Christians are so familiar with Psalm 23 – the Shepherd’s Song, that best known psalm of David.
Genuine shepherds care so much. Here’s a powerful reminder of our relationship with Jesus, the greatest shepherd. It gives Christians a secure hope in our God and encourages us to trust every aspect of life to our Lord built on a meaningful and powerful relationship.
Even countless non-Christians are aware of this precious psalm. Decades ago when purchasing a used car on learning of our ministry involvements, the salesman remarked, ‘I don’t go to church myself but I ensure my kids do – they know more about the Bible that I can do. But I do remember one thing from my own Sunday school days … the Shepherd’s Song!’
And how often is this psalm featured at funerals! Even when we’ve taken non-churchgoers’ funerals, the family has requested Psalm 23 be read.
It’s been a joy in recent weeks to remind troubled Christians about the depths of Psalm 23, even the first verse alone, and to help put their hearts at ease.
And what a delight to hear the local vicar share some of the deep, wonderful truths of this psalm last Sunday! He had attenders hungry for more enlightenment over the coming weeks.
Here’s two incidents we ourselves have been sharing recently … mine first, then Maureen’s.
‘You must dare to proclaim this, Robert!’
Having been raised in Anglicanism, I went to Sunday school. Almost immediately I was instructed to learn by heart not only the creeds but the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23.
Yes I knew the Shepherd’s Song, even at a very early age! But not in a personal way…not until a few years later as a very young man – married, anxious, unsure of himself.
It happened this way. Wendy, then our precious little daughter knocked down by a car, had been miraculous saved from death. Caring friends invited us to their local Congregational church under the outstanding Bible teaching of the renowned Sam Workman.
One Sunday ‘The Reverend’ (as he was regularly called by the hundreds who loved him and his down-to-earth ministry) was absent due to a bad ‘flu. For some reason I felt to visit him at the manse both to encourage him and to introduce myself.
Little did I know the unexpected conversation that ensued would change my life and spark off my ministry development!
I found him welcoming but croaky and didn’t want to stay long. But suddenly he unexpectedly asked: ‘Robert, I normally tell the children a Bible story with a challenge but I can’t next Sunday. Could you tell one?’
What? Utterly surprised, I’m thrown! I’m the new kid on the church block. I’ve haven’t been to Bible college never mind stand up on the high podium and try to speak to hundreds of kids, never mind the large crowd of adults like the minister did so confidently. I was instantly shaken and petrified!
But something was stirring within (the Holy Spirit?). Hesitantly I responded, ‘Oh, I think so…but, although I’m a manager in the business world, I’m very shy, very backward – I’ve never spoken to a crowd before. Oh, I don’t know…’
The Reverend just smiled and asked, ‘Have you ever read The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale?’ to which I responded, ‘No.’ He leaned forward and looked me straight in the eye and asked, ‘Okay then. Do you know what does Psalm 23, verse one says?’
Instantly I responded smiling, ‘Of course. Leaned it as a child….”The Lord is my shepherd.”’
‘Do you believe that, Robert?’ he quizzed, to which I, taken aback slightly, said rather quietly, ‘Of course.’
Then, with penetrating eyes, he added a challenge that I’ve never forgotten, ‘Robert, if you dare to proclaim that “The Lord is my shepherd” then you must also dare to proclaim the rest of verse one – “I shall not want.” You cannot say the first part without saying the rest!’
The penny drops!
Mesmerised, I sat back drinking into my thirsty heart the depths of this declaration. Suddenly the light came on, shining within as it were, and I understood something I hadn’t before. So simple, profound, meaningful and encouraging.
I’d heard of I Dared to Call Him Father, by Bilquis Sheikh – converted to Christ from Islam. Now I was challenged to dare call Jesus my shepherd and that I wouldn’t lack anything!
I did – and I left the manse that day a new creation in Christ! Never again would I say that I was too timid to do anything for Jesus. I told the kid’s story the following Sunday – even used my artistic gift to draw it on six large cards. It led to child evangelising almost six nights a week around gospel halls, developing into being the youth leader, going to Bible colleges and ultimately ministering to adults.
To quote that old adage, ‘As they say in the classics, the rest is history.’ How powerful is even the first verse of Psalm 23!
Maureen’s story – a caring God knows everything
Decades later one weekend we travelled from Adelaide way down the Limestone Coast to induct a new Pentecostal minister in a country region and take several meetings. The first one proved an unexpected packed Saturday night venue of people we’d never met.
We both shared, as is our fashion, what God had laid on our hearts. Then we began to minister 1Corinthians 12 style, gifts of the Spirit such as words of knowledge, the prophetic and healings to individuals. Those receiving knew this after-sermon ministry was truly the Lord speaking to their hearts though two strangers who knew nothing about them.
Maureen looked intently at one particular couple, unaware they were the local Methodist minister and his wife. Then caringly and quietly said, ‘This may seem strange but I’m saying it in faith…Psalm 23, Psalm 23, Psalms 23, Psalm 23, Psalm 23. That’s what keeps coming to me repeatedly – Psalm 23.’
To Maureen’s surprise this lady suddenly burst into tears in front of everyone. Sobbing unashamedly she said, ‘Psalm 23! We need help badly but haven’t told anyone. I’ve been seeking God’s favour and that’s all I’ve been getting for days and days – Psalm 23! It’s been going over and over in my mind!’
The caring, knows-everything, good shepherd was at work! Maureen held her close and prayed sincerely for her. That lady was now convinced in her heart that she and her husband could face their tomorrows unafraid, however they worked out.
Side outcome… word of God’s visitation went round that small locality and every minister, including the local priest (how he got blessed!), from all the mainstream denominations attended the young Pentecostal pastor’s Sunday afternoon induction!
Psalm 23:1 – what a truth!
Recall these first words of this well-known psalm…
- ‘The Lord is my shepherd; I lack nothing’ (NIV).
- ‘I shall not want’ (KJV).
- ‘He gives me everything I need’ (NIrV).
- ‘I have everything I need’ (GNB).
- ‘I have all that I need’ (NTL).
- Message Bible really knocks the nail on the head: ‘I don’t need a thing.’
Wow! What a declaration that Jesus, our great shepherd, has everything in hand – no matter what curves life or the devil throws at us!
But…we must, as ‘the Reverend’ challenged me decades ago, be prepared to trust him in everything and verbally confess this great biblical truth. Only then will it become a reality.
Many sermons have been preached opening up this psalm (We’ve taught on it ourselves). Therefore we would only highlight Jesus’ personal declaration in John 10:11… ‘I am the good shepherd.’
This too is a precious verse full of promise – the Greek word ‘good’ infers ‘beautiful, valuable, perfect, better, ideal, worthy.’ A genuine shepherd’s role, we can understand from Psalm 23 and expect, is pastoral, deeply caring, guarding, protective – and more.
Jesus’ shepherd role
But let’s zero in on Jesus’ two overlooked little words – ‘I am.’
These are only used in the empathic sense! Jesus was emphatically stating that he exists to be the good shepherd! Eg ‘I was, have been, am.’
Jesus our great good shepherd is still there for us! How can we be in want? It’s mind-blowing!
One other thing – in verses 14 and 16, Jesus declared that his sheep ‘hear’ and ‘know’ his voice. These words infer familiarity, understanding, trust and responsive obedience! May they challenge us to be at ease with our protecting shepherd in a troubled world.
(Scripture emphases ours)