We probably all feel that we know Psalm 23 off by heart. It’s often read or sung at funerals, and used to be popular at weddings because the Queen chose it for her wedding. It’s a psalm that is an affirmation that God will provide for us during our life – it’s for while we’re living, not just when we’re dead.
It’s a psalm that’s is very personal. There is no “we” or “us” or “they,” but only “my” and “me” and “I” and “he” and “you.” It is a psalm that comforts us, but at the same time it also empowers us.
What I want to say tonight that this psalm tells us of six different ways that God empowers us, and they all begin with “P”.
“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.”
The psalm reminds us that God provides for us. God gives us all that we need. Not all that we want, or all that we desire, but all that we need. Enough to make it through life.
Psalm 23 tells us that the Lord is our Shepherd, so we shall not lack. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus pointed to the birds and the flowers and noted that if God feeds and clothes them, won’t God do the same for his very own children?
“He lets me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.”
The psalm reminds us that God also empowers us by giving us peace. God continues to lead us, and his leadership provides peace. Peace doesn’t just mean calm, or lack of fighting. In Christian terms, God’s peace is more about coming to a point where we understand that we don’t have to worry. God is going to take care of it, so we can have peace about it. It can be very challenging to accept, but it’s about God giving us peace along the journey.
And it’s personal. God wants to direct us safely to our journey’s end. God’s guidance is practical and patient, directing us in every area, under all circumstances, although it can be very tricky to discern it sometimes, although we can often see it afterwards much easier than we can at the time.
“He renews my life; he leads me along the right paths for his name’s sake.”
If you’ve ever been in a large crowd when you think your child is lost, and you’re calling for them, it’s amazing how the child knows their parent’s voice, even in a crowd. I think we can tune often tune our ears when we’re in danger or confusion, able to know that there is someone we can understand and trust. We know that if we follow Mum or Dad’s voice, it will bring us to safety. We follow for Mum and Dad’s sake because they know the right path, the way home.
Have you ever been in a situation that seemed confusing? Where you looked at the situation and wondered: “How am I going to get through this? I don’t see a clear path.” God empowers you by bringing you along the right path. He leads you for His purposes, because He knows what is good for you.
Perhaps we can find ourselves confused sometimes because there’s so much noise drowning out God’s voice in our lives. Perhaps all the gadgets and noise can distract us. Perhaps we can have a hard time distinguishing what God wants because there’s so much noise in our world, more noise than there’s ever been. So many voices competing for our attention. But I don’t think that is so with God, who leads us along the right paths for his name’s sake.
“Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff —they comfort me.”
The rod was a heavy club the shepherd used to kill predators, and the staff, a long pole with a crook in one end, used to round-up the sheep and to guide them along.
It’s important to notice the reference to god changes from “he” to “you”. When the author comes to the valley of death, he drops the ‘he’ in favour of ‘you’. Perhaps the author was able to look to the prospect of death with peace and tranquillity because he knew that it would mean meeting his glorious shepherd face to face.
It’s easy to talk about God when we’re in the green pasture, but do we tend to cry out to God when we enter some fearful ravine? The psalm reminds us that God’s presence is always with us.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
Is it not one of the hardest times to sense that God is there, even in the presence of my enemies? Yet, God protects us.
“Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.”
The house of the Lord doesn’t mean church, of course, heaven forbid this as good as it gets, but rather that we have a place in heaven with God, safe in his love, forever.
In Psalm 23 we read that God will be our shepherd in the midst of crises. God will accompany us through the valley of the shadow of death. God will protect us when life’s uncertainties and difficulties surround us.
Jesus said that he wanted us to experience what he can do as our Good Shepherd. He wants to lead us, guide us, and protect us. He will give us direction, accompany us through life’s transitions, and comfort us during life’s hard knocks. As sheep know their shepherd’s voice and he knows their every need, so Jesus wants to be recognised by us as the one who knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows how we feel and what we’re going through. He remains close, even during those times when the darkness consumes our soul. He is a faithful provider who promises to meet our needs and even commands us to trust him for our daily bread. For a sheep, nothing conveys greater comfort than to hear the Good Shepherd say, “I am with you always.”