into a sheep's eyes, ears and nostrils and drive the sheep mad. Similarly, God can cover over the lies we believe, the doubts we have with His truth. Also, an anointing would come to set someone apart from a task. For example, David was anointed to be the next king in front of his older brothers. That kind of anointing protects him in his calling and helps him stay confidently on the path God set for him, instead of comparing his calling to others and feeling anxious about it. If you're feeling doubts and lies about your identity and your calling, ask God for peace and an anointing of His truth upon your anxious thoughts.
Psalm 23:6 God provides us with His love and companionship forever. God has been with us every day of our lives and will to the end of time. He will always be there for us and one day, when we get to heaven, we will get to see His face and hear His voice in person. How awesome is that?
If you found this encouraging, I highly recommend you read A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm and A Shepherd Looks at the Good Shepherd by Phillip Keller. In those books I learned about the purpose of the anointing with oil and about the shepherd preparing a table and many other aspects of the shepherding/sheep relationship that greatly impacted my faith.