A Psalm of David. The LORD [is] my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 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 runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.
~Psalm 23, NKJV
I remember my dad reciting this Psalm at my grandfather’s funeral. Pretty common practice, I think, except my dad made it personal. He spoke as if he were speaking to God, not reciting to a group of mourners.
Ever wonder if something has become too familiar? I grew up in Colorado, at the base of the majestic Rocky Mountains. I’d lived in those mountains during the early part of my childhood. But I didn’t really appreciate their glory until I was an adult living on the Great Plains of Nebraska. Back when I was a kid, they were the peaks in my back yard. Now they are the astonishing handy-work of God, and every chance I get to go hiking is like an intensive one-on-one conference between me and my Creator.
I think Psalm 23 may be like that. Churched all my life, I’ve heard it. A lot. But this week, what if we hike through it? What if we take a stroll near those still waters? Come to know that rod and staff that are comforting? Taste the goodness and mercy David spoke of?
Maybe it will become more than a backdrop in the yard of our faith. Are you up for it?
I am. If we begin at the base of this mountain, we begin with the first sentence and the premise of the whole psalm: The Lord is my shepherd.
When I first moved to West Africa, we lived in the midst of a stunning rainforest dotted with tiny villages connected by rough dirt roads. Each village was overflowing with livestock of every kind, including sheep. But no one shepherded them. They just wondered around as they pleased, mingling with the goats and chickens and ducks and guinea fowl.
As my husband and I drove our truck over all the bumps and rocks between the villages, the animals scurried out of the road, except for the sheep. They just stood there, looking blankly at the pickup, oblivious to the fact that we could squash them. Undoubtedly, they were the stupidest of all the creatures there. I’d often ask my husband, as we laid on the horn trying to urge one from our path, “Why in the world don’t the Africans shepherd these things?”
I, too, need a shepherd. Without one, I will blithely walk in front of oncoming trucks. I will make unwise life decisions. I will choose to stop and nibble on the tuft of grass in the middle of the road. I will seek to meet my immediate needs without considering the long-term consequences.
And the awe-inspiring thing is that God himself has taken the job. The Creator of the Universe has decided to guide me, to keep me safe, to shepherd me.
May we stand at the base of the mountain and just marvel about Who our shepherd is today.