Psalm 23 was part of the reading for the 25th. It is one of everyone's favorites. I thought I knew what it meant. Then I read Philip Keller's A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 and my eyes were REALLY opened. For anyone who is interested, here is a brief summary of what he, as a former professional shepherd, had to say about this Psalm. I've got the book open here and I will summarize the main points he makes. I recommend the book, obviously. By the end of it I loved God even more than when I had started, and that's the best recommendation I can make for ANY book! THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD David was talking about the God of Israel. When Jesus was here, He said HE is the Good Shepherd, thereby identifying Himself with David's God. "The Lord is my Shepherd" means God cares for me, individually. It means God and I work together in a special relationship. My life is important because of this. "The Lord is my Shepherd" is a boast. I am a sheep and guess who MY shepherd is! This is also a matter of great humility, for this same God made every star and every atom. But He cares about me. Jesus owns me because He created me. Many people deny that about themselves. But Jesus owns me a 'second' time, because He bought me back from death, the punishment I deserve. He bought me with His blood. I learned, as a shepherd, that sheep and people are very much alike: both like to be in groups. Both are often afraid. Both are stubborn, st.upi.d, and rebellious. Nevertheless, Christ bought us and loves us. The LORD is MY Shepherd! If people truly understood Christ's character, how could they refuse Him? When I bought my first sheep, I had to mark them. I had to cut their ears with a mark that showed they were mine. Jesus also marks us. Our old life is cut out. We are new people because of Him. I SHALL NOT WANT I have everything I need. I am also fully satisfied. This does not mean Christ will make my life easy. Every Christian must go through what God summons him to go through. But it will always be for my benefit and I can rest my heart in that knowledge, even when my heart is hurting. I am completely satisfied, wanting nothing, because I know Jesus controls my life, down to exact details. He deserves His name of Good Shepherd. He cares for us in sickness. He cares for us without sleeping. He understands our hearts and our minds. We have no need to fear anything. He provides everything we need, even though a watching world may not understand that at all. HE MAKETH ME TO LIE DOWN IN GREEN PASTURES Sheep cannot lie down if they are afraid, or if there is fighting within the flock, or if insects are bothering them, or if they are hungry or thirsty. Sheep must be free from fear, tension, irritations, and hunger or they cannot lie down peacefully. People cannot rest if they are afraid, tense, irritable, or spiritually hungry. As the sheep in the pasture are fully dependent on their shepherd to make their lives peaceful, we also depend on our Lord for the same. Sheep in a pasture will rest much more contentedly if a shepherd they know and trust is near. Jesus said "My sheep know my voice," and we do. He is always near, and we can rest in that knowledge and in our frequent communion with Him. People, like sheep, are easily frightened by the unknown. People, like sheep, can easily become tense or irritated. And people, like sheep, are restless when they are hungry, and will even eat poison food if good food is not available. The Holy Spirit in us keeps us aware of Christ's close presence and keeps us focused on His Word, our food. And so we can rest, filled with spiritual food and comfortably at peace with Christ nearby. We can lie down with no fear, no tension, no problems He is not taking care of for us. He solves the problems among us and protects us from outside predators. Just like sheep, we struggle for lead position in our businesses, our churches, our families... Challenges, jealousies, and much unnecessary pain. But Jesus said the last will be first. Forget selfishness, forget showing off, forget striving for position. The last will be first. Humble yourself. Consider others better than yourself. This brings the peace that the entire flock needs. One person can often spark either dissatisfaction among a group or satisfaction. And just like a shepherd must discipline a strong sheep who is willing to hurt a weaker one, our Lord will discipline us so that the least among us will also be protected and know His love and care -- if not through us, then despite us! And just as a shepherd uses medicinal oils on the faces of his sheep to keep the irritating flies and insects away, especially in the summer, so Christ uses the oil of the Holy Spirit to soothe our irritations -- all those little problems that can nag at us so. Show your problems and irritations to Christ, and He will apply the oil of the Spirit to help you lie down in peace. And He feeds us. His Word in the Bible and in our hearts. And we can rest and think about it the way sheep rest to digest their food. And just as a shepherd must prepare the pasture land for his flock, so our Shepherd prepares our lives so that we will have the time and opportunity to feast on His Word. HE LEADETH ME BESIDE THE STILL WATERS Sheep will not drink from running water. They require still water. If they cannot find pure water, they will drink any water they can find, even that with parasites or their own feces or urine in it. This, of course, can kill them. There is a Hebrew idiom here in the term 'to drink' -- it also means 'to take in, to believe, to accept.' Christ invites people to Him, the living water, still, never-changing, deep, and pure. But look how many go for polluted waters -- spiritual poison. False religions, drugs, alcohol, man's knowledge -- so many pools of poison water! The people remain searching, confused, sick. They remain empty inside. The water of the world is poison to everyone who drinks from it. The Holy Spirit leads us, instead, to the pure water of Christ Himself. In areas where there is a lot of dew on the grass in the mornings, sheep can go for very long times without actually drinking from a water source. As long as they get up early and eat the early morning grass, the dew will satisfy their thirst. Christians are the same. We cannot always get to church or Bible study, but we can drink early in the morning from the Bible, and be at peace all day. The mind and the spirit will be ready and calm for the day. It is sad the way most Christians seem to refuse the early morning feed. They try to fit in their spiritual food and drink after the day's heat has started and their minds are already filled with other things. They often remain thirsty and discontented. HE RESTORETH MY SOUL Even belonging to Christ we can become sick, weak, and troubled. Sometimes a sheep can become cast, or unable to get back up on its feet again. Pregnant ewes are particularly susceptible to this. They will find a quiet little hollow and lie down comfortably -- and then be unable to get up. Gases will accumulate in the stomach and the sheep will end up dying in incredible pain if not rescued and put back on her feet. And sometimes we also rest in the wrong places or at the wrong times. And it's sooooo comfortable. And Christ has to come to us, and get us back up and moving again, or we could die there. But, like sheep, we are too ignorant to know that. And so Christ, the Good Shepherd, will go out after the one and leave the 99 -- because that one sheep might be cast and dying. And in the same way the shepherd cannot be angry with a sheep for becoming cast, Christ does not get angry with us for perhaps choosing the wrong spot or time to rest. He comes, rescues us, and gets us back up on our feet. He is our Good Shepherd. Look at all the times He healed and restored when He was here. This is His Character. In Scripture, the wool of the sheep is used idiomatically as a picture of the worldly life. Sheep not only must be sheared periodically, but it is the sheep with the heaviest wool who also get cast. It is when we become heavy with the world's riches that we can easily become cast. Then He may well strip away those riches so that we can live. Some Christians become very fat with success -- and it is the fat sheep who also easily become cast! Hebrews 12 tells us God disciplines those whom He loves... HE LEADETH ME IN THE PATHS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS FOR HIS NAME'S SAKE Sheep do not like new experiences. Most people aren't to fond of them, either. But if a shepherd allows the sheep to graze too long in one area, they will destroy that land. If they only graze a short time and then are shifted, however, they benefit the land. Sheep need to be on the move, and are usually rotated around a series of pastures. The shepherd establishes a plan and sticks with it. Then the land becomes lush instead of destroyed. The difference is not in the sheep, but in the ability of the shepherd. And all people prefer their own comfortable, established habits. Like sheep walking the same paths day after day and grazing the same land, the paths become ruts and the area around them denuded. And so Jesus not only says "Come to me..." but "Follow me..." We are a moving people. Even Christians can be stubborn and rebellious sometimes, but Christ will come and discipline us because we are HIS, and we must all learn to follow where He leads. We must learn to abide by HIS decisions and not trust our own "wisdom." Many people say they belong to His flock, but they don't follow Him. And He doesn't seem to be coming after them... Jesus never said following Him would be easy. But He is the Way. The narrow path. It goes uphill. We can indulge ourselves and take the easy way downhill, or we can deny ourselves and follow uphill after Him. There are some attitudes we will see change in ourselves as we follow more and more: 1. We will learn to love God and others more than ourselves. 2. We will learn to stand alone against a crowd when we need to. 3. We will forget our own 'rights'. 4. We will not strive for position or power. 5. We will learn to thank God even in the midst of problems and not blame others. 6. We will give up out own will, desires, and goals. We will learn to work with God instead of praying for Him to work with us! 7. We will choose to follow His way and not our own way. His goal and not ours. This will be of benefit to ourselves, of benefit to the people around us, and it will also show God's character to the world -- His Name. God's reputation is at stake in our lives.