Psalm 23:1-6 (KJV)
- The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
- He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
- He restoreth my soul: he leadeth 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 thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
- Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth 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 all sounds good, right? I mean, what God-fearing person wouldn’t want all of this for their life?
I’ve read this scripture many times at several different points in my life: as a young boy, as a newly married man, as a father, again today, and countless times in between. I’ve grown up hearing Psalm 23 … reciting it and knowing that God will take care of me and I will not want. How many times have you read this and thought, how do I get these blessings and promises?
The concept seems simple. However, there are two things I didn’t consider this verse until just recently.
First, sheep are conformists. They enjoy being in a herd. They find protection in numbers. Sheep are good this way, but people often are not. As a human, I’ve not been much of a conformist. I like challenging the system, testing authority, and seeing just how close I can get to the edge. So many humans, like myself, don’t behave like sheep at all. Do you?
Second, when I think of Psalm 23 and how it applies to my life today, I’m hit with a sudden realization. If I want the benefits listed in Psalm 23, I have to be a “good” sheep. Not just a sheep, and not just any sheep. I have to be God’s sheep. I have to study God’s word and APPLY it to my life. To be treated like a sheep, I have to act like God’s sheep. So how’s a person who loves a challenge going to act like a sheep?
For years, I wanted to be part of the herd. And at times, I even joined the herd when it was convenient for me. But most of the time, I just wanted the benefits of being with the herd without having to associate with the herd. I guess you could call that a self-serving attitude. If you are currently in that position, let me tell you something: it doesn’t work. Here’s why.
The Good Shepherd controls, protects, and provides for his sheep. He does everything within his power to care for and nurture these sheep—all while allowing them to grow and flourish. What he can’t control is the “free will” of a sheep. If that sheep decides to run off into the woods, it’s harder for the shepherd to provide and protect that one sheep. And when that sheep decides to run off, it no longer receives the benefits of the group. The sheep no longer gets the best grazing spots, the oversight of a caring shepherd, and the comfort and love of being part of a herd.
A shepherd also carries a “shepherd’s crook,” which is basically a stick. This stick is used for multiple things, including correcting the sheep’s behavior and fighting off prey who attack the sheep. When correcting the sheep, the shepherd acts out of love and what’s best for the sheep, although the sheep may not appreciate in that moment.
At the times in my life when I decided to leave the safety of the herd, I found myself both doing and saying things that I knew weren’t right or weren’t best for me in the long run—even though those same actions seemed to serve my own personal interests at the time.
For example, showing the love of Christ to others is easier to do when in the herd because you see others doing it. When a pattern or behavior is demonstrated for you, it’s certainly easier to do the same for others—as opposed to seeing others using their temper and mouth to get out of circumstances, then you follow suit.
Remember, bad company corrupts good character.
So, when you are reading Psalm 23 and wishing you had the things promised, ask yourself a simple, honest question. Are you in the herd? If you aren’t in the herd, then you are wondering around without protection. God, the Shepherd, is ready to fulfill His promises made in Psalm 23, but we have to be willing to do our part. I urge you to immediately do what it takes to get back into the herd.
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