Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
In Part 1, I opened up the topic of the lovely Psalm 23. The 23rd Psalm is one of the most powerful pieces of writing in existence. It is difficult in a modern Western context to fully understand the intimate and tender relationship a Middle Eastern shepherd has with his sheep.
The shepherd lives with his sheep day and night—cares for them as children and calls each by name. It’s a very personal and close relationship, and yet this Psalm has the potential to change your life. Read Psalm 23 slowly—don’t just go through the motions. Think about each phrase—give your mind time to soak up as much of their meaning as possible.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A man is what he thinks about all day long.”
- Norman Vincent Peale said, “Change your thoughts and you change the world.”
- God’s word says in Proverbs 23:7, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”
There’s a version of Psalm 23 called Psalms Now. Here’s what it says:
The Lord is my constant companion,
There is no need that He cannot fulfill.
Whether His course for me points
to the mountaintops of glorious joy
or to the valleys of human suffering,
He is by my side.
He is ever present with me.
He is close beside me
when I tread the dark streets of danger,
and even when I flirt with death itself,
He will not leave me.
When the pain is severe,
He is near to comfort.
When the burden is heavy,
He is there to lean upon.
When depression darkens my soul,
He touches me with eternal joy.
When I feel empty and alone,
He fills the aching vacuum with His power.
My security is in His promise
to be near me always
and in the knowledge
that He will never let me go.
Why has Psalm 23 become such a powerful and helpful reading? My guess is that if you’ve been to a funeral, the minister had read out this Psalm.
Jesus, the Shepherd, provides for all our needs
It’s because words matter. Think of the affirming power of the words “I love you” or the paralysing effect on a child who is repeatedly told “you are stupid”. The words of Psalm 23, written 3,000 years ago, still have a powerful affect.
Why have these words so easily crossed centuries and cultures? Why have they been made a centrepiece for some of life’s critical moments? Psalm 23 reminds me that life has its uncertainties, reversals and fears. There are times when our own resources, wisdom and strength are inadequate. In those times, we need not despair. God, through Jesus, not only knows us, but cares for and guides us. There is a way through our difficulties that will bring us past the trauma of the moment.
The Lord is my shepherd (Verse 1): There is a power greater than ours, and we’d best let God be the Shepherd. (In Hebrew this means ‘Jehovah Rohe’: Jehovah my shepherd)
I shall not be in want (Verse 1): The point we miss often here is that God provides all we need. In the course of my life, God will provide. Do you believe that?
David the Psalmist recommends that we adopt a ‘pre-commitment to contentment’. What does that mean?
He restores my soul (Verse 3): Life comes to us at a dizzying pace, with difficult schedules. We are bombarded by the need to do more, have more, and be more. But our Shepherd has something else entirely in mind. He invites us to lie down in green pastures and stroll leisurely by quiet waters. Refreshment, rest and renewal are waiting.
- Where is your favourite place of rest where you are most at home and comfortable?
- What is it about this place that brings you peace and comfort?
- What does inner rest mean to you? Do you allow yourself the rest you need for your body to do its job?
- What burdens have you been carrying that you can lay down today? What offers of help have you refused?
‘Green pastures’ suggests we treat our body with care. Do you? This week, take time for quiet rest every single day. Don’t feel guilty for not being ‘productive’. You need this time by the quiet waters. Rest your body, your emotions and your spirit as you focus on Jesus the Good Shepherd.
Did you know that wrong mental attitudes and unhealed hurts can affect you to such a degree that they can actually suppress the sense of God’s presence within your soul? Selwyn Hughes in Every Day with Jesus (7 June 2004) writes:
When I entered the Christian ministry more than 50 years ago, I found that despite my theological training there were some people I could not help. They came to me and said “I know I am a Christian, but there are times when God’s presence seems to leave me. I am overcome by feelings of deep loneliness and sadness. I have asked God to forgive my sins. I am not conscious of anything in my life that is dishonouring to Him. These feelings seem to come out of nowhere without any reason. Can you help me?” I was lost—but then I stumbled upon the answer. They had some unhealed hurt from the past, some disturbing memory that had been repressed, or some wrong attitude that was not corrected.
The Good Shepherd helps us see the inner wounds—we all have them. God helped David face his sin, get his heart right with his God and with others.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, what a wonderful promise.
(To be continued in The Good Shepherd, Part 3)