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The Lord is my shepherd, Part One

The Word of God is like a lamp to our feet (Psalm 119:105).

We lean into its truth for many reasons — whether that’s to strengthen us in times of adversity, guide us when we find ourselves at a crossroads in life, reassure us when we feel alone, comfort us when we’re grieving, or show us how best to travel life’s narrow road.

As we grow as followers of Jesus, certain Scriptures become our anchor. We learn them off by heart, ready to quote them in times of need and encouragement.

A well-known Scripture

Psalm 23:1-6 contains some of the best known verses in Scripture. I have often found that this psalm held me when anxiety rose up, providing a vision of peace and goodness when I was losing sight of the One who holds everything in His hands.

How good it is to be reminded that we have a good shepherd, leading and guiding us, refreshing our spirit and providing a sense of belonging. Yet, according to Ashley LeRoy Wilkerson, pastor and author of Psalm 23: Lessons From the Desert, those educated in the West tend to misunderstand it.

Over the next couple of months, we’re going to explore Psalm 23 in more depth, using some of the insights from Ashley’s book. We hope it’ll give you a deep and surprisingly fresh understanding of these familiar verses and how they apply to our lives.

The singer behind the song

Realising that Psalm 23 is a song can shape how we view it. The way we relate to artistic expressions like songs is entirely different to how we react to other modes of literature such as history, biography or fiction. Songs are a means of deep expression. They share the writer’s deeply personal experiences with others.

This psalm — this song — was written by a shepherd boy turned king. David’s background has everything to do with the vivid nature and descriptions of Psalm 23. Knowing more about the writer helps us understand his frame of mind when writing.

David, a brilliant musician and the youngest of eight, appears to have been frequently overlooked and ignored (1 Samuel 16:1-13).

Ashley suggests that people may have regarded him as emotional or overly dramatic. This, after all, is the man who danced exuberantly before the Lord and, on one occasion, feigned madness.

Think about someone you know who is incredibly creative. Would some consider them to be a bit highly strung, sensitive or emotional?

The Bible indicates that David experienced great highs (1 Chronicles 29:10-20) and great lows (Psalm 13). Psalm 69 suggests he dealt openly with depression and anxiety. He regularly questioned God (Psalm 22), ran from people and situations (1 Samuel 19:9-18), and made some horrendous life choices (2 Samuel 11, 1 Chronicles 21). But despite the wrong paths David sometimes took, and the destruction that resulted, God calls him ‘a man after my own heart’ (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22).

The enemy of our souls would love us to believe that we don’t deserve God’s full forgiveness. Thankfully, as we explore the deeper meaning of Psalm 23, we see how God is able to lead His people out of dark valleys.

Emmanuel — God with us

David depicts God as a shepherd because David knew that a shepherd’s place was with his sheep — ever present, ever attentive. There’s a small word at the beginning of the psalm around which everything revolves — the Lord is ‘my’ shepherd.

It emphasises relationship — belonging. Being a Christian and following Jesus is deeply personal. The more time we spend with Him, the more we become like Jesus. Like a shepherd, the Lord leads us to places of sustenance, rest and refreshing.

But the green pastures mentioned in verse two may not be what we imagine. Shepherds in the Middle East have to herd their flocks through rocky mountain terrain. As seasonal winds blow over the Mediterranean Sea, tiny droplets of dew can collect on the sides of larger rocks in specific areas.

If enough dew collects, then, in time, tiny turfs of grass will grow. In fact, an entire area will only be enough for one herd and for one day. The next day, the sheep must follow the shepherd, again trusting him to provide.

This teaches us to depend on the One who leads us. Receiving our ‘daily bread’ isn’t about lush green meadows but provision in times of drought or desert — something which challenges our natural desire to stock up on God’s provision, sure of when and how He’ll provide.

It shows the importance of trusting God’s provision for tomorrow, without proof of it today. It’s not easy, I know. It also implies that God is more concerned with our cultivation than our comfort.

Ashley suggests that, as we learn to trust Him, it cultivates a heart after Him.

God gives us enough for today, then — shepherd-like — leads us on.