September 8, 2016
Arguably one of the most popular chapters in the Bible, Psalm 23 offers a powerful declaration for David (the author) and God, people in the first line: "The LORD is my shepherd, But what does this mean? The short answer is that God provides for and protects his people, which the psalm delves deeper into as it progresses. What we often struggle to realize is how profound this really is. The God of the universe, the creator and sustainer of all that exists, leans into our lives—our circumstances and problems—and cares for us. It's a staggering thought. Psalm 23 goes to war against our insecurities by displaying a God who loves and cares for us, even in the darkest of all valleys.
This bold statement immediately follows David's proclamation of God being his shepherd. Is that even possible? Never to want again? David says it's not only possible but it's his experience. If God is our shepherd, we lack nothing. He provides all that we really need. This includes not only our physical needs—which are many—but also our spiritual needs. David says that God restores his soul, the one thing we're all desperately in the need of, yet the one thing that the world cannot provide. God even provides us with ultimate purpose, leading us by hand into paths of righteous for the sake of his glorious name. There is no higher calling.
At the center of the psalm is the valley of the shadow of death, holding out a reality we all face: our lives will have valleys. The Bible is unremittingly honest about the brokenness we all face in our lives, yet God promises to be with us—he promises to protect us. Even in the valley of the shadow of death, with eternity looming before us, God promises to comfort us. How does he do this? The cross. John 10:10-11 says that Jesus Christ came as the good shepherd, the culmination of David's psalm, in order to protect us from death. On the cross, Jesus was swallowed up by the shadow of death, so that we would be swallowed up by eternal life.
The psalm comes to an apex at a feast God himself has prepared for his people, before their enemies and with our cups overflowing. This points ahead to the abundant life promised by Jesus for all who would trust him and his work on the cross, these are his sheep who he laid down his life to rescue. The cross says that our lives will be followed by his goodness and mercy and that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. So how do we respond?
First, we trust in Jesus and his work on the cross. We recognize that all we need and long for in this life—and even beyond it—is found in Jesus, our good shepherd. There, nothing this world can offer that is more lasting, more soul restoring, or even more secure than enjoying Jesus as our shepherd and completely resting in him. We need to stop seeking security in the fleeting promises of this world and cling to our good shepherd and his invincible promises.
Second, when we're faced with insecurities and anxieties, we bring them to God. 1 Peter 5:7 says that he will take them because he cares for us, whether they're connected to physical needs or spiritual ones, whether we're seeking protection from our fears or even safety from our own self-destructive sins. God cares for us in all of this, we need only to cast them on him. If he really is our good shepherd, the truth is that we never need to want or fear again.