Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Six Powerful Verses

Dannah Gresh: A lot of people can quote Psalm 23, one of the most well-known Bible passages. But how many truly understand it? Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: There is something about the heart and character of God that relates to every single situation in life that you or I can ever face. In fact, I believe that if we really grasped and believed these six verses alone, it would have a monumental impact on the way we live—because we could face every moment, every situation, every circumstance of life, with peace, with joy, with faith, with confidence, and with courage.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of A 30-Day Walk with God Through the Psalms, for June 8, 2020. I'm Dannah Gresh.

When I hear a Scripture passage repeated over and over, I can become so accustomed to it that I can forget its meaning. I can recite Psalm 23 about trusting in the Shepherd, but at the same time, I can be worrying about all sorts of things.

Nancy’s about to help us take a fresh look at this familiar passage.

Nancy: Those of you who’ve heard me teach before or read some of my books know that in my personal quiet time, I like to read through the Scripture. I’ve made a habit, over many years, of reading consecutively through the Bible—and doing that even a couple of times a year. But for the past three months, I’ve done something a little different than normal.

I’ve had two passages of Scripture that I have lived in for the past three months. That doesn’t mean I haven’t read anything else, but I’ve really been soaking in those couple of passages of Scripture because of where I’ve been in my own walk with the Lord and in my pilgrimage with Him.

One of those passages is one of the best-known, most-loved, and most often-quoted passages in all of God’s Word. It’s Psalm 23, the Shepherd’s Psalm. I have to say, as many times as I’ve read Psalm 23 over the years, I have never really pondered it. I’ve never considered it deeply.

You say, “How can you spend three months in something that’s so familiar?”

It’s just six verses; it’s one of the shorter psalms. I want to say that this study has been more than a study. I’ve meditated. I’ve taken one phrase at a time and just savored it and pondered it in the daytime and in the nighttime, as I’m going to bed and as I’m waking up. God has used this passage of Scripture to minister so richly and so deeply to my own heart.

I want to encourage you to be reading Psalm 23, perhaps at least once a day. We’re going to skim the surface of Psalm 23. There’s so much more in it than what we’ll be able to cover during these next days, but God will give you fresh insight and fresh riches from His Word as you meditate on this passage and as we study it in the days ahead.

This psalm is a favorite psalm of Jews, of Orthodox, and of Protestants alike. It’s one of the passages of Scripture that all the world recognizes and loves and respects, but it’s not a passage of Scripture that is often well-lived. We’re more familiar with it in our heads and in our minds than we are in our practice.

If you’ve been to funerals, you’ll recall that this psalm is often quoted at funerals, and, therefore, people often think of it as a psalm about dying.

In fact, while working on this psalm I had a friend who had a friend that had an accident. They didn't know if he was going to make it through the accident (he did!). A pastor came to see him in the hospital while the wife was there in the room. The pastor began to quote Psalm 23, and the wife said, "Stop! Don't say that!" She associated Psalm 23 with dying. She thought if the pastor is quoting Psalm 23, then my husband is not going to pull out of this situation that he's in.

Actually, this is not a psalm about dying but about living. It has so much to say about how we live in every season of life.

It’s a psalm written by David, the shepherd king. We don’t know when he wrote it except that it was in his later years, as a middle-aged or older man. Some commentators think it may have been during the time of Absalom’s rebellion, when King David’s son rebelled against him and tried to take over the kingdom, and David had to flee from his home. We don’t know if that’s a fact, but regardless of when it was, David had been through a lot in his life.

He had experienced a lot of blessing, a lot of hardship, and a lot of pain. At some point—as an older man reflecting back on all that he had been through, all that God had done for him, and all that God had been to him—the picture came to his mind of the relationship that he had had with his sheep when he was a shepherd boy. And he said, “That’s a good word picture for what God has been to me all these years.”

David knew, having been a shepherd, how much sheep need a shepherd. He knew how much he needed a shepherd. He knew that we can’t shepherd ourselves. Sheep are too dumb, too defenseless, too clueless to shepherd themselves. He knew that we are like those sheep.

Now, Psalm 23 falls in the middle of a trio of psalms that are what we call “messianic psalms”—psalms that point to Christ the Messiah. So in this psalm, as well as in Psalm 22 and Psalm 24, we have a precious picture of the Lord Jesus and a description of His work in our lives and our relationship with Him.

  • In Psalm 22, we see Christ as the Good Shepherd.
  • In Psalm 23, we see Him as the Great Shepherd.
  • In Psalm 24, we see Him as the Chief Shepherd.

Those are phrases that come from the New Testament, and they fit well with those psalms.

  • In Psalm 22, we see a picture of the cross.
  • In Psalm 23, we see a picture of the Christian life once we get to the cross.
  • In Psalm 24, we see a picture of Christ’s ultimate conquest over all creation and over all of history.

In Psalm 22, we see a picture of our past justification, where we were delivered from the penalty of sin. That’s the picture of the psalm that speaks of the cross of Christ—“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” And through Christ’s death on the cross, we were justified; we were delivered from the penalty of sin.

In Psalm 23, the one we will be considering over these days, we see a picture of our present sanctification as we are being delivered—present tense—from the power of sin, and how we live out that life once we’ve come to faith in Christ: from here to heaven. That’s the period of time that seems so long, but really isn’t all that long in the light of eternity.

Then in Psalm 24, we see a picture of our future glorification, where we will be delivered—praise the Lord—from the very presence of sin.

So Psalm 23 is right in the middle of those psalms, a picture of life here and now, real life, real issues, and what Christ is to us as the Shepherd at that time.

Now, this is an intensely personal psalm. It’s David’s personal testimony. “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” He describes who God is to him and what God has done for him. It’s a psalm of relationship. It’s an intimate psalm, a picture of rich, intimate fellowship, communion, union, and communication between a shepherd and one of his sheep.

In the first three verses, David talks about the Lord, and it’s very personal: “The LORD is my shepherd.” But then in verse 4, he gets even more personal. He begins to talk not only about the Lord, but to the Lord: “You are with me.”

Knowing and trusting the Shepherd’s heart, having that personal relationship with a God who cares, makes all the difference in the world. No matter what season of life you’re in, it makes all the world look different.

Let me just read the psalm. Today I just want to introduce it, give you this little overview, and then starting tomorrow, we’ll go phrase by phrase through the psalm.

Psalm 23: “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).

Let me just say, by the way, that those first three verses are really important. If you haven’t been walking with the Shepherd in those seasons of life described in the first three verses—where He’s leading you beside still waters and in green pastures and in paths of righteousness—then when you get to the life experience of verse 4, you’ll have a harder time experiencing and trusting the reality of His presence.

What does verse 4 say? “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death”—the “valley of deep darkness” is the literal translation there—“I will fear no evil.”

You’d better know your Shepherd before you get to that point. And then, if you’ve come to know Him in the other seasons of life, you’ll be able to say what David says here: “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

And then, in verses 5 and 6, there’s a difference between commentators as to whether this is continuing the picture of the shepherd and his sheep, or whether this is a different picture now, a metaphor of a gracious host. I think it doesn’t really matter because they both are precious to us.

It says in verses 5 and 6, “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.”

In that last verse, we have our future hope, our long-term hope. Not just promises of God for today, rich as they are, but great, huge hope for tomorrow and for the next day and for all my tomorrows: an eternal hope. “I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

As we read through this psalm, just on first reading, you see that here we have a Shepherd who is intimately and intricately involved in every detail of the lives of his sheep.

  • He cares.
  • He’s involved.
  • He’s there.
  • He’s active.
  • He’s at work in every situation and season of their lives.
  • He’s always engaged with them. They’re never apart from His watch-care and His involvement.

This speaks to us as children of God, as sheep of God. Every season of my life is covered in this psalm. From the point of conversion, through the ups and downs of life, through peaceful times and challenging times, in times of prosperity and times of adversity, in times when we’re walking closely with the Lord as well as the times we all have when we stray from His side—this psalm covers that all the way to our death and beyond that, through all the days of eternity.

In all of that whole span of life, through all of this life and all of eternity, our Shepherd is always there, always at work, always leading His children, always ministering to our needs for our good and His glory.

Now, having said that, this is a psalm with a lot of reality in it. It doesn’t gloss over the hard things. There are references in this psalm to darkness and death and evil and enemies. He recognizes the presence of those.

As I've been preparing this series, it's interesting how many of my dear friends have been walking through excruciatingly painful life circumstances. Some of them are over things of which they have no control—sickness, the valley of the shadow of death. There are some dealing with huge sin issues, personal relationship issues, family issues. As I look back through my own life, I've been through some of those seasons myself, and I'm sure more yet to come.

But what has strengthened and encouraged my heart in this passage is that all of that is under the goodness and the mercy, the loving watch–care, of our Good Shepherd.

I’ve found, over these past three months, as I’ve meditated on this passage and engrafted it into my heart, that God has been renewing my mind. He’s been deepening my trust in His sovereignty, in His wisdom, in His care, His promises, His provision, His protection, and presence. He’s been grounding my heart more deeply in who He is—His goodness and His love.

It’s changing my perspective on all of life. It’s affecting the way I look at problems and pressures. It’s affecting the way I respond to them. That doesn’t mean I never get frustrated or irritated or uptight, but it’s happening less because I have a perspective here of who God is, what He’s doing, and that He’s involved.

There is something about the heart and character of God that relates to every single situation in life that you or I can ever face. We’ll see that in this psalm. In fact, I believe that if we really grasped and believed these six verses alone, it would have a monumental impact on the way we live.

Somebody emailed me recently and said, “How do you meditate on Scripture? Can you give me some hints about how to do it?”

Well, I don’t have any great pearls of wisdom to share about that, but I’ll just share with you what I’ve been doing, and that’s taking a phrase like “The LORD is my shepherd” and just pondering it—thinking about it, turning it over and over and over again in my mind and in my thoughts, looking at it from every possible angle, emphasizing one word at a time.

In fact, let’s just do that with this phrase: “The LORD is my shepherd.”

“The LORD.” We start with that great Hebrew name for God: Yahweh, Jehovah. The Jews were in awe of this name—as we should be, by the way—so much so that in their case they wouldn’t even say it out loud. This is the God who is the Creator, the origin, the cause of all things, the one who inhabits eternity, the one who rules over heaven and earth. That awesome, infinite, all-powerful, Jehovah God is my Shepherd.

He has a personal interest in me, his sheep. Is that incredible, or what?

I think back to Isaiah 40. We’ve studied that passage before on Revive Our Hearts. It’s a passage about the awesome power of God. It shows Him to be immense, infinite, sovereign, majestic, and powerful. But it says of that same God, in Isaiah chapter 40, verse 11, that “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”

Aren’t you glad that the almighty Creator and God of the universe has a tender heart? Is a relational God? A God who can be known and trusted? A God who engages with His creatures?

He didn't just spin this planet and this universe into existence and let it just be there on its own. He doesn't just engage with the world as a whole; He engages with us. The Lord has that tender shepherd's heart.

Now, of course, when we come to the New Testament, we discover that this passage is about Jehovah, but it’s about Christ.

Jesus said in John 10, “I am the good shepherd” (v. 14)—which, by the way, those Jews listening knew was a claim to deity. “I am the good shepherd.” Psalm 23 says, “The LORD is my shepherd”—the LORD Jehovah—and now Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” So the Jews are saying, “He’s claiming to be God.” Well, He is God. He is the Good Shepherd.

This is a psalm about Christ. He’s the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep; He’s the Great Shepherd; He’s the Chief Shepherd over His Church. He walked through the valley of the shadow of death. He’s faced every enemy. He faced Satan in the wilderness. He conquered evil by becoming our sin at the cross. This is a psalm of Christ, the Good Shepherd.

Now, human nature being what it is, our tendency—yours and mine—is to look to other people and things to shepherd us. David says, “The LORD is my shepherd,” but we look to others to provide for us, to protect us, to meet our needs. We may look to a job to provide for our needs, but do you know your job is not your provider? The Lord is your Shepherd. The Lord is your Provider.

You may look to a husband, if you have one—or if you’re single, you may wish you had a husband—to be your shepherd, your protector, your provider. People look to counselors, therapists, pastors, spiritual leaders, friends, and even ourselves. We will sooner look to someone, including ourselves, or something other than God to be our shepherd before we will humble ourselves and say, “Lord, You are my Shepherd.”

There’s nothing wrong with friends, pastors, leaders, jobs, counselors, and people to help minister to us in times of need, but we need to recognize that they’re all limited. They’re sheep, too, and they need a Shepherd. So they can mislead us. They can fail us. They can neglect us. If we’ve been looking to them to be our shepherd, what’s going to happen? We’re going to end up disappointed, disillusioned. Nothing and no one less than the Lord will do to be my Shepherd.

And then “The LORD is my shepherd”—present tense. He is your Shepherd now. Whatever season, whatever situation of life you may be in at this very moment, He is your Shepherd. I peaceful times of rest. When you're walking through this life, as we see in this psalm, choosing different paths, making different decisions—when you lie down, when you walk, when you are in the valley of deep darkness, whether you are surrounded by enemies. Whatever season of life, every day of your life, for all of eternity, you are promised His presence, His protection, His provision, His direction, His guardianship, His companionship . . . today!

That will be true tomorrow, and it will be true the next day, and it will be true every day for all of your life and for all of eternity. He is a present-tense help in time of trouble.

“The LORD is my shepherd.” This is more than just theology. I mean, it is theology, but it’s more than just some abstract concept. He is my Shepherd. It speaks of a personal relationship, of care, of attention.

And notice it’s not just that He is our Shepherd, though that is true: “We are His people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Ps. 100:3). But He is my Shepherd. Now, who can say that? The Lord is not everyone’s Shepherd. It's not appropriate to use this psalm at all funerals. He's not everyone's Shepherd.

How can you know if He’s your Shepherd? John chapter 10 tells us two ways you can know for sure. Jesus says, “My sheep”—those who can say, “The LORD is my shepherd”—“My sheep hear my voice . . . and they follow me” (v. 27). “They hear my voice.” Do you listen to Him speak? Do you recognize His voice? “And they follow me.” Do you follow His leadership? If you hear His voice and if you follow Him, then you can say, “The LORD is my shepherd.”

And can I say that if the Lord is not your Shepherd, then this psalm does not apply to you? If the Lord is not your Shepherd, if you don’t have that relationship with God through Jesus Christ, then:

  • You can’t expect guidance through life.
  • You can’t expect that your soul will be restored when it’s weak or weary.
  • You will fear evil.
  • You will not have comfort when you go through the valley of the shadow of death.
  • And you have no hope—for this life or for the next—if the Lord is not your Shepherd.

So this psalm is an invitation to receive Christ as your Shepherd, if He’s not already.

Now, if the Lord is your Shepherd, that says:

  • He knows your situation.
  • He knows the challenges you face.
  • He knows your family.
  • He knows your financial situation.
  • He knows your health issues.
  • He knows your weaknesses, your besetting sins.

He is just the Shepherd you need. He’s a tailor-made Shepherd. He’s attentive to your need. He’s going to care for you, to provide what you need, to keep you from predators, to discipline when you need it, to take you to the right pastures at just the right time.

He’ll do that for you if you will let Him. He wants to do that. He’s able to do that. But you’ve got to let Him. You’ve got to follow Him, and when you do, that’s evidence that you do belong to Him.

Don't try to shepherd yourself. And don't settle for lesser shepherds. Don't resist His leading. He knows what is best for you.

And then, “The LORD is my shepherd.” As we said earlier, that means by implication that we are sheep.

Anything you read about sheep is not very encouraging. In fact, one commentator said that maybe the reason God gave us sheep is because that is a picture of what we are like. They are helpless. They are clueless. They have no sense of direction—that’s a lot like me! They are defenseless, dependent, foolish. They’re not smart. They need a shepherd.

“All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isa. 53:6). That’s what sheep do; they’re prone to wander. That’s what we are.

So if He’s my Shepherd, that’s a reminder that we are sheep. Now, that’s not very complimentary of us. To accept this psalm is to take a position of humility and say, “Okay, there’s nothing smart about me. There’s nothing cool or gifted about me. I need a Shepherd.”

He’s a good Shepherd. He’s not just a hired hand. He cares for His sheep. He will never neglect them. And He’s good in two senses. He’s good in terms of His heart, His motives, His intent. He desires our best; He’s benevolent—He’s good in that sense.

But He’s also good in terms of His ability, His capability. He’s a capable Shepherd. He’s able to shepherd His sheep.

The Egyptians thought of sheep and shepherds as lowly. You read that in the book of Genesis chapter 46, when Joseph was bringing his family to live in Egypt. He said the Egyptians despised shepherds (see v. 34).

In the Scripture, Egypt is a picture of the world. Isn’t it true that the world despises what God highly esteems? The world rejects Christ. It always has; it always will. But to us who are His sheep, He is precious. He is highly esteemed.

“The LORD is my shepherd.” That means I belong to Him; I listen to His voice; I follow Him. It means I am His sheep. I am His responsibility. He is watching out for me. It is His job to care for me.

If the Lord is your Shepherd, that means that you belong to Him, that you’re His responsibility, that on this day—in whatever desperate, dire strait you may find yourself in—the Lord is your Shepherd. It is His job to care for you, so let Him be your Shepherd.

Dannah: Have you spent time resting in the presence of your Shepherd today? Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been making the first phrase of Psalm 23 come alive in a series called "The Lord Is My Shepherd."

A lot of women want to spend time alone with God, but they don’t know where to start. Well, I want to share a new resource available from Revive Our Hearts that’s designed just for you. It helps women find a place to start and strengthen their faith.The Lord has given us all we need for a strong and vibrant faith. Flourish: A Plan for Personal & Spiritual Vitality, is a kit that will remind you of the responsibility you have to nurture that faith.

Included in this kit is the Personal Vitality Plan to help assess the condition of your body, mind, and soul. You’ll also receive a booklet with teaching from Nancy on 2 Peter chapter 1.

You can get this exclusive resource when you give a gift of any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Visit ReviveOurHearts.com to give, or call us at 1–800–569–5959, and be sure to ask for the Flourish kit.

You know the phrase, “I shall not want”? That line from Psalm 23 sounds great, but is it possible when you have a mortgage, a car payment, growing kids, and a troubled economy? Nancy addresses this portion of Psalm 23 tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts. I'm Dannah Gresh.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth invites you to take a closer look at Psalm 23. It's an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

 

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