Psalm 23 – Part 1
So we’ve just finished up our series on Revelation. And the last thing we looked at was the last chapter in the Bible which reminded us that eternity isn’t eternal boredom! I think we’ve all wondered or visualized heaven as a lot of cloud-sitting, robe-wearing, harp-strumming and hymn singing-as if it’s that church service that goes on and on for eternity with no end in sight-and you worry about how much fun that will be. Or you’ll hear someone say-I can’t wait to stand at the pearly gates and sing forever-and you think I don’t want to sing forever! But we looked at that great description of heaven which told us exactly the opposite-Rev 22:3-5. This describes action and activity-of serving the Lord and reigning with Him. Notice how those are the two verbs that describe eternity-not cloud-sitting and harp-strumming! What God has in store for His people is exactly what we’ve been meant for all our lives, exactly what we’ve been created for. The work that’s so hard here on earth now-with all sorts of obstacles and struggles and frustrations-becomes perfectly fulfilling and satisfying work there. Somehow we wrongly think that earth is where all the fun is to be had-so live it up now, get all you can here-because heaven is boring. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I quote from Paul who quoted from Isaiah-1 Cor 2:9. I love that verse! What’s up ahead is so wonderful and incredible our finite, earthly minds can hardly grasp it or understand it. I also quote CS Lewis from Mere Christianity who said-Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts would know that they do want and want acutely something that cannot be had in this world. And haven’t we all felt that-something we want that cannot be had in this world-whether standing on the beach looking at the ocean, or hiking in the mountains, or waking up on Christmas morning-there’s something almost indescribable that tugs at our hearts, something we want and long for so badly-but nothing on earth ever seems to satisfy it. That the stuff of earth only whets our appetite and stirs our hearts for the real thing that’s out there. So we’re left reaching, we’re left grasping, we’re left dreaming-but as followers of Christ that won’t always be the case.
Based on a verse like this-we can say with confidence that one day all those wants will become reality, all those longings will be realized. That they’re not empty pipe dreams-but something God put in our hearts to be quenched. And it will happen in the new heavens and the new earth that Jesus is preparing for us. It’s that perfect world filled with perfect people designed by our Perfect Savior. But what are we to do until then? What about now? Are we just supposed to keep longing and wanting for what’s in store? One the one hand yes-this life is always a longing for the next. We’ll never stop longing until we’re finally at home in the Lord’s presence where our longings cease. But on the other hand, I would also say that longings and wants can be satisfied here. And that’s what we’ll talk about this morning as we begin our new series. So let’s start with that word wants. What is it you want? And I suppose when asked that question in church on a Sunday morning-there’s a few responses that might instantly come to mind. If you’re asking what I want-how about a pillow and a blanket. Or what I want is to get finished and go to lunch-I’m starving! And I totally agree with that! But what about in life-what do you want? And maybe your list is really long-where to begin? There’s so many things I want! Or maybe your list is really short-there’s just a few things you want-and then you’re good. I don’t want much, Lord, just good friends, good laughter and a good cup of coffee. Or maybe you’ve found yourself saying-I don’t know what I want, but I know it isn’t this! Anybody said that before? We are a people of wants. There’s always something we want. So if the Lord could bless you in any way, what is it you want Him to do? What do you want the Lord to provide for you? What do you want the Lord to accomplish through you? What is it you want? And as we look at Psalm 23-it shows up right away-Ps 23:1. What a statement of confidence and peace! Notice-this isn’t God speaking to us-this is us speaking to God-saying this to Him-because you are my shepherd, Lord, I shall not want. So before we dive into that statement I want us to examine the background of the author who wrote it-and that’s David.
Now, initially, when you think about David, there are 4 things that stand out in his life. First, he was a King-in fact, historically David is remembered as Israel’s greatest and most beloved king. Secondly, he was a warrior, and we all remember David’s epic battle with Goliath. I feel like David was the first superhero-he could have been called Slingshot as he hurled those stones at Goliath. Sort of like the ultimate boss battle as he faced the guy everybody else was too scared of! Thirdly, David was a musician. And as we’re thinking about the Psalms, most Bible scholars believe that David wrote 78 of the 150 Psalms. So just over half of them. And while we don’t have the musical notes today, the Psalms were songs. Don’t forget that. What you’re reading in the Psalms are the lyrics that David wrote as he reflected on God. Not only was David the first superhero warrior-but he was also the first folk singer-the Bob Dylan of his day-as his songs have clearly stood the test of time. They’ve lasted for over 3,000 years! So you can picture David with his guitar sitting under the stars playing away; which leads us to the fourth thing about his life-and this is something we’d say in Iowa-David was a farm kid. He didn’t grow up in the city. The hustle and bustle of Jerusalem wasn’t his home. He wasn’t a stylish, urban kid with lots of street smarts going to all the cool places with his friends. David was a country kid from rural Bethlehem, spending his time in the quietness of the fields and pastures. And that’s exactly where we find him the first time he’s mentioned in the Bible. Look at 1 Sam 16:11. Not only is David out there all by himself taking care of the sheep-but they have to go get him. He’s not nearby-Hey David, get in here. There’s a guy who wants to talk to you. No-they have to send for him. David’s dad doesn’t even find him all that important to mention to Samuel. As a son, David is a bit of an afterthought. Oh yeah, I’ve got that other boy out there-but he’s just watching the sheep. Don’t bother with him-my other 7 boys are who you’re looking for. And what I find so fascinating about David-who we all know goes on to have an extraordinary life-is that he begins with the ordinary, insignificant, routine, regular, unexciting, uneventful, daily chores of tending the sheep. Farm life was where God trained and shaped David long before he became a king and entered palace life. Shepherding the sheep was where God prepared David to shepherd His people. So one of the greatest heroes in the whole Bible is out there in the fields by himself-number 8 of 8 boys. Anybody 8 of 8 children? I imagine David is the brother they either forgot about or picked on or dumped all their work onto. Just get David to do it. Remember the old Life cereal commercial-the older brothers were arguing over not wanting to eat this nutritional life cereal. Let’s get Mikey to try it-he’ll eat anything. They want to make Mikey do their dirty work-until what’s the famous line-Mikey likes it! I picture David being treated like Mikey-make him do it. But no matter what their family life was like or how his brothers treated him-we do know what the text is saying-that David is out in the fields faithfully watching the sheep. That’s where we find him the moment God is going to get a hold of his life and forever change it.
And that becomes the first point you and I need to understand this morning as it relates to David’s character. To tell yourself when it comes to Building Character: God uses the little things in my life to prepare me for the big things. Now all too often we try to brush off the little things in life. We think the mundane tasks we have to do are just that-mundane, unimportant, no big deal, a necessary hindrance. But to God they are a big deal. The attitude we display, the faithfulness we show, the integrity we bring to the little things are a huge indicator of how we’ll act in the big things. Think about your life for a minute. Do you grumble and complain in the little things? Do you try to cut corners? Do you conduct yourself honestly when no one’s looking? Do you seek to work hard and be thorough or do you get lazy and procrastinate? All challenging questions-but the big one is humility. Do you serve in the little things expecting to be noticed and praised or do you just faithfully do them because that’s where God has you? What stands out to me on this particular day is that David isn’t in the fields just waiting to be made king. David hasn’t been vying for this promotion; he hasn’t been in the junior-king internship program, or working hard to climb the political ladder in order to get what he wants. He’s not eagerly anticipating Samuel’s arrival which is his ticket out of here. Instead David is literally hanging out with sheep in a pasture. He’s being faithful in the place God has him, no matter how unimportant that place might seem. And we might say being out there in the middle of the fields is rather unimportant. No one’s going to notice you, David. Not a great way to network and build your resume. Looks like you’re on the fast track to nowhere. But that doesn’t matter to him. He’s serving in the little things-and that’s always God’s training ground for the big things.
Two week ago we looked at the parable of the talents, the 3 guys who were given 3 different amounts of money. And the different amounts wasn’t the issue, it was the faithfulness with those amounts that was the issue-Matt 25:20-21. And we applied that to eternity which is what Jesus is talking about. Enter into the joy of your Master describes heaven. It’s what awaits us by trusting Christ. Who knows the amazing joy He has in store that our minds can barely grasp or conceive right now! But the principle is applied to our lives today. This was the principle David lived by. He was faithful in the little things of shepherding the sheep, so God was going to use him in the big things of shepherding His people as king. And it’s no different for us. Will you be faithful in the little things? Will you be faithful in the mundane, unnoticed, unimpressive daily tasks where God has you right now? Sometimes I think we disregard the little things and then cut corners and get lazy and try to tell ourselves that when the time comes for the big things we’ll really step it up and do those things well. But why should we believe that we’ll be faithful one day if we’re not faithful now? Remember what God said to the guy who buried the 1 talent? Matt 25:26-28. Like that guy you might conclude that 1 talent is no big deal. Why get so worked up about it? This little thing I’m doing doesn’t really matter, who cares. No one sees me. David could have said that-I’m just out here watching these sheep-who cares whether I do it well, who cares if I’m lazy and complain a lot? It’s just sheep. My dad and my brothers hardly remember I’m out here. But God remembers. To Him the little things are big things, because the little things are precisely the place where God shapes you and forms your character. So you can’t disregard the little things. You can’t say that your job is inconsequential and doesn’t matter, or that your role and responsibilities in life don’t matter and doesn’t affect anybody, or that the way you act at home isn’t important-it is. All those small, seemingly insignificant daily things you do add up to define the person you’re becoming. Swindoll, 12
Who are you at home? Isn’t it all too true that we’re the cruelest to the people closest to us and the friendliest to those who are acquaintances? Who are you when no one is looking? When you’re by yourself are you still faithfully doing what God’s called you to do? It’s often in the lonely places that God shapes who we are. Whether we like it or not, solitude and quietness are the teachers that God often uses to train us. He certainly did for David. And that’s the second point I want us to consider this morning as it relates to David’s commitment. To tell yourself when it comes to Being Committed: God calls me to quiet places to deepen my walk with Him. As believers we want to deepen our walk with God, we want to be committed to Him-but it doesn’t happen in the hustle and bustle of life. We can’t deepen our walk with God when we’re trying to wedge Him into our frantic schedules and nonstop priorities. We have to intentionally go to the those quiet places of reflection to meet Him. And that’s what David did so well. When we encounter him in 1 Samuel, he’s already a young man who’s spent lots of time reflecting on God out in the fields. The book of Psalms is proof of that. David didn’t write all those psalms after he became king. Many of the Psalms were written long before the thought of being a king ever entered David’s mind. So the Psalms give us this amazing glimpse into his walk with God. They’re some of the most authentic, vulnerable, heartfelt sections of the Bible because when David wrote them he didn’t intend for the whole world to read them. David wasn’t sitting down with his producer and his agent and the guy from the recording studio trying to write some hit songs. Instead the Psalms are total honesty; snapshots of David’s relationship with God. They were his words and his reflections in those quiet fields; his music and his poetry as he stood outside under the stars tending the sheep with nothing but he and his God. David was by no means a perfect guy-he made plenty of mistakes, but he was someone who made reflecting on God a priority because it always brought him back to that foundational place of remembering who he was and how God was his source of identity and strength. Is there a time of reflection built into your life? Is there a time to remember who you are and how God is your source of identity and strength? What’s so fascinating about the Bible is how the Holy Spirit takes the words of an ordinary guy like David and breathes into, He inspires them, and turns them into Scripture. So that when you read the Psalms-they aren’t just David’s words-yes they’re filled with his experiences and reflections-but as inspired Scripture they can become your words to your God in the quiet places of your life. And that’s what brings us back to where we started.
Ps 23:1. And this is probably David’s most famous Psalm. If he ever put a greatest hits album together this would definitely be the opening song-the big hit everyone remembers. But again I think the reason it’s famous is because of its honesty. David is writing about what he knows-The Lord is my shepherd. What was David’s profession? What do we see him doing when Samuel shows up? Shepherding the sheep. Now we don’t have an exact date of when David composed this psalm-but he grew up as a shepherd-and not long after Samuel anoints him king David leaves the fields behind and enters the palace to start playing music for King Saul. So most likely David wrote this psalm before that during the early years of his life working his first job-as a shepherd. Maybe your first job was babysitting or waitressing or working fast food or stocking shelves at the grocery store or doing a paper route-does that one even exist anymore? But for David it was shepherding and as he stood outside for hours on end, constantly looking out for the sheep, thinking about his responsibility to protect the sheep and watch over them, I’m sure that lyric, that phrase, tumbled through his mind-The Lord is my shepherd. Wouldn’t it be great to know if David ever had any conversations with his brothers or his friends-So I’ve got this idea for a new song-I want to write about shepherding-and how God is like a shepherd to us. Doesn’t that sound great? His friends probably thought-Sounds too country for me! Are you also singing about driving a truck and wearing boots? This could be the first country song ever written! But as we said the Holy Spirit was involved in the process of inspiring David’s words to become this famous Psalm. Maybe you know it really well-but don’t let familiarity water it down or lessen its impact-Ps 23:1.
Can you honestly say that? Does that describe your heart? That because you know the Lord, that because you have a relationship with Him-you shall not want? Back to our opening question-what is it you want? And in many ways-that word want describes the problem and the root of sin we’ve all dealt with throughout human history. What was Adam and Eve’s problem? I want that-pointing to some fruit. I rarely point to fruit wanting it that badly. If I would have been in Adam’s shoes it might have been a pizza-not a tree! Don’t eat that slice! But what was God saying to them-I will lead you, I will guide you, I will shepherd you to the right things, the good things in life that you need-all the trees in this garden are yours, but not that one. And yet they didn’t trust their shepherd-Sorry God that’s the one we want. They did exactly what God said not to-and you and I aren’t any different. I want this and I want that-I want to be loved, I want to be successful, I want to be wealthy, I want to be praised, I want to be well-liked, I want to take nice vacations, I want to drive new cars, I want to have a big house, I want to go out to eat, I want to have the perfect job, I want to have the perfect kids, the perfect marriage, the perfect body, I want peace, I want comfort, I want happiness, I want people to see how smart I am, I want to be right, I want to be on top, I want to win. The list is endless. Several years ago Monica and I were at a conference and one of the speakers was Paul Tripp. He’s written lots of book-his devotional-New Morning Mercies is one of my favorites. But he said that as humans we live with that endless phrase-I want, I want, I want, I want… And he awkwardly said it like 12 times in a row-so much so we wondered if he’d blown a gasket in his brain and went crazy. But he made such a great point that highlights just exactly what we sound like to God-I want, I want, I want. We are a people with never-ending wants and bottomless appetites, like kids in a candy store-I want everything-and what does God’s Word say-since the Lord is my shepherd I shall not want. Underline that little word in your Bible because it’s so crucial. As a follower of Christ, your life shouldn’t be characterized by all your wants-you shouldn’t be defined by your wants. Instead what if this verse described your attitude and outlook in life? No doubt there would be a lot more contentment, a lot more peace and joy and satisfaction. To realize that God is our good shepherd, and He’s not going to starve you out, He’s not going to get you stuck in a thorny thicket and walk away laughing, or leave you empty and hollow. God says-I will give you the things you need to be totally satisfied and content, so trust me and follow me. And what if you did?
That’s the last point this morning-Experiencing Contentment: God says I can let go of my endless wants and trust in Him my good Shepherd. All those things you think you must have, all the ways that life has to work out just as you want it to or have planned, all the times you want to be praised or noticed by others, all the times you want to prove yourself right and the other person wrong, all the ways you want to feed your pride or satisfy your flesh-you can let them go-because you know that God knows exactly what you need. It’s all about trust-believing that your Shepherd knows what He’s doing in our life. In fact, look at what David said in another Psalm-Ps 34:8. It’s not your wants that are so good, our wants usually end up turning rotten in our mouth, just like the sinful fruit Adam and Eve so desperately wanted. It’s not our wants that are so good-instead it’s the Lord Himself who’s so good-and He is the One we want. To be contented and satisfied and at peace with Him. When was the last time you had a great meal? Maybe you were stuffed and couldn’t eat another bite-or maybe the last bite was so good, so perfect-you didn’t want another bite. You wanted to stop right there-totally satisfied. Or when was the last time you had one of those perfect moments-and you didn’t need or want anything else but to stay right there? Some friends of ours in TX just posted an Instagram describing that-she said it’s a beautiful evening, just the right amount of cool breeze, we’re sitting on rocking chairs on our front porch while our boys chase fireflies-Ahhh! And maybe for you that’s sitting by the ocean or watching the sunset, maybe that’s hanging out with good friends by the fire pit, maybe that’s a quiet morning with a cup of coffee and a good book-but you’re totally content, the moment is just right-you don’t want anything else. That’s what your relationship with the Lord ought to be like. Not wanting or needing anything else-but to sit totally contented in Him-Ps 34:8. Or here’s another psalm from David-Ps 63:1-5. That’s the heart of someone who does not want anymore-but is filled and overflowing with the joy and peace and wonder of the Lord. Would that describe you? Could that describe you? What stands in the way of that describing you? Maybe there’s some wants you need to let go, things you’ve wrongly let consume you in order to find your contentment in Christ. Back to Pt3. That’s what Ps 23 is telling us to do. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. And why we can do that-just think of what our Shepherd has done for us? As David wrote about the Lord being our shepherd-He had no idea how literally those words would be fulfilled one day. Take a look at our final verse-John 10:11-15. There’s a relationship there-Jesus knows those who are His and they know Him. Does that include you? Have you trusted in Jesus? Are you one of His? Because what has your good Shepherd done for you? Not only does He protect you and care for you and provide for you-but what does Jesus say-I lay down my life for the sheep. What kind of shepherd does that? The shepherd ought to be the one who stays alive-if a few sheep need to die oh well-it’s just a few sheep. What kind of shepherd dies for the sheep? What kind of God dies for His people? Our Good Shepherd does-and that’s what brings us to communion this morning. When David said-The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want-those words were fulfilled by Jesus who said-I am the Good Shepherd and I lay down my life for the sheep. He says that to you and me and all who trust in Him!
Psalm 23 – Part 1