Skills of The Shepherd

One of the most beloved psalms of all times is Psalm 23, composed by David, and found in the Old Testament Book of Psalms. Here is Psalm 23 from the NKJV:

The Lord the Shepherd of His People

A Psalm of David.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down
in green pastures;

He leads me beside
the still waters.

He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths
of righteousness

For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through
the valley of the shadow
of death,

I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me

All the days of my life;
And I will dwell
in the house of the Lord

Forever.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want….” Have you ever thought about all the things a shepherd has to do in taking care of his or her sheep? As I was seeking information online regarding shepherding, I came across an article written by a woman who has been a shepherd at Vermont Grand View Farm in Vermont for many years. The article was published on September 24, 2019, and titled, Skills of a Shepherd,” by Kim Goodling, a shepherd, and in the article she lists the skills that make a good shepherd:

Our farmstay guests often seem to have a romantic view of what I do as a shepherd. I have come to realize that they really have very little knowledge behind the skills of a shepherd. It’s as if they are looking through mist, only getting half of the picture of the life of a shepherd. They can see the general forms and shape of my work but not the day to day details. If I were to write an ad for a shepherd position, here is a list of skills and attributes that would make a fine shepherd:

Skills of a Shepherd

    1. Must be tough at heart. Shepherding is not just about sweet lambs and bucolic pastures with sheep grazing. It is about the survival of the fittest. It is about making life and death decisions that will tear your heart apart.
    2. Must be willing to do hard work. Shepherding does not just require hard physical labor of moving fences, moving sheep, and handling 40 pound bales of hay. It is about heart work. It is having to do hard things and making hard decisions. It is about learning to go with your instincts and let your gut be your guide.
    3. Must be willing to be humbled daily. Proud people need not apply. If there is any one thing that can bring you to your knees, it is shepherding. There will be days when you make the wrong decision, when you overlook the obvious, when the not so obvious will attack and leave you on your knees. If ever you thought you knew it all, forget it! There will always be days when you realize there is much yet to learn.
    4. Must not be afraid to learn new things. On a regular basis, you will be required to learn a new skill, a new task, a new way of doing things. An experienced shepherd once told me as she was coaching me over the phone on how to do an internal exam on a laboring ewe, “if you don’t want to do it, then you should not be a shepherd.” Shepherding will take you out of your comfort zone at times and you have to be willing to step forward.
    5. Must have great endurance. Shepherds must be willing to work in all adverse weather conditions-rain, sleet, snow, subzero degree temperatures, extreme heat, and humidity AND they must be able to keep sheep alive in such adverse conditions. They must be able to work with little sleep, lift with little strength, study with weak knees.
    6. Must exhibit ability to observe. One time my husband found me just standing in our paddock area with the sheep. He asked me what I was doing. I responded, “getting to know my sheep.” It takes great observation and getting to know what normal looks like to identify what is NOT normal.
    7. Must have the patience of a saint. Sheep will test you and you must be able to outlast them and outsmart them. Once you think you have them figured out, they are at it again…. (Quote source here.)

It’s not easy being a shepherd of sheep, yet that is how Jesus describes himself as “the Good Shepherd,” in John 10. In answer to the question, What did Jesus mean when he said, ‘I am the good Shepherd’?” GotQuestions.org provides this answer:

“I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11) is the fourth of seven “I am” declarations of Jesus recorded only in John’s Gospel. These “I am” proclamations point to His unique, divine identity and purpose. Immediately after declaring that He is “the door” in John 10:7, Jesus declares “I am the good shepherd.” He describes Himself as not only “the shepherd” but the “good shepherd.” What does this mean?

It should be understood that Jesus is “the” good shepherd, not simply “a” good shepherd, as others may be, but He is unique in character (Psalm 23Zechariah 13:7Hebrews 13:201 Peter 2:251 Peter 5:4). The Greek word kalos, translated “good,” describes that which is noble, wholesome, good, and beautiful, in contrast to that which is wicked, mean, foul, and unlovely. It signifies not only that which is good inwardly—character—but also that which is attractive outwardly. It is an innate goodness. Therefore, in using the phrase “the good shepherd,” Jesus is referencing His inherent goodness, His righteousness, and His beauty. As shepherd of the sheep, He is the one who protects, guides, and nurtures His flock.

As He did in declaring that He is “the door of the sheep” in John 10:7, Jesus is making a contrast between Himself and the religious leaders, the Pharisees (John 10:12–13). He compares them to a “hireling” or “hired hand” who doesn’t really care about the sheep. In John 10:9, Jesus speaks of thieves and robbers who sought to enter the sheepfold stealthily. In that passage the Jewish leaders (Pharisees) are contrasted with Christ, who is the Door. Here, in John 10:12, the hireling is contrasted with the true or faithful shepherd who willingly gives up his life for the sheep. He who is a “hireling” works for wages, which are his main consideration. His concern is not for the sheep but for himself. Interestingly enough, the shepherds of ancient times were not usually the owners of the flock. Nevertheless, they were expected to exercise the same care and concern the owners would. This was characteristic of a true shepherd. However, some of the hirelings thought only of themselves. As a result, when a wolf appeared—the most common threat to sheep in that day—the hireling abandoned the flock and fled, leaving the sheep to be scattered or killed (John 10:12–13).

First, to better understand the purpose of a shepherd during the times of Jesus, it is helpful to realize that sheep are utterly defenseless and totally dependent upon the shepherd. Sheep are always subject to danger and must always be under the watchful eye of the shepherd as they graze. Rushing walls of water down the valleys from sudden, heavy rainfalls may sweep them away, robbers may steal them, and wolves may attack the flock. David tells how he killed a lion and a bear while defending his father’s flock as a shepherd boy (1 Samuel 17:36). Driving snow in winter, blinding dust and burning sands in summer, long, lonely hours each day—all these the shepherd patiently endures for the welfare of the flock. In fact, shepherds were frequently subjected to grave danger, sometimes even giving their lives to protect their sheep.

Likewise, Jesus gave His life on the cross as “the Good Shepherd” for his own. He who would save others, though He had the power, did not choose to save Himself. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Through His willing sacrifice, the Lord made salvation possible for all who come to Him in faith. In proclaiming that He is the Good Shepherd, Jesus speaks of “laying down” His life for His sheep (John 10:1517–18).

Jesus’ death was divinely appointed. It is only through Him that we receive salvation. “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own” (John 10:14). Furthermore, Jesus makes it clear that it wasn’t just for the Jews that he laid down His life, but also for the “other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16). The “other sheep” clearly refers to the Gentiles. As a result, Jesus is the Good Shepherd over all, both Jew and Gentile, who come to believe upon Him (John 3:16). (Quote source here.)

So the sheep are both Jews and Gentiles who come to believe in Jesus. GotQuestions.org gives us the significance of sheep in the Bible:

God first compared the Israelites to sheep and later applied that label to all who are called by His name (Ezekiel 34Matthew 10:615:24). God’s people are compared to sheep for several reasons (Psalm 79:13100:3). First of all, sheep are one of the few animals that do not have a defense system. Sheep are helpless without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36Numbers 27:17). The first line of Psalm 23 reflects the wonderful truth that God Himself is our Defender: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.” Without the Lord our Shepherd, we are helpless when our enemy Satan attacks (2 Thessalonians 3:3).

Second, sheep are notorious for following the leader, regardless of how dangerous or foolish that may be. Like sheep, human beings are extremely gullible when an attractive or charismatic leader promises a shiny new idea. History is replete with tragic illustrations of the “herd mentality” in action (Acts 13:5019:34Numbers 16:2). That sheep-like mentality was in evidence when Pilate brought Jesus before the people to ask what should be done with Him. Only days before, Jesus had been the popular Teacher who healed, forgave, and taught about God. People eagerly followed Him. But, less than a week later, “the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead” (Mark 15:11). Within moments, the very crowd that had witnessed His miracles was shouting, “Crucify Him!”

A third reason human beings are compared to sheep in the Bible is that sheep are prone to wander away from the flock (Isaiah 53:6). A sheep’s only chance of survival is with the flock under the care of a competent shepherd. Yet sheep become overconfident, rebellious, or distracted, and they wander away. They spy greener grass in the other direction or fail to notice when the flock moves away. Peter had this tendency in mind when he warned the church to be on the alert because the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). A lion does not attack the flock. It waits until a solitary lamb wanders too far from the shepherd. One of Jesus’ most famous parables is about a lamb that strayed so far it became lost. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, left the ninety-nine sheep in the fold and went in search of the one lost lamb (Luke 15:2–17).

Sheep were the first creatures to witness a sky filled with angels as their shepherds heard the good news of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:8–15). God could have sent the news of the newborn King to the palace or the temple. Instead, He announced the arrival of the Lamb to a field full of sheep. Jesus is often compared to a lamb because He was meek and non-threatening (John 1:2936Isaiah 53:7). Even in heaven, when the Day of the Lord arrives, Jesus is still called the Lamb (Revelation 5:1213:8). But in an ironic twist, the One called the Lamb pours out His wrath like a lion to destroy all those who continue to oppose Him (Revelation 6:1614:9–11).

Sheep are significant throughout the Bible. We can learn a lot about God and His dealings with humanity by understanding their nature. They teach us about ourselves and our helplessness without Christ. They remind us about sin’s shocking consequences when innocence is sacrificed to atone for the guilty. But they also teach us about God and His desire to deal tenderly with us: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Isaiah 40:11). When we study the ways sheep are used as teaching tools in the Bible, it helps us better understand ourselves in relation to our Good Shepherd. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words of Jesus from John 10:27-30 (NIV)–My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand….

I and . . .

The Father . . .

Are one . . . .

YouTube Video: “Come What May” by We Are Messengers:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit
here
Photo #3 credit here

Hills and Valleys

A couple of weeks ago I read a devotion at Crosswalk.com that was originally published on September 22, 2017, titled, 3 New Ways to Think about Psalm 23,” by Sarah Garrett, educator and founder of the Transformed4More Ministries, that she runs with her identical twin sister. I bookmarked that devotion as I wanted to go back and study it later as Psalm 23 is not only a universally loved and recognized psalm in the Bible, but one of my favorites that I use when I’m praying. Here is what she wrote:

“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want . . .”

Sound familiar?

Psalm 23 is one of the most recognizable chapters in the entire Bible. We learn it in Sunday school, see it in funeral programs, and notice it on church décor. Even those who do not attend church have likely heard this psalm before.

When verses and chapters become familiar, we tend to not pay close attention to them. When we see it in our Bibles, it can be tempting to think, Oh, I know what this says already. Why read it again?

Here’s why—because the Bible is a living document. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul writes, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

The Bible never changes, but it always changes something in us when we read it. The Word of God always has something new to teach us, even if it’s from a familiar passage.

Recently, I was reading through Psalms and scanned over chapter 23. I almost skipped it, but decided to read it again. As I did, the familiarity faded, and I felt as though I was reading it with new eyes. Has that ever happened to you? As I read, three questions came to mind. They challenged me. I’m passing them along in the hopes they will challenge you, too.

Question 1: Am I allowing God to lead me?

God is always in control of what is happening, but we also have free will. That means we can choose to let God lead our lives. When we don’t, it’s the same as choosing to be led by our selfish desires. The opening of Psalm 23 beautifully shows what we can gain from surrendering and allowing God to lead our lives.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (vv. 1–3).

As I read this again, I realized that if God is our Shepherd, that means we give Him control of our life. When we do, look at what there is to gain!

  • God will meet our needs.
  • He will give us peace.
  • He will restore us.
  • He will lead us down a path of righteousness and not destruction.

If your world seems chaotic or unfulfilling, ask yourself, “Am I allowing God to lead me?”

Question 2: Am I camping in the valley?

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (v. 4).

I heard a pastor say that this verse clearly states that the “valleys” of life are to be walked through, but some people tend to put up a tent and camp there. Convicting, huh?

Sometimes we get bogged down in our circumstances and just decide that’s the way it will always be. We figuratively pitch our tent in the valley. This tends to rob us of the joy that can come from our relationship with God.

During the valleys of life, you must remember the last two lines of this verse, that God is with you and will comfort you as you walk. Don’t choose to camp out and wallow in your misery. Put one foot in front of another while asking the Lord to provide a way out.

If you are going through a season of sin, discouragement, or despair in your life right now, ask yourself, “Am I walking or camping?”

Question 3: Have I lost sight of God’s faithfulness?

Let’s keep thinking about valleys for a moment. Sometimes in the valleys of life, we take on a “woe is me” attitude and completely ignore all of the blessings that God has given us.

Let’s circle back to Psalm 23.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever (vv. 5–6).

This means that if you could put your blessings in a cup, they would run over the top. Goodness and mercy will be following you everywhere, and you will spend eternity with God. That’s the ultimate blessing!

Ask yourself, “Have I lost sight of God’s faithfulness?” If you feel like you have, even if you are not going through a hard time, stop and make an actual list of all the ways that God has been faithful to you. You can start in the comment section below. Even on your worst day, you will see God’s blessings overflowing in your life if you look for them.

As an added bonus, you will feel your spirit lift as you write. You literally cannot dwell on bad thoughts and the blessings of God at the same time. Seriously. Try it! (Quote source here.)

One thing I’ve discovered about life is that it, at various times, is not anything like I thought it might be as it has unfolded, and this became very clear to me in the past dozen years. I needed to take some time to think about Question #2 above as during these past dozen years I felt like I had taken up residence “in the valley,” and I had no idea how to move beyond it as it almost seemed like I was trapped there by unseen forces beyond my control that were not willing to yield no matter how hard I tried to open the doors, whether I was trying to find another job for many years after I lost my last job a dozen years ago, or trying to find affordable housing to rent on a very low income for years, too, that never materialized.

As the author states in part of the answer to Question #2 above:

Sometimes we get bogged down in our circumstances and just decide that’s the way it will always be. We figuratively pitch our tent in the valley. This tends to rob us of the joy that can come from our relationship with God.

During the valleys of life, you must remember the last two lines of this verse, that God is with you and will comfort you as you walk. Don’t choose to camp out and wallow in your misery. Put one foot in front of another while asking the Lord to provide a way out.  (Quote source here.)

While there is no doubt that at times over these past dozen years I’ve gotten “bogged down” in my circumstances, in no way did I ever want to “pitch my tent in the valley” and stay there. And I am absolutely not the “wallowing” type. Also, I found myself getting frustrated when so much of what I read from “Christian” sources always seemed to put the onus back on us (me, in this case) to change as if I had any kind of control over the circumstances I found myself in (I could control my attitude, but not the circumstances). Every day over these past dozen years I’ve “put one foot in front of another while asking the Lord to provide a way out,” as stated above. And he has walked with me through each and every day, but it is nothing like what I thought it might turn out to be like when this situation first started a dozen years ago that turned my life upside down from life as I knew it before that happened.

During this time, and specifically the last six plus years when I was forced to live in hotel rooms as the only housing option I could find, I was practically begging God at various times to get me out from under hotel room living (for one thing, it’s expensive and it’s a very transient way to live especially with other guests coming and going all the time). During those six years I had applied for a low income senior apartment at a variety of senior apartment complexes in two different states where I lived, and I was put on waiting lists that I never heard back from time and again. I didn’t know anyone who had come close to having the same issues I had when it came to trying to find a low income senior apartment. In fact, I had a friend who got right into an apartment in a very large low income senior apartment complex the first time she went there looking for an apartment, and I had inquired about renting an apartment there three separate times over a several-year period, and I was told all three times that I would have to wait at least a year or longer for an apartment to become available. However, they never called me back, nor did they return my calls when I called to inquire where I stood on their waiting list.

As I mentioned above, I am not a “wallower”; I’m a “doer.” But I felt like no matter what I tried to do, I kept running up against walls that were a mile high, a mile wide, and a mile deep. I spent six years starting from the first day after I lost that job a dozen years ago looking for another job that never materialized; and that job search overlapped into the first year of the six-year hotel living saga that started in 2014 at the same time I was forced to take Social Security at the age of 62 just to have any income again. I was not wallowing in self-pity; but I was very angry and very, very frustrated, although I never let it show.

I can vouch for all the “doers” out there who are not inclined to “wallow” during the valley times they find themselves in as they go through life. It is frustrating when nothing you try to do ever works out (and I have been covering all of it in prayer for years now, too). But in the midst of all of my frustration and anger, I believe with every fabric of my being that God is sovereign; that God is still in control; and that my faith is still very much intact.

Six months ago my six-year hotel room living saga finally ended. I published a blog post regarding it on my second blog titled, A New Beginning,” so I won’t repeat that information in this post. While the “valley” of hotel room living has ended, there are still other “valleys” as well as hills on the landscape that have to do with the changing forces going on in our society today, and those affect all of us at some point and in some way (the Covid-19 pandemic that started over a year ago is just one example).

In a devotion published on September 19, 2020, on InTouch Ministries titled, The Believer’s Valley Experiences” by Dr. Charles Stanley, Pastor Emeritus of First Baptist Church and founder of InTouch Ministries, he writes:

Have you ever had heartache so deep or hardship so difficult that it’s almost impossible to stand? Like a giant wave crashing on the shore, some trials threaten to overwhelm us.

We all experience valleys in life. They might be of our own making—for instance, when we choose to disobey God and our fellowship with Him grows cold. Or perhaps other people cause our suffering, in situations such as job termination, marital infidelity, or betrayal by a friend. And sometimes our heavenly Father Himself leads us into the valley. Although He could steer us around suffering, He chooses not to because He has a specific purpose in mind.

Psalm 23 uses four words to describe these valley experiences: shadow, death, fear, and evil. These terms evoke images of oppressive circumstances, grievous affliction, and deep discomfort, and there is no way to hurry through them. That’s because both the depth and length of the trial are determined by the Lord.

Thankfully, God promises to be with us and to use every valley—even those of our own making—for our benefit (Rom. 8:28). It is our job to walk steadily, attuned to His presence and trusting in His promises. (Quote source here.)

The title of this blog post, Hills and Valleys,” actually comes from a song I heard this past week on YouTube (see YouTube video below). I’ve spent most of this blog post focusing on the valleys, so I will end it with a focus on the hills from Psalm 121:

I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,

Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
The Lord shall preserve your going out…

And your coming in . . .

From this time forth . . .

And even forevermore . . . .

YouTube Video: “Hills and Valleys” by Tauren Wells:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Closer Look

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”David, 2nd King of Ancient Israel, in Psalm 23:4

Valley of Armageddon–Megiddo National Park, Nazareth, Israel

Psalm 23 is quite possibly the most popular Psalm in the Bible. Millions have memorized it’s comforting words which are often spoken at funerals, but they are also life sustaining words when we are going through difficult times. Years ago I memorized the NKJV version of Psalm 23 which reads as follows:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

This psalm has been the subject of previous blog posts on this blog along with several  others among the 150 psalms in the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament. For this particular blog post, I will focus specifically on verse 4 which states:

Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Wiktionary.com defines “valley of the shadow of death” as (1) The world–a place where darkness and death are figurative valleys one must walk through as part of the human experience; and (2) a very dangerous place. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on March 3, 2017, titled Life’s Dark Valleys,” by Dennis Lee, senior pastor of Living Waters Fellowship, he write:

There’s an old Arab proverb that says, “All sunshine and no rain makes a desert.” Today we’d say, “If you never have difficulties, then you’ll get all dried out with no depth or maturity.”

It takes both good and bad times to mature a person. Life is a mixture of pleasure and pain, of victory and defeat, of success and failure, of mountaintops and valleys. This Sunday morning we’ll be looking at how we can navigate the dark valleys of life.

In Psalm 23:4 King David said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

In Israel there’s actually a valley called “The Shadow of Death.” I’m told it’s a steep, dark, and narrow canyon where the sun only reaches it when it is directly overhead. David may have led his sheep up this valley.

The Bible often talks about valleys as tough times. Joshua talks about a Valley of Calamity. Psalm 84 uses the imagery of people passing through the Valley of Baca, or weeping, and Hosea talks about the Valley of Achor, or the Valley of Trouble.

While thinking about these valleys, other valleys mentioned in the Bible came to mind. Mostly these valleys are mentioned as places where battles were fought and victories won. The Valley of Elah is where David won a great victory for Israel over the Philistines by defeating the giant Goliath. (1 Samuel 17:19)….

Today valleys are not well thought of. We talk of being in despair as being in a valley. When asked how we’re doing, if we’re not doing well we say we’re in a valley. But our valleys don’t have to be places of despair.

When Hosea saw the Valley of Achor, the Valley of Trouble, he saw it as a door of hope. (Hosea 2:15). That door of hope is nothing less than Jesus Christ. Jesus in John 10:9, said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”

Jesus is not only the door, but He is standing at the door of our hearts knocking. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:20) (Quote source here.)

In answer to the question, “What does it mean to walk through the valley of the shadow of death?” GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer:

Psalm 23:4, which reads, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (ESV), is one of the most well-known verses in the Bible. It is commonly used during funerals or by those approaching death. The message of Psalm 23:4 is one of comfort. We do not need to fear. God is with us, and His presence gives us strength and hope.

However, “valley of the shadow of death” is possibly not the most accurate translation of the original Hebrew text. The NIV, NLT, and HCBS translate the phrase as “darkest valley,” resulting in Psalm 23:4 reading as, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley . . . .” The Hebrew word for “shadow of death” is sal-ma-wet, which means “darkness” or “dark shadows.” It contains the same root as the Hebrew word for “death” (ma-wet), so it is easy to see why some Bible translators include the mention of death in Psalm 23:4.

In addition, the concept of darkness fits much better in the context of Psalm 23Psalm 23, especially verses 1–4, uses the language of a shepherd and his sheep to describe our relationship with God: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. . . . Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:1–4).

Sheep do not understand the concept of death. They do understand, though, that entering a dark valley can be dangerous. The point of Psalm 23:4 is that, even when we might have reason to be afraid, we do not need to fear, because God is with us, and He will take care of us. He, like a shepherd, knows what He is doing and has our best interests in mind.

So, it does not appear that “valley of the shadow of death” is the most accurate translation in Psalm 23:4. A “dark valley” connects much better with sheep lying down in green pastures and beside quiet waters. However, the main point of Psalm 23:4 still definitely applies to death. Many people fear death, and those facing death certainly feel as if they are in a “dark valley.” But even in death we do not need to fear, for God is with us, and He will protect and comfort us through it all. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on March 13, 2014, titled, Psalm 23–I will fear no evil,” by Christine Miller, author and blogger, regarding the second part of the first sentence in verse 4 which states, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me,” she writes:

I have looked up the definitions and roots of each word and phrase. This element of the structure could be expanded to say:

Even if I come to, whether I am brought to it by the actions of others, or whether it is the proper destination of my path in living an unwise manner of life, the deep valley overshadowed by death, of very thick darkness so that I can not see my way, I will not tremble or be afraid of the wickedness of others in acting against me, of calamity or deep distress, or the outcome of the worst case scenario. Fear would be a reasonable response if I were facing this valley alone; however, I am not alone. Yehovah, whose name means, Deliverer, Redeemer, Releaser from bondage, Restorer of those who are estranged to Himself; the Creator of the universe, so He who has the ability to act on my behalf; the Ruler of the universe, yes, even You are with me, an active participant in my life, whose presence accompanies me, and is my constant companion no matter my circumstances.

“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.”Isaiah 9:2

And that light, is Jesus Christ, our Lord. “For lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”Matthew 28:20 (Quote source here.)

Regarding the last part of verse 4 which states, “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me”–in answer to the question, What are the rod and staff in Psalm 23?” GotQuestions.org provides the following answer:

Psalm 23 is a beautiful poem that uses the image of God as shepherd. David, who penned this psalm, had been a shepherd himself and understood the parallel between the task of a shepherd caring for his sheep and of God caring for His people. Sheep are totally dependent on the shepherd for food, water, leadership, and guidance as they move from place to place, just as we are dependent upon God for all that we need. Sheep depend on the shepherd for protection from a wide range of predators and dangers, just as we look to God as our Protector and Defender. In the New Testament, Jesus reveals Himself to be the Good Shepherd of His people (John 10:1114), fulfilling the Old Testament prophecy that God would come to shepherd His people (Ezekiel 34:7–1623).

Psalm 23:4, addressing the Lord Shepherd, says, “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” David bases this description on the practices of shepherds in his day. Shepherds of the time commonly carried a rod and staff as essential to their work.

The rod mentioned in Psalm 23 is a symbol of the Lord’s strength and protection. The rod was a sturdy wooden stick used as a weapon to fight off wild animals who might have hoped to make an easy meal out of an otherwise defenseless flock of sheep. The shepherd also used the rod to help him keep count of the sheep within the flock (as alluded to in Leviticus 27:32). Young David recounted an incident to King Saul in which he probably used his shepherd’s rod: “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it” (1 Samuel 17:34–35).

The staff mentioned in Psalm 23 is a symbol of the Lord’s guidance and lovingkindness. The staff was a long, slender stick, often hooked at the tip, used primarily to direct the flock. Sheep are notorious wanderers, and once away from the shepherd’s watchful eye, they get into all sorts of trouble (Matthew 18:12–14). The shepherd used his staff to keep his sheep out of danger and close to himself. If a sheep became trapped in a precarious position, the shepherd would loop the curved end of the staff around the neck of the sheep and retrieve it back to safety.

W. Phillip Keller (1920-1997), in his bookA Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23,” comments on the uniqueness of the shepherd’s staff: “In a sense, the staff, more than any other item of his personal equipment, identifies the shepherd as a shepherd. No one in any other profession carries a shepherd’s staff. It is uniquely an instrument used for the care and management of sheep—and only sheep. It will not do for cattle, horses or hogs. It is designed, shaped and adapted especially to the needs of sheep” (from chapter 8).

Together, the rod and staff of Psalm 23 paint a picture of the divine Shepherd who wields them. He is strong, competent, and trustworthy; He is present with His sheep, able to defend them and watching over them through all the dangers they face. Knowing that we have such a Shepherd who is ready to protect us from danger, keep us close, and rescue us when we go astray truly is a great comfort to us, the sheep. (Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words from Psalm 23:4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me….

Your rod . . .

And your staff . . .

They comfort me . . . .

YouTube Video: “Valley” by Chris McClarney:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Our Shepherd

I purchased a book at a very inexpensive price at the Half Price Bookstore at the end of June that was originally published back in 2001. It was written by Max Lucado and it is titled, Traveling Light.” It’s been republished since then but this particular copy is an original hardcover copy from 2001 (and it’s new, too). I’ve owned this book before but it is currently stored in a box in a storage unit in another state that at this point in time I wonder if I’ll ever see that stuff again since it has been in storage for over five years now. Of course, when I put my stuff in that storage unit over five years ago that came from the last apartment I lived in back then, I never dreamed it would be still be in storage five years later. I figured at the time it might be in storage for six months, max. Guess it falls under the category of Life happens.”

If you’ve read my blog posts lately you’ll know that my almost 96-year-old father died on June 22, 2019 (see blog posts titled, A Eulogy for Dad,” published on June 22, 2019, and Remembering Dad,” published in July 23, 2019). I purchased the book mentioned above on June 30, 2019. I drove to Iowa on July 10th (a 2000-mile round trip drive) to the state where my father lived to attend his visitation and funeral that was held on July 13, 2019, and I spent a week there (July 11-17). And I drove back to the city and state where I’ve been living for the past three years arriving back on July 18th.

I’m glad I went back home for that week. I got to see family members and others who are scattered around in several states who also returned for Dad’s funeral, and I learned about estate sale pickers–a term and occupation I was totally unaware of until Dad’s death (and there is something sort of vulture-like about that particular occupation). I’ve now been back where I’ve been living for about a week and a half, and it’s been over two weeks since the funeral was held on July 13th. I’m still sorting through the mix of emotions I’ve gone through since I first heard Dad was dying in early June, and from being back in my hometown for that week to attend his funeral.

On the list of top ten major stresses in life, death of a loved one (in my case, Dad’s death) holds the #1 spot (source here). Add in other stresses that naturally occur in one’s life, and I’ve been on overload since returning from Dad’s funeral. Being primarily a positive type of person, I’ve found it hard to get back into that positive mode as the grief can still be overwhelming when it hits, and I have a few other challenges right now that add to it but they are things that come up in one form or another in everyone’s life from time to time.

As I was thinking about how to find a way to get out from under this “funk” (grief does take a long time to process), I came across that book I purchased on June 30th mentioned above by Max Lucado titled, Traveling Light.” The subtitle is “Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Meant to Bear,” and that certainly describes my situation right now. I feel buried under a major burden compounded by other “stuff,” and I need a release from it. The book is based on Psalm 23, and here are the words to that psalm:

The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

Before I quote a story found in the book, Traveling Light, let’s take a look at what is meant by the phrase, The LORD is my Shepherd.” GotQuestions.org gives us the following answer:

The clause “the LORD is my shepherd” comes from one of the most beloved of all passages of Scripture, the 23rd Psalm. In this passage and throughout the New Testament we learn that the Lord is our Shepherd in two ways. First, as the Good Shepherd, He laid down His life for His sheep and, second, His sheep know His voice and follow Him (John 10:1114).

In Psalm 23, God is using the analogy of sheep and their nature to describe us. Sheep have a natural tendency to wander off and get lost. As believers, we tend to do the same thing. It’s as Isaiah has said: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). When sheep go astray, they are in danger of getting lost, being attacked, even killing themselves by drowning or falling off cliffs.

Likewise, within our own nature there is a strong tendency to go astray (Romans 7:58:8), following the lusts of our flesh and eyes and pursuing the pride of life (1 John 2:16). As such, we are like sheep wandering away from the Shepherd through our own futile self-remedies and attempts at self-righteousness. It is our nature to drift away (Hebrews 2:1), to reject God, and to break His commandments. When we do this, we run the risk of getting lost, even forgetting the way back to God. Furthermore, when we turn away from the Lord, we soon find ourselves confronting one enemy after another who will attack us in numerous ways.

Sheep are basically helpless creatures who cannot survive long without a shepherd, upon whose care they are totally dependent. Likewise, like sheep, we are totally dependent upon the Lord to shepherd, protect, and care for us. Sheep are essentially dumb animals that do not learn well and are extremely difficult to train. They do not have good eyesight, nor do they hear well. They are very slow animals who cannot escape predators; they have no camouflage and no weapons for defense such as claws, sharp hooves, or powerful jaws.

Furthermore, sheep are easily frightened and become easily confused. In fact, they have been known to plunge blindly off a cliff following one after another. Shepherds in Bible times faced incredible dangers in caring for their sheep, putting their own lives at risk by battling wild animals such as wolves and lions who threatened the flock. David was just such a shepherd (1 Samuel 17:34–35). In order to be good shepherds, they had to be willing to lay down their lives for the sheep.

Jesus declared that He is our Shepherd and demonstrated it by giving His life for us. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Through His willing sacrifice, the Lord made salvation possible for all who come to Him in faith (John 3:16). In proclaiming that He is the good shepherd, Jesus speaks of “laying down” His life for His sheep (John 10:1517–18).

Like sheep, we, too, need a shepherd. Men are spiritually blind and lost in their sin. This is why Jesus spoke of the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:4–6). He is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for us. He searches for us when we’re lost, to save us and to show us the way to eternal life (Luke 19:10). We tend to be like sheep, consumed with worry and fear, following after one another. By not following or listening to the Shepherd’s voice (John 10:27), we can be easily led astray by others to our own destruction. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, warns those who do not believe and listen to Him: “I did tell you, but you do not believe . . . you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:25–28).

Psalm 23:1–3 tells us that the shepherd meets the sheep’s every need: food, water, rest, safety, and direction. When we as believers follow our Shepherd, we, too, know that we will have all we need. We will not lack the necessities of life, for He knows exactly what we need (Luke 12:22–30).

Sheep will not lie down when they are hungry, nor will they drink from fast-flowing streams. Sometimes the shepherd will temporarily dam up a stream so the sheep can quench their thirst. Psalm 23:2 speaks of leading the sheep “beside the quiet [stilled] waters.” The shepherd must lead his sheep because they cannot be driven. Instead, the sheep hear the voice of their shepherd and follow him—just as we listen to our Shepherd, Jesus Christ—in His Word and follow Him (John 10:3–51627). And if a sheep does wander off, the shepherd will leave the flock in charge of his helpers and search for the lost animal (Matthew 9:3618:12–14Luke 15:3–7).

In Psalm 23:3, the Hebrew word translated “paths” means “well-worn paths or ruts.” In other words, when sheep wander onto a new path, they start to explore it, which invariably leads them into trouble. This passage is closely akin to the warning in Hebrews 13:9: “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.” The apostle Paul also alludes to this idea in Ephesians 4:14.

Finally, the shepherd cares for the sheep because he loves them and wants to maintain his own good reputation as a faithful shepherd. As we’ve seen in Psalm 23, the analogy of the Lord as the Good Shepherd was also applied by Jesus in John chapter 10. In declaring that He is the shepherd of the sheep, Jesus is confirming that He is God. The Eternal God is our Shepherd. And we would not want it any other way. (Quote source here.)

In Chapter 4 titled, “The Prison of Want: The Burden of Discontent,” in the book, Traveling Light,” on pp. 32-34, is this reflection:

Are you hoping that a change in circumstances will bring a change in your attitude? If so, you are in prison, and you need to learn a secret of traveling light. What you have in your Shepherd is greater than what you don’t have in life.

May I meddle for a moment? What is the one thing separating you from joy? How do your fill in this blank: “I will be happy when ________________”? When I am healed. When I am promoted. When I am married. When I am single. When I am rich. How would you finish that statement?

Now, with your answer firmly in mind, answer this. If your ship never comes in, if your dream never comes true, if the situation never changes, could you be happy? If not, then you are sleeping in the cold cell of discontent. You are in prison. And you need to know what you have in your Shepherd.

You have a God who hears you, the power of love behind you, the Holy Spirit within you, and all of heaven ahead of you. If you have the Shepherd, you have grace for every sin, direction for every turn, a candle for every corner, and an anchor for every storm. You have everything you need.

And who can take it from you? Can leukemia infect your salvation? Can bankruptcy impoverish your prayers? A tornado might take your earthly house, but will it touch your heavenly home?

And look at your position. Why clamor for prestige and power? Are you not already privileged to be part of the greatest work in history?

According to Russ Blowers (1924-2007), we are. He [was] a minister in Indianapolis. Knowing he would be asked about his profession at a Rotary Club meeting, he resolved to say more than, “I’m a preacher.”

Instead he explained, “Hi, I’m Russ Blowers. I’m with a global enterprise. We have branches in every country in the world. We have representatives in nearly every parliament and boardroom on earth. We’re into motivation and behavior alternation. We run hospitals, feeding stations, crisis-pregnancy centers, universities, publishing houses, and nursing homes. We care for our clients from birth to death. We are into life insurance and fire insurance. We perform spiritual heart transplants. Our original Organizer owns all the real estate on earth plus and assortment of galaxies and constellations. He knows everything and lives everywhere. Our product is free for the asking. (There’s not enough money to buy it.) Our CEO was born in a hick town, worked as a carpenter, didn’t own a home, was misunderstood by his family and hated by his enemies, walked on water, was condemned to death without a trial, and arose from the dead. I talk with him every day.”

If you can say the same, don’t you have reason to be content?…

What will you gain with contentment? You may gain your marriage. You may gain precious hours with your children. You may gain your self-respect. You may gain joy. You may gain the faith to say, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Try saying it slowly. “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Again, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Again, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

Shhhhhhh. Did you hear something? I think I did. I’m not sure… but I think I heard the opening of a jail door. (Quote source: “Traveling Light,” pp. 32-34.)

So go to the Shepherd. He’s the only One who can release you from your burdens.

The LORD . . .

Is my shepherd . . .

I shall not want . . .

YouTube video: “I Just Need U” by TobyMac:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

A Psalm That Calms the Soul

Psalm 23 is one of the most recognized psalms in the world. It has an amazing calming effect in the midst of stress and uncertainty, and it places our focus back where it belongs. No doubt millions have committed it to memory down through the centuries since David first penned it and put it to music.

It has only been in the past several years that I recognized the value of praying Psalm 23 regarding any kind of circumstance, even when it didn’t seem to relate to a particular situation I was praying about. Here are the words to Psalm 23 (NKJV):

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;

He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

In an article titled, 3 New Ways to Think About Psalm 23,” by Sarah Garrett, educator and founder of Transformed4More.com (a ministry for teenage girls), she writes:

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want . . .”

Sound familiar?

Psalm 23 is one of the most recognizable chapters in the entire Bible. We learn it in Sunday school, see it in funeral programs, and notice it on church décor. Even those who do not attend church have likely heard this psalm before.

When verses and chapters become familiar, we tend to not pay close attention to them. When we see it in our Bibles, it can be tempting to think, “Oh, I know what this says already. Why read it again?”

Here’s why—because the Bible is a living document. In 2 Timothy 3:16–17, Paul writes,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

The Bible never changes, but it always changes something in us when we read it. The Word of God always has something new to teach us, even if it’s from a familiar passage.

Recently, I was reading through Psalms and scanned over chapter 23. I almost skipped it, but decided to read it again. As I did, the familiarity faded, and I felt as though I was reading it with new eyes. Has that ever happened to you? As I read, three questions came to mind. They challenged me. I’m passing them along in the hopes they will challenge you, too.

Question 1: Am I allowing God to lead me?

God is always in control of what is happening, but we also have free will. That means we can choose to let God lead our lives. When we don’t, it’s the same as choosing to be led by our selfish desires. The opening of Psalm 23 beautifully shows what we can gain from surrendering and allowing God to lead our lives.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake (vv. 1–3).

As I read this again, I realized that if God is our Shepherd, that means means we give Him control of our life. When we do, look at what there is to gain!

    • God will meet our needs.
    • He will give us peace.
    • He will restore us.
    • He will lead us down a path of righteousness and not destruction.

If your world seems chaotic or unfulfilling, ask yourself, “Am I allowing God to lead me?”

Question 2: Am I camping in the valley?

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (v. 4).

I heard a pastor say that this verse clearly states that the “valleys” of life are to be walked through, but some people tend to put up a tent and camp there. Convicting, huh?

Sometimes we get bogged down in our circumstances and just decide that’s the way it will always be. We figuratively pitch our tent in the valley. This tends to rob us of the joy that can come from our relationship with God.

During the valleys of life, you must remember the last two lines of this verse, that God is with you and will comfort you as you walk. Don’t choose to camp out and wallow in your misery. Put one foot in front of another while asking the Lord to provide a way out.

If you are going through a season of sin, discouragement, or despair in your life right now, ask yourself, “Am I walking or camping?”

Question 3: Have I lost sight of God’s faithfulness?

Let’s keep thinking about valleys for a moment. Sometimes in the valleys of life, we take on a “woe is me” attitude and completely ignore all of the blessings that God has given us.

Let’s circle back to Psalm 23.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever (vv. 5–6).

This means that if you could put your blessings in a cup, they would run over the top. Goodness and mercy will be following you everywhere, and you will spend eternity with God. That’s the ultimate blessing!

Ask yourself, “Have I lost sight of God’s faithfulness?” If you feel like you have, even if you are not going through a hard time, stop and make an actual list of all the ways that God has been faithful to you. You can start in the comment section below. Even on your worst day, you will see God’s blessings overflowing in your life if you look for them.

As an added bonus, you will feel your spirit lift as you write. You literally cannot dwell on bad thoughts and the blessings of God at the same time. Seriously. Try it! (Quote source here.)

Specifically, Psalm 23:4–“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me”–is one of the most well known verses in the Bible (as stated below). GotQuestions.org states the following regarding this verse:

Psalm 23:4, which reads, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (ESV), is one of the most well-known verses in the Bible. It is commonly used during funerals or by those approaching death. The message of Psalm 23:4 is one of comfort. We do not need to fear. God is with us, and His presence gives us strength and hope.

However, “valley of the shadow of death” is possibly not the most accurate translation of the original Hebrew text. The NIV, NLT, and HCBS translate the phrase as “darkest valley,” resulting in Psalm 23:4 reading as, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley . . . .” The Hebrew word for “shadow of death” is sal-ma-wet, which means “darkness” or “dark shadows.” It contains the same root as the Hebrew word for “death” (ma-wet), so it is easy to see why some Bible translators include the mention of death in Psalm 23:4.

In addition, the concept of darkness fits much better in the context of Psalm 23Psalm 23, especially verses 1–4, uses the language of a shepherd and his sheep to describe our relationship with God: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. . . . Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:1–4).

Sheep do not understand the concept of death. They do understand, though, that entering a dark valley can be dangerous. The point of Psalm 23:4 is that, even when we might have reason to be afraid, we do not need to fear, because God is with us, and He will take care of us. He, like a shepherd, knows what He is doing and has our best interests in mind.

So, it does not appear that “valley of the shadow of death” is the most accurate translation in Psalm 23:4. A “dark valley” connects much better with sheep lying down in green pastures and beside quiet waters. However, the main point of Psalm 23:4 still definitely applies to death. Many people fear death, and those facing death certainly feel as if they are in a “dark valley.” But even in death we do not need to fear, for God is with us, and He will protect and comfort us through it all. (Quote source here.)

Regarding the rod and the staff mentioned in Psalm 23:4, in an article titled, Your Rod and Your Staff, They Comfort Me,” by Aaron L. Garriott, production manager of Tabletalk Magazine, he opens his article by explaining how the rod and staff were used in the cultural context of David’s time:

There was much to fear in the dry, craggy wadis and ravines of Judah, presenting sheep flocks with the most perilous elements of their migration. Yet, the fears of the sheep are dispelled upon recognition of two implements carried by the shepherd, a rod and a staff, by which he would govern his flock. The rod and staff can be broadly categorized as tools of protection and guidance, respectively. The rod warded off predators; the staff was a guiding tool with a hook on one end to secure a sheep around its chest. Only the two tools together provided comfort to the sheep.

As the shepherd-made-king David places himself in the role of a sheep, his fears of every evil are quelled by a glimpse of Israel’s true Shepherd-King. David compares God’s governing care of His flock—His providence—to a rod and a staff, a sight that ought to quiet all fears and assure the flock of the care of their faithful and able Shepherd. (Quote source here.)

In the final article for this post titled, That’s All I Want,” by Ray Noah, lead pastor, Portland Christian Center, and founder/CEO of Petros Network, he writes the following on Psalm 23:

“The Lord is my shepherd.” ~Psalm 23:1

Psalm 22 foretells the cross of Christ and Psalm 24 speaks of a time when Messiah rules the earth in justice and righteousness. This strategic placement of Psalm 23, universally, the most beloved of all the psalms, is fitting since it’s between Christ’s cross and Christ’s second coming, between our salvation and heaven, that we find ourselves facing life in all its rawness: The ups and downs, the victories and defeats, the joys and sorrows, the life and death that make up the human condition.

Even though the pastoral setting and shepherd-sheep analogy are foreign to our modern culture, there is just something about this Shepherd’s Psalm that resonates in our core. That’s because we are pretty much like sheep—dense, directionless and defenseless—and we cannot do life without the Good Shepherd. You need a shepherd…so do I.

I am not sure where this came from [author unknown], but I suspect you will be blessed by it as I was.

The Lord is my Shepherd—That’s Relationship!

I shall not want—That’s Supply!

He makes me to lie down in green pastures—That’s Rest!

He leadeth me beside the still waters—That’s Refreshment!

He restoreth my soul—That’s Healing!

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness—That’s Guidance!

For His name sake—That’s Purpose!

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death—That’s Testing!

I will fear no evil—That’s Protection!

For Thou art with me—That’s Faithfulness!

Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me—That’s Discipline!

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies—That’s Hope!

Thou anointest my head with oil—That’s Consecration!

My cup runneth over—That’s Abundance!

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life—That’s Blessing!

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord—That’s Security!

Forever—That’s Eternity!

If you are experiencing major upheaval in your life—a home in turmoil, a relationship on the rocks, a job not working out, a personal humiliation, an inconsolable sorrow, the cumulative effect of heartache and disappointment has shaken your confidence and filled you with doubt, fear and despair—then trying reading and absorbing Psalm 23. David wrote it just for you. Just grasping his first line will transform your life:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

Robert Ketchum told of a Sunday School teacher who asked her class if any of them could quote the entire Twenty-Third Psalm. A little girl came forward, made a little bow, and said: “The Lord is my shepherd, that’s all I want.” She then curtsied and sat down. Now she may have overlooked a few verses, but I think she captured the key to enjoying the benefits of this psalm. Psalm 23 is a pattern of thinking, and if it saturates your mind, it will lead you to new way of living which will counterbalance the raw reality of life with hope, faith and trust, causing you to be utterly content in the Shepherd’s care.

Yeah, the Lord is my shepherd—and that’s all I want. I believe that about covers it! (Quote source here.)

I hope this has provided some new insights on a very familiar and beloved psalm. I’ll end this post with the words from Psalm 23:1

The Lord is my shepherd . . .

I shall not . . .

Want . . . .

YouTube Video: “Psalm 23” by Jeff Majors:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

I Shall Not Want

possessionsThe above picture looks like many of our basements, storage units, spare rooms, or garages, doesn’t it? We accumulate, but instead of getting rid of what we no longer need, we just find a place to store it for that “rainy day” that never seems to arrive. And our obsession with our possessions over the past several decades created a whole new industry: the storage center industry–which makes millions (maybe billions) off of us so we can keep all that stuff we will probably never use again since we, obviously, aren’t using it now.

Who of us living in America does not recognize the following words that open the 23rd Psalm: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” The Lord, of course, is the God of the Bible. However, it seems as if our “wanter” has gotten a bit out of control. We might try to rationalize all that stuff we have by saying we “need” it; but the reality is that most of the time it is not a necessity of life–it is just stuff we “want,” so we buy it, and when we are done with it, we store it just in case we might need it again for that “rainy day.”

And our “wanter” isn’t just for physical possessions. Perhaps it is a job we want that someone else has, or someone’s husband or wife that is appealing to us, or something someone else has that we want, and we don’t much care how we get it. Or maybe we want fame, prestige, power, money . . . . Our list of “wants” is pretty much endless, isn’t it?

In a chapter titled “David–I Shall Not Want” in the book, 21 Seconds to Change Your World (2016), the author, Dr. Mark Rutland, addresses the primary difference between “want” and “need.”  Dr. Rutland is “a pastor, speaker, and New York Times bestselling author and columnist for Ministry Today magazine. He is president of both the National Institute of Christian Leadership and Global Servants, and he also serves on the preaching team at Jentezen Franklin’s Free Chapel Church. He is a frequent guest on The 700 Club, TBN, James Robison’s LIFE Today, Daystar, and 100 Huntley Street. His radio program is the number one Christian teaching broadcast in Atlanta.” (Quote source here). Dr Rutland is also the former president of two Christian universities from 1999-2013 (source here). Dr. Rutland states the following from his book (pp. 79-81):

There is a difference between want and need. Though it is translated “want,” in the first verse of Psalm 23, David is most probably dealing with the issue of “need.” St. Paul speaks to the same issue in Philippians 4:19: “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” The great apostle is reminding us that we can trust God to meet us at the point of our need. Some have refashioned this verse to mean that God will supply all they could ever want. That perverts the text and may lead to all kinds of error and excess.

One man even told me that God wanted him to leave his wife for his lover. He twisted two verses of Scripture in a most convenient way using Philippians 4:19 (above) and Psalm 37:4 to justify adultery, desertion, and remarriage. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight thyself also in the Lord: and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”

“My wife is no longer the desire of my heart,” he said. “I need this woman. Not want, but need. God has put a desire for her in my heart and a need that He will meet.”

No amount of explanation or exposition on the real meaning of those two verses would dissuade him. He had the whole story and his own heart so twisted up that he was absolutely blinded to the truth. He intended to leave his wife for his lover and he eventually did, using Scripture to salve his conscience, that is, if he still had one.

It is not God’s perfect will for His children to languish in penurious deprivation. Poverty, hunger, and want in that sense are never the will of a loving and good God. He is a God of blessing. He enjoys blessing His children. Genesis 22:17 says, “In blessing I will bless thee.”

David’s declaration of faith [in Psalm 23] is therefore a good and pure statement of God’s dependability. David is simply finding another way of saying, “God will take care of me.”

But “I shall not want” in no way means I will never have to do without anything I want. I am made of earth, and that earth raises its ugly head every so often. I have, in my own life, wanted things, wrong things, things that could hurt me and others. I have proven to myself my seemingly inexhaustible capacity to lust for the baubles and pleasures of earth. There is something inside the earth of us that is bent toward a wrongful wanting. Putting that to death is not an event but a long and painful process. Which of us has not stumbled along the way? Why? Because we want stuff. David wanted stuff. Bathsheba, for example. She was not God’s will for David, nor was David God’s will for her. Their wanting was the cause of so much sin and suffering that the story is still a living cautionary tale after three thousand years. “I shall not want” cannot be construed to mean that God will give me everything my sinful heart could ever desire.

Furthermore, there are also things that are not, in themselves, bad for me, but the earth of me needs limitations. Have you ever walked through a store with your children and heard them tick off the items without which they simply could not live another day? There were times when my wife and I told our children no about things we could have afforded, things that were not even bad for them. We did this because it is not good for us to have everything we want immediately when we want it. Sometimes not having things, or not having them now, is good for us. A life without limits becomes a life without maturity, and that is never the will of God for me.

God is a good God. His will for me is good, and He does not will for me to live my life in grinding poverty. He does not will that my children suffer hunger. God is a God of abundance and mercy and generosity. He teaches me to live in contentment, but He does not oppress me with want. (Quote source: “21 Second to Change Your World,” pp. 79-81).

lord-is-my-shepherdHere is another take on “I shall not want,” from an online devotional titled, I Shall Not Want,” by Dr. James MacDonald, who is the founding senior pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel; leads the church planting ministry of Harvest Bible Fellowship; and teaches the practical application of God’s Word on the Walk in the Word radio broadcast, and who is also a gifted author and speaker. Dr. MacDonald has included a “Journal” section and “Pray” section for consideration at the end of his devotion:

When David wrote in his famous psalm, “I shall not want,” it was the summary of the result of having the Lord as his shepherd. What does it mean not to want? First, it means we will not lack the basic needs of life—the big three: food, shelter, clothing. You don’t need to be anxious about those things. God promises over and over He will meet those needs in our lives.

Our initial response to this promise is often skepticism. “What about those who are hungry and homeless? There seem to be a lot of them. How does God meet their needs?” The answer comes to us in His Word, “You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way…” (2 Corinthians 9:11). When God supplies abundantly to us, He expects us to share with others. God uses His people to spread His blessings. You can probably think of occasions when God has helped others through you and when He has helped you through others.

And there is something deeper than the basic needs of life in the words, “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” Make note of this: I shall not want another shepherd. I shall not seek another Master. The expert care of my Master Jesus is all I desire. I am completely content with His management of my life. Though my life is not perfect, He has never failed me. While there have been disappointments and difficulties, He has always kept His promises. When I have sought Him, I have found in Him all I need. The Lord is my shepherd, and I don’t want another.

“I shall not want” is also a statement about self-control. Think about all the pain in life that is caused by wanting: “I want this,” and “I want to go there,” and “I want to experience that.” Too many of life’s hurts come from wanting what we do not have.

Here is a personal example: I have always wanted to be a fisherman. I can’t begin to tell you the aggravation and heartache that have come into my life from wanting this! Oh, the stories of trips I’ve gone on and promises that were made. “You’re going to catch so many fish, you will be amazed!” Instead, I discovered there’s a reason it’s called fishing and not catching. All I caught was frustration—from wanting.

But the longer I live with the Lord as my Shepherd, the more I experience the profound ways the truth “I shall not want” can radically alter every day. 

Loved one, no matter what the circumstance, you and I already have everything we really need in Christ. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Lay hold of this powerful truth in your life today.


Journal

  • Based on today’s reading, does “not wanting” mean a change in what you “need” or does it mean seeing your “needs” in the light of God’s wise provision?
  • What has taken on the character of “wants” in your life and needs to be surrendered to the Shepherd for His timing and supply?

Pray

Lord, forgive me for the times I let the optional and incidental things from this world become unhealthy wants and needs in my life. When I stop long enough to consider all You have done for me, those earthly priorities vanish before Your glory. Help me today to be still and know You are God, my Shepherd, in whom I have everything I need. Thank You for summing up Your abundant supply in the person of Your Son, Jesus, in whose name I pray, Amen. (Quote source here.)

I’d like to include one more thought on the phrase, “I shall not want.” This one comes from a blog post on Living Proof Ministries which was founded by Beth Moore, and the post was written by Lindsee(a young woman who used to work at LPM) titled, I Shall Not Want.” Beth Moore is a widely recognized evangelist, prolific author, Bible teacher, and founder of Living Proof Ministries, a Bible-based organization for women based in Houston, Texas.

Every morning while I am getting ready for the day, I listen to either a podcast or music. I go in and out of seasons with podcasts and right now, they’re on the back-burner while my music has made a comeback. I typically put on a worship CD of some sort, but other times I press shuffle and let my iPod do the leading. That’s always an interesting mix, but it’s fun nonetheless.

This morning I put on my “Recently Played” playlist and let that shuffle. I think there are nearly 100 songs on that particular playlist, and since my taste in music is pretty eclectic, it’s a fairly random assortment and one that keeps me guessing as to what song will come on next.

Not to my surprise, Audrey Assad usually ends up on this playlist and this morning I was struck afresh with “I Shall Not Want,” a song from her most recent album and inspired from Psalm 23. It is my second favorite, next to “Good to Me,” which I actually wrote about here. (I’d just like to go ahead and apologize for every blog post that is birthed from a song. It’s how I roll.)

From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From a life of worldly passions
Deliver me O God

From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me O God

And I shall not want, I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want
When I taste Your goodness I shall not want

From the fear of serving others
From the fear of death or trial
From the fear of humility
Deliver me O God

The reason it’s my second favorite is because it confronts me in my uncomfortable places and convicts me on issues I’d rather suppress and ignore. It’s one of those songs that just gets all up in your business, hence my love/hate relationship with it. I mean, from the need to be understood, accepted and fear of being lonely? Ouch. I’m telling you the truth when I say that so often her lyrics leave me speechless. Speechless or thankful because she has a gift in putting words to what I’m feeling. . . .

We started Bible study this past Tuesday and one thing that stuck out to me while I was reading earlier this week was the word “dependencies.” Our current and brand new series is called “Breath” and it is all about the Holy Spirit. We’re barely getting started but the word Beth brought to us on Tuesday was stunning to say the least. I’m not going to even try and recap for fear of obliterating the entire series, but I can say that we’re praying for miracles and salvations to blow through Bible study these next six weeks.

I think the reason the word dependencies jumped out at me is because, if I can be so honest, in my own personal life, I’ve noticed that the Lord has been removing all manner of dependencies from my life. Dependencies that distract me from Jesus himself. And while it’s not a fun process in the least, and even hurts most times, it’s a good thing. I said to a friend the other day that when we have no where to go but to Jesus, it’s a good place to be. Yes, I have the sweetest friends and the most caring family, but even when we have all of the above, there are just some things that only Jesus can tend to. There are some places that only He can fill because truly, there are intimate things that only He knows. Even in marriage our spouse wasn’t meant to be a God to us, but a helpmate. If some of us were honest, we’d could say that some of our dependencies are secrets only He knows about, but we’ve never spoken them aloud to anybody, let alone Him. But as a God who is intimately acquainted with you, He knows, He sees, He doesn’t require you to change before you come to Him and He still pursues you with His perfect and unconditional love.

Can we just all be real here and ask God to deliver us from our enemies? Our dependencies? And then all agree with each other in Jesus’ name? We can even speak it anonymously if need be. I know it’s Friday and Monday is the day for starting over (do you sense my sarcasm?), but let’s not wait until Monday, let it be today! After all, Jesus came “not to call the righteous ones to repentance, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) That’s good news to those of us today who are erring on the side of sin. Erring on the side of dependency of the things that make us weak and sick. Erring on the church-lady taboo that we’re all strong and well. Jesus is good news, indeed. (Quote source here.)

These three different views by the three different authors on the phrase “I shall not want” should give us plenty of “food for thought” on the meaning of “I shall not want” in our own lives. Also, I’ve included the Audrey Assad song, I Shall Not Want,” referenced above in the blog post by Lindsee, as the YouTube Video for this blog post (see below). And I’ll end this post with those famous opening words from King David in Psalm 23. . .

The Lord. . .

Is my Shepherd. . .

I shall not want. . . .

YouTube Video: “I Shall Not Want” by Audrey Assad:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Shifting Winds

windmill-dennis-flood-2004Two of the most universally recognized portions of Scripture in the Bible are The Lord’s Prayer, and Psalm 23. The Lord’s Prayer is actually tucked in the middle of Jesus Sermon on the Mount, and it is how Jesus taught folks back then (and those of us today through his teachings in the Bible) how to pray. Jesus’ instructions are found in Matthew 6:5-15 (NKJV):

The Model Prayer

And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly. And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words.

Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him. In this manner, therefore, pray:

Our Father who is in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power
And the glory forever.
Amen.

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

The key to answered prayer, of course, is held in our ability to forgive those who have done harm to us in some way (as in trespasses or debtors). Trespass is defined as “an unlawful act causing injury to the person, property, or rights of another, committed with force or violence, actual or implied” (quote source here); and debtor is defined as “a person who is in debt or under financial obligation to another” (quote source here).

Psalm 23 is one of the most well known psalms of David, the shepherd boy and the warrior who became Israel’s second king (brief background story is available at this link). Here is Psalm 23 (NKJV):

Psalm 23
(A Psalm of David)

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down
in green pastures;

He leads me beside
the still waters.

He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths
of righteousness

For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me

All the days of my life;
And I will dwell
in the house of the Lord

Forever.

Like millions of others down through the ages up through today, I memorized both The Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 many years ago, but I have to say that their meaning and power did not become clear to me until these past seven plus years as I have traversed through one of the toughest times in my entire life since I lost my job in Houston back in April 2009. And they have become as much a part of me as breathing.

The other day I ran across a new book, the subject of which happens to be on both The Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23. The book is titled, 21 Seconds to Change Your World (2016) by Dr. Mark Rutland, who is “a missionary, evangelist, ordained minister of the International Ministerial Fellowship, and founder and president of Global Servants and the National Institute of Christian Leadership. He also currently serves on the preaching team at Jentezen Franklin’s Free Chapel. Dr. Rutland was the third President of Oral Roberts University, and prior to Oral Roberts University he served as President of Southeastern University for ten years. Additionally he has served as Pastor of Calvary Assembly of God in Orlando, Florida, and as an Associate Pastor at Mount Paran Church of God in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Rutland is also a New York Times bestselling author and he has written numerous books to include “ReLaunch” (2013) and this latest offering, “21 Seconds to Change Your World” (2016). (Source: here and from the back book cover).

This book describes a ten-year period of time in Dr. Rutland’s life when, as he explains in Chapter 1 titled, “How The Lord’s Prayer Saved My Life,” he had fallen into a well of “fatigue, toxic success, and, subsequently, depression that had subverted my soul” (p. 17). On pages 19-20, Dr. Rutland explains:

Over the course of those painful years, nearly ten years, where I prayed the Lord’s Prayer like a drowning man, I added to my daily saturation in that prayer an ancient song, or perhaps a poem, written not by a Jewish rabbi but by a Jewish king. David, Israel’s greatest and most complicated king, wrote the poem a thousand years before Jesus of Nazareth was born. Today Jews and Gentiles alike still use the poem devotionally. It is called the Twenty-third Psalm.

I began with the Lord’s Prayer, then later mixed in the Twenty-third Psalm. Prayed back to back, over and over and over again, dozens of times a day, they became the lifeline that hauled me up from the pit and put my feet in a broad place. They were medicine and life and health to me. They became the recipe of the divine. Now, all these years later, I still pray them together, time after time, every single day of my life. Praying them together so often, hundreds, perhaps thousands of times over these years, I began to see how beautifully the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 fit together. they are gears that interlock gently, perfectly, never grinding, turning the human soul toward the healing for which it yearns. Seen, prayed, and laid out side by side, the parallel splendor of the two is absolutely miraculous.

Come with me now. Let me introduce you or, more likely, reintroduce you to my beloved friends, the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23. Of course, they are not my friends alone. They have brought healing power to millions for centuries. I invite you to meet them, or meet them again, and come to know them more intimately, perhap more fully, then you ever have before. (Quote source: “21 Seconds to Change Your World,” pp. 19-20).

In my own life over these past several years, the combination of praying The Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 (not as a matter of rote memory but as an intimate connection to God) just sort of “happened” from the hard place I found myself in after going through a massive job hunt of several years standing, and yet it seemed as if the doors of heaven remained closed to me (actually, slammed shut) as far as finding another job. While in Dr. Rutland’s case it was depression caused from fatigue and toxic success that had all but consumed his life at that time, it has not been a case of depression in my own life. Rather, it is an intense exasperation at not being able to understand what, exactly, was (and still is) standing in the way of me not being able to find another job. After all, I had never had a hard time find working in my entire life until I encountered that job in Houston that I ended up losing in April 2009, a scant seven months after it began in late September 2008. Also, a seven-month job, regardless of any reason for losing it–in and of itself–should not have ended a successful twenty-year career in my professional field of work.

Well, if you’re a regular reader of my blog you know my story. And the point of this blog post is not a recounting of my story. I have to say I was delighted to find this book that combines a heartfelt study of the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 together as I know what it has meant in my own life to pray both in combination more times then I can count over these past several years.

the-lord-is-my-shepherd-i-shall-not-want21 Seconds to Change Your World is a treasure trove of information on the history of the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23, and despite what some of my readers may be thinking (possibly “how boring, right?”), Dr. Rutland has a wonderful way of making them come alive in a way that most folks familiar with both passages have never given thought to beyond the cursory or rote reading/praying of each passage.

The book is divided into three parts. The first part is titled, “The Journey Begins,” and includes three chapters titled, “How the Lord’s Prayer saved my life,” “Life-changing words: The Rabbi’s Prayer and the King’s Poem,” and “A brief history of Jesus and David.” The second part is titled, “The Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23,” and contains Chapters 4-19, where Dr. Rutland takes each passage, line by line and sometimes combined together, using rich histories of both Jesus and David to bring to life each line of both passages in a way I have never read before in other books on this subject.

The third and final part is titled, “To Change Your World,” which contains the final five chapters on saturation prayer, meditational prayer, congregational prayer, inner healing, and benediction, plus Appendix A: One Night With the Good Shepherd; and Appendix B: The Lord’s Prayer in various languages.

Mark Batterson, a New York Times bestselling author and lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC., states the following in his forward at the beginning of Dr. Rutland’s book on pp. 9-11:

If I had to teach one message over and over and over again, it would be how to pray. The good news is that the best teacher in the history of mankind made it really easy for people like me to teach this message. Thousands of years ago Jesus gave us a template; we call it “The Lord’s Prayer.”

Thus “21 Seconds to Change Your World,” with it’s strangely simple and wildly profound message, was born. This book is bold. This book is vulnerable. This book is revolutionary. By combining two ancient poems, Dr. Rutland has given us a compass for our intellect and our spirituality that is both universal and sufficient. In the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23, everything that you might feel needs to be said when you pray is said beautifully–whether it’s solitarily or congregationally.

I’ve always said that I believe we are all only one prayer away from a totally different life. But Dr. Rutland has taken it a step further. It’s exactly 21 seconds. That is not a long time to completely revolutionize your world. . . .

It you ask me what I pray for more than anything else, the answer is hands-down the favor of God. While it’s difficult to describe or define, the favor of God is what God can do for you that you cannot do for yourself. Asking for a better way to pray is a prayer that can and should be prayed. It’s funny that prayer is one of the most difficult and simplest things to do every single day. Sometimes, though it might be all we have, it’s hard to find the right words. We can all attest to this. Who hasn’t felt the blush of guilt from having to admit that you don’t pray enough or that you should pray more? But always remember one thing when it comes to prayer–it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart. The Bible gave us the words, and this book reinforces and sheds a new and relevant light on them.

You are only 21 second away from living a totally different life. (Quote source: “21 Seconds to Change Your World,” pp. 9-11).

The following is from Chapter 13 titled, “David–Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies” from Psalm 23:5a (pp. 101-103):

How very like David the king this statement is [e.g. Psalm 23:5a]. David knew all about enemies. His whole life he was surrounded by enemies. The ravenous beasts who wanted his sheep were the enemies of his childhood. And what a childhood it was! After the lions and bears came Goliath, then Saul, the Philistines, the Ammonites, the Hittites, the Jebusites, palace plotters, one of his own sons, and finally, old age. When David wrote of enemies, he knew whereof he spoke. He lived his life in the presence of enemies.

It’s no wonder then that he speaks of God’s loving providence in the midst–not in the absence–of enemies. David never said God would give me a life without enemies. He did say that God has not forsaken me when gossipers and detractors and envious plotters are circling me like hungry wolves.

As a university president and a businessman, I frequently needed cash-flow projections from my chief financial officer. In order to understand those projections I had to know the assumptions they were based on. Likewise, the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 are based on a certain set of assumptions.

Here are the seven assumptions of the Lord’s Prayer:

  1. There is a God and He is our heavenly Father.
  2. He is worthy to be praised.
  3. He is our king and He has a will for our lives now, not just later in heaven.
  4. We must eat to live, and we can trust Him to eat.
  5. We have all sinned and need forgiveness.
  6. We must forgive to be forgiven.
  7. We will face temptation and evil.

Here are the seven assumptions of Psalm 23:

  1. The Lord is a good and caring shepherd-provider, even as I am a needy sheep.
  2. I have needs in my body such as food and water.
  3. My soul also has needs such as restoration.
  4. I live in a confusing world and I need guidance.
  5. I will walk through the valley of the shadow of death. (The psalmist assumes that it is a matter of when, not if.)
  6. There will be times I need comfort and protection.
  7. I will (not might) have enemies.

This last assumption is probably the most painful to learn. When I was young–and I believe many young folks feel this way–I thought that if I was a nice person I would not have enemies. Now I see that nothing you do can keep someone else from deciding they are your enemy. You may indeed make enemies with your own actions, but you are likely to have enemies regardless of how nice or good or generous or anything you are. It is so hard for those who desire to be no one’s enemy to realize that they themselves have enemies not of their own making. On the other hand, it is a joy to realize that though I may be absolutely surrounded by enemies, I am not abandoned. Even in their mocking presence, I am loved, guarded, and provided for by my Father and Shepherd.

The story of Hadassah, or Esther, is perhaps the prime example in the Bible of the truth about hidden enemies. The young Queen Esther is certainly to be admired, but the real heroic figure in the story in Mordecai. Without Mordecai there is no story of Esther. Indeed, without Mordecai, the slaughter of the Jews would have been an unimaginable horror. Mordecai’s story is also a prime example of God’s blessing in the presence of enemies.

In that story, told in the book of Esther, a man named Haman hates Mordecai, the Jew. Haman’s is an unreasonable and envious hatred, as, by the way, most anti-Semitism is unreasonable and fueled by envy. Haman wants to despoil Mordecai, take all he has, pull him down, and even kill him–and not just Mordecai, but every Jew in Xerxes’ kingdom. Mordecai has no such evil designs on Haman. He does not harbor hatred for Haman, or want him killed, or covet Haman’s position or his possessions. Mordecai is a decent man, a faithful servant of the king, and a loyal citizen, yet Haman hates him bitterly.

It is a dangerous naïveté to think that because you are a decent, God-fearing person who tries to be friendly and fair to everyone, you will have no enemies. Psalm 23 assumes the presence of enemies, not the absence of enemies. Just like Mordecai, you have enemies. And just like Haman, they feel justified, even righteous in their every attempt to bring you down. Haman justified his efforts to destroy Mordecai by wrapping it in the claim that it would be good for Xerxes and his kingdom. You have enemies who assume your destruction might even be good for God and His kingdom. When my soul most needed restoration, I was shocked to discover that some did not want me healed, but instead wanted me strung up.

As in the case of Haman and Mordecai, God will also care for you miraculously. At one point, Mordecai’s archenemy, Haman, must lead Mordecai through the streets of the capital, proclaiming the king’s favor upon the hated Jew. Finally, of course, Esther is used by God to foil the murderous plot, and Haman himself is hanged on the gallows he built for Mordecai.

We can rest in the knowledge that God will protect us and give us victory over those who hate us without cause.

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (Quote source: “21 Seconds to Change Your World,” pp. 101-104).

I hope this sample reading from Chapter 13 in 21 Seconds to Change Your World has whetted your appetite for more. Click here to find a variety of bookstores where this book can be purchased. I know in my own life, even though my outward circumstances haven’t changed yet, how incredibly meaningful it has been to me in my own relationship with Jesus Christ to combine The Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 over and over and over again in prayer. To have found Dr. Rutland’s book the other day was a confirmation to me of just how powerful combining them in prayer can be. And if you haven’t memorized them yet, do so now.

I’d like to end this post with the words from The Lord’s Prayer that are left out in some translations. They are found in the closing of the prayer (NKJV, also found in KJV):

For Yours (thine) is the kingdom and the power . . .

And the glory, forever . . .

Amen . . . .

YouTube Video: “Overcomer” by Mandisa:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

 

My Favorite Psalm

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I’m taking a break from blog post writing while I’m doing some traveling. I might write some short blogs like this one on my smartphone but I really need to use my laptop for the longer blog posts.

For this post I just thought I’d post a favorite psalm of mine from King David. I’m writing this post on my smartphone (a first for me). It’s a bit scaled back at the moment, but it is the words that are important. I’ll make it a bit fancier and add an actual YouTube video later (a link to a YouTube video is included at the end of the post). Update–As you can see, I did add a pic and a YouTube video link, and the actual video when I got on my laptop briefly on June 10, 2016.

This psalm might be one of your favorite psalms, too. It is, without a doubt, one of the most quoted psalms of King David in the entire world! It is Psalm 23:

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down
in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me.
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.

Surely goodness and mercy
shall follow me
all the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the
House of the Lord…

FOREVER…

YouTube Video Link: Click here for Psalm 23,” sung by Juanita Bynum.

I just Googled and found out that the YouTube “embed code” is not available on the YouTube app so I won’t be able to actually place the YouTube video on my blog post when writing a post on my smartphone. I can include a “link” to the video which is what I did above for the video for this post and “embed” the coding later on my laptop.

Update: 6-10-16: I just got on my laptop and here is the actual YouTube Video:

Photo credit here