I had an idea in my heart for a ‘devotion’ based on Psalm 23 but I kept thinking what can I add to the thoughts of many wise men over hundreds of years. Then I read Tim’s ‘Devotion’ on 30th April on the subject of suffering and patient endurance and realised that Psalm 23 has the answer to our impatience; it needs nothing added or taken away. Tim quoted James 1:2-4:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
We often look at having to be patient as an imposition or a struggle because, as Tim says, we live in a culture that makes us very bad at waiting. If we look at Psalm 23 we will see that that is not the way God planned it. He doesn’t want us to struggle, he wants us to take everything in our stride. But we have to have faith that God is in control and, whatever happens, he will bring us through. David was a man after God’s own heart and Psalm 23 is his experience of how God wants us to live our lives. Who better than Spurgeon, in his ‘Treasury of David’ to lead us through Psalm 23 and all the comfort that it provides?
“The Lord is my shepherd”: David compares himself to a sheep that is weak, defenceless and foolish and he takes God to be his Provider, Preserver, Director, indeed, his everything. The statement is positive, “The Lord is my shepherd” – no ifs, buts or maybes. David, a shepherd himself as a young man, knew the needs of a sheep and the cares of a shepherd.
“I lack nothing”: Many people richer than I may want, but I will not want because ‘the Lord is my shepherd’ and he will provide for all my needs. He will cover all my temporal and my spiritual needs. Spurgeon says, “The wicked always want, but the righteous never”.
“He makes me lie down in green pastures”: he leads me beside quiet waters”: The Christian life has two elements in it, the contemplative and the active, and both of these are richly provided for. The green pastures are the Scriptures of truth – always fresh, always rich, and never exhausted. When by faith we are enabled to find rest in the promises of God, we are like sheep that lie down in the midst of the pasture; we find at the same moment both provender and peace, rest and refreshment, serenity and satisfaction. But note, “He makes me lie down”; he does not wait for us to complain that we need rest, he makes us rest when he knows we need it. But the Christian’s life is not all resting, there is an active element to it and “he leads me beside quiet waters”: he leads us to the quiet waters of the Holy Spirit. Our shepherd God leads us to the Holy Spirit where we can receive guidance.
“He refreshes my soul”: We all have times when spiritually we have a low point: the pandemic has made such an enormous change in our way of life that it is easy without realising it, to slowly decline into a spiritual slump. That is the time when we need to pray for a refreshment of our souls and David tells us from experience that God will refresh our souls.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake”: We are sinners but it should be our desire to be saved from sin and led in the way of holiness. Spurgeon says, “It is to the honour of our great Shepherd that we should be a holy people, walking in the narrow way of righteousness. If we be so led and guided we must not fail to adore our heavenly Shepherd’s care”.
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”: It is highly significant here that, where the Shepherd leads me beside quiet waters in verse 2, in verse 4 where we are ‘walking through the darkest valley’, God, our shepherd, is with us. With him beside us we will fear no evil. The shepherd’s rod was a means of protection and the staff a support: as a sheep would be comforted by the presence of the shepherd with his rod and staff, so we can be confident in God’s power to protect us in times of deepest trouble.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies”: The good man has his enemies. He would not be like his Lord if he had not. When a soldier is in the presence of his enemies, if he eats at all he snatches a hasty meal and then off to fight. But David says that even when the enemy is at the door God prepares a meal for the believer to eat as if everything were peaceful. That peace is there for the Christian even in the most trying circumstances.
“You anoint my head with oil”: Each day we can come to God for a fresh anointing from the Holy Spirit. Every Christian is a priest and each day needs a fresh anointing.
“My cup overflows”: Spurgeon quotes this, “‘What, all this, and Jesus Christ too?’ said a poor cottager as she broke a piece of bread and filled a glass with cold water. Whereas a man may be ever so wealthy, but if he be discontented his cup cannot run over. How much easier life is when we can be content with what we have!”
“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life”: Spurgeon says, “Just as when great princes go abroad they must not go unattended, so it is with the believer. Goodness and love follow him always – ‘all the days of his life’ – the black days as well as the bright days, the days of fasting as well as the days of feasting, the dreary days of winter as well as the bright days of summer. Goodness supplies our needs and love blots out our sins.”
“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”: Spurgeon says, “A servant abideth not in the house for ever, but the son abideth ever. While I am here I will be a child at home with my God; the whole world shall be his house to me; and when I ascend into the upper chamber I shall not change my company, nor even change the house; I shall only go to dwell in the upper storey of the house of the Lord forever.”
Spurgeon concludes: “May the Lord grant us grace to dwell in the serene atmosphere of this most blessed Psalm!”
David portrays himself as a sheep under the watchful eye of the Shepherd God who meets all his needs and more. Jesus makes it clear that he is the shepherd. In John chapter 10 Jesus speaks to the Pharisees of the shepherd who calls his sheep by name and leads them out and they follow him because they know his voice. When the Pharisees do not understand Jesus speaks plainly and says (John 10:7-10) :
Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
To those in the world in these times, patience can be not only something almost impossible to obtain but even something you don’t want. They want to be changing things, they want everything back to normal, they want to criticise those who advocate caution. As Christians we all have different needs, some want to get back to work, some (particularly those in hospitals and care homes) would like some time off and many just want to get out of their homes for some freedom.
In the midst of all this uncertainty and upheaval, I recommend to you this most well-known Psalm as a calming, guiding light through the present chaos. The Lord is our shepherd and therefore:
- He will ensure we lack nothing
- He will make us rest when we need it
- He will lead us to the Holy Spirit for guidance
- He will refresh our souls when we are low
- He will guide us along the paths of righteousness for his glory
- He will protect us if things get really tough
- He will give us peace
- He will give us daily a fresh anointing
- He will meet our needs – pressed down and running over
- He will always shower us with his goodness and love
- He will provide ‘open house’ for us to be with him in this life and in the life to come.
When you see in black and white all the support that the Good Shepherd has provided for us how can we not be patient and not only patient but salt and light to the world. In conclusion I give you the benediction at the end of Hebrews, Chapter 13:20-21:
Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.