A Contented Heart
Psalm 23. David was a warrior and a poet. The most well-known of all the Psalms. Many references to this Psalm in Pop-culture: from Classical pieces to Coolio’s Gangster Paradise to Pink Floyd’s Sheep, and Alice in Chain’s Sickman. The Psalm is about the contentment that one experiences under the gracious care of God. Contentment is found in a relationship with God that David likens to that of a sheep with his Shepherd. David probably wrote this song in his latter days, looking over all the ways God has manifested his great care in his life. He is speaking from what he knows and what he has experienced. He knew sheep and shepherding and this relationship of the Shepherd with his sheep was the best metaphor David could use to describe his relationship with God. This language of God as shepherd is common in the Scripture – Psalm 100:3. What is this metaphor saying about God and his people? It speaks of the comprehensive care of God for his people and the comprehensive dependence of God’s people upon Him.
Comprehensive Care of God vv1-3. Sheep is not a flattering metaphor. Sheep are foolish and helpless and without the diligent and attentive care of a Shepherd they would die. No wild sheep. Sheep know how to go astray, but do not how to get home. They will leave lush and rich fields and wander onto a barren one. If not led to right water source, they will drink from diseased water supplies infecting themselves with parasites. Sheep will fall over and not be able to stand back up (called a “cast sheep) and will die if not put back on their feet. They are defenseless against predators – just fluffy. Never a school’s mascot. So, they are absolutely dependent upon the Shepherd. Without him, the sheep would languish and die; if he was negligent in any way, they would suffer. vv1-3. God is not a negligent shepherd for his people, but a Good Shepherd who gives comprehensive care to his sheep. Lie down in green pastures – contented and well fed; Still waters – won’t drink from rivers of running water or they will drown; waterlogged. Restores my soul – gives me back my life (picture of a sheep that has wandered off into barren lands and dangerous territory and the Shepherd brings it back). I wonder if David had in mind the event with Bathsheba when he wrote this. Leads me in righteous path – after he brings me back from being wayward he leads me down the paths that are right, good, life giving. He does all of this for his name’s sake. To show that he is good and right and gracious. 23:4. He is constantly present to bring good to his people even in the darkest and most difficult of times. Even though I walk…I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Immanuel. Rod – used to protect against wild animals (David struck down the lion and bear). Staff – used to guide, assure; the staff was an extension of the Shepherds hand that assured the sheep of his presence. Sometimes he will lead us into valleys and times of great need so that he can meet that need and show us his strength and care. It turns to second person; gets very personal. Sometimes it takes a Valley of deep darkness. Times of great pain so we can experience his comfort; struggle so we can experience his help; weakness so we can discover his strength; all the while our confidence in him grows. We become very dependent upon him and very aware of his presence and help. 2Cor 1:8-10. Beyond our ability to endure. If we could endure it, we would not need God. Real struggle, but when you talk with Mark God’s presence and peace are very evident. 23:5. God is hosting a banquet for him that is generous and full of blessing and he does so in the presence of his enemies. So, there is no fear even in the face of real enemies that would seek his harm because God is present to bless him. 23:6 Assurance that all God’s ways toward his people are good, gracious, merciful and full of steadfast love. Pursues me. He is leading us and following us with his goodness and mercy. God is fully attentive to his sheep and fully engaged in their lives to bring about their good. All that he is for his glory, he is to his people for their good.
Beautiful Psalm intended to press upon on our hearts the comprehensive care God graciously gives to his people and the comprehensive dependence that his people must have upon him so that we would say, “I shall not want.” I am contented in knowing that God is with me and for me. All that He is for me is enough for me. Discontentment is the state we live in when we believe that “contentment is found in what we do not possess.” Contentment is just one more thing away. This Psalm teaches us that Contentment is not found in what we do not own, but in a relationship of intimate love and trust in God.
We have the opportunity to believe this Psalm and experience the depth of it when we read it even more that David did when he wrote it. The very one about whom this song is written has come and put the fullness of his care, compassion and love on display for us. Jesus takes this title for himself. Ultimately, he is the one of whom David wrote. John 10:11, 14-15. To truly care for his sheep, he must give up his life for them. Not typical in the literal realm. For a shepherd to die puts the sheep in great peril; Jesus says to save us from the greatest peril he must die. He knows us – he has seen the worst parts about us and still loves us and intentionally gives his life to save us. He does not die for his beliefs as a martyr; he dies for his people as a savior. As sheep we have gone astray…Is 53. He does not die as an example; he dies as a substitute, instead of his people. But, I want to draw your attention to one simple word: MY. Not “A Shepherd;” “My Shepherd.” God is not a shepherd to everyone. Jesus says there are some that are not of his fold.
John 10:26-27. Believe in Him. They have heard and responded to his voice. Only those who have come to believe in who Jesus is and trusted in what he has done can say, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” He has laid down his life for me. He has come to rescue me from my greatest danger – my own sin and self. Follow Him. Those who believe and hear and respond to his invitation to come and be his sheep, follow him. They respond to his comprehensive care with comprehensive trust. You can’t say the Lord is my shepherd, and live with comprehensive trust in him until you stop trusting in yourself; until you have given up the notion that you can manage your life just fine by yourself. Our own wisdom causes much regret and much tears. We have ignored him and resisted his wisdom and counsel and ended up in so many barren places. “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,” Psa 119.176. Comprehensive Obedience – fully surrendered to him, not going where we want and asking him to bless us there, but yielding to him and going wherever he leads us and doing whatever he demands of us. Comprehensive Obedience is rooted in Comprehensive trust. We don’t obey because we do not trust. We don’t believe that he is a good shepherd. When it comes to eternal life we will trust him, but when it comes to daily life, we somehow think he is not trustworthy – like we would trust him to take us around the world, but won’t trust him to take us across the street. The reason we fail to trust Him and in turn resist him is that we have believed something wrong about him or have failed to believe something true about Him. Relationships, sexuality, money, where and how we live. We feel like we need something more than him because we have not believed and experienced all that He is for us. “When is Jesus going to be enough for you?”
Closing: This Psalm is not a Psalm for a funeral. It is not a sweet song to sing at the threshold of death. It is a song for the living that we sing on the threshold of each day. Jesus is our Shepherd. All he is for us is enough for us. He loves and leads us; we trust and follow.