A Psalm for All Our Days

Published: Monday, 18 April 2016

lambThis sermon was given by Geoff Pound at ABC on 17 April 2016. It is part of the ‘Resurrection People’ series which is also accompanied by Study Notes for group discussion and personal study. Here is the link to Study 4 which is based on this Scripture passage.

Psalm 23: 1-6

Two Saturdays ago a person from the Baptist Union visited Ashburton Baptist to get a story on churches that have installed solar panels.

John Weir was there to tell our story and Luke Sudholz came along with his drone that he flew back and forth across the church roof taking video pictures of the panels.

These drones or unmanned aerial vehicles are getting popular. They’re being used by the military to carry and drop bombs. Amazon.com is looking to deliver parcels to your place via drones. Drones are being used for surveillance, finding lost people and so much more.

Some sheep farmers are using drones to round up their sheep.1  Farmers can sit in the comfort of their truck or home and the buzzing noise of these bee-like drones gets the sheep moving from paddock to paddock. It’s easy! The wonders of modern technology. 

Yet this is such a far cry from the picture of the Middle Eastern shepherd that emerges from the 23rd Psalm. In contrast to a sheep farmer using drone technology by remote control, the relationship between the eastern shepherd and the sheep is intimate and personal.

Have a listen:

23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, …. 
23:2 He makes me lie down….he leads me beside still waters;
23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths
This isn’t some vague religion. This is a vibrant relationship.

At the fourth verse the Psalm turns from talking about God to talking to God.  Here it turns from poetry to prayer:

23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me. 
23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 

Maybe this is the key—that any talk about God should lead quite naturally to talk to God. Our knowledge of God isn’t just an intellectual doctrine that we debate but a conviction deep that grows within that we trust. 

It’s one thing to recite the Psalm. It’s quite another to know the Shepherd.

It’s understandable that this Psalm is so often said and sung at funerals. This is what has made these words so familiar. What a comfort to so many when facing the end with these references to ‘walking through the valley of the shadow of death’ and the hope of ‘living in the house of the Lord forever’. Yet this isn’t just a funeral Psalm. This is a Psalm for all of our days. A Psalm for all the seasons of life.

This Psalm is a testimony to God’s all-round goodness.

This Psalm is a statement of trust in God’s care.

There’s no looking at life through rose-tinted spectacles in this Psalm. Instead there’s a down to earth realism with images of ‘walking through the darkest valley’ and a table spread ‘in the presence of my enemies’.

Let me make a few comments about some of the intriguing verses before we consider where this Psalm might connect with us and enrich us today. Is there some verse that might become God’s word to us this week?

23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want or I lack nothing (NIV).

But all the ads on television train us to be wanting so much more:

I want a new Smart TV.
I want to upgrade my car.
I want that winter holiday in Bali.
I want my team to win in September.
I shall not want? I lack nothing?

We don’t have to move from this Psalm to see that the Lord’s sheep do lack things. When we walk through the darkest valley that valley lacks light. It lacks green pastures. It lacks still waters.2 

But what the psalmist means is that God’s sheep never lack anything that the Shepherd thinks is good for them. Whether we are in green pastures or dark valleys the Good Shepherd is with us and we lack no good thing.

23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He makes me? Why wouldn’t we lie down voluntarily?

Phillip Keller is an author but for many years he was a shepherd. From his pastoral experience he says that sheep will only lie down if they are free from four things: 3

Sheep won’t lie down unless they’re free of all fear.
Sheep won’t lie down unless they’re free from friction with other sheep.
Sheep won’t lie down if they’re tormented by flies or other parasites.
Sheep won’t lie down if they’re hungry and they can’t find food.

Sheep need to be free from fear and friction and flies and famine before they will lie down and so must we. So the Psalmist is saying that the shepherd is removing these obstacles and providing the nourishment that will lead us to rest, stillness and deep restoration.

Have you found the phrase yet, that’s being highlighted for you today? 

The word that you’ll take and trust and keep like a lozenge under your tongue? 

When I was a Uni student David C K Watson was an Anglican minister at York in England. We read his books and enjoyed his visits down under. Then we heard he’d developed cancer. People all over the world prayed for his healing but he was taken. In that final year David immersed himself in the Psalms and his last book was entitled ‘Fear No Evil’.4  That was his uplifting phrase. 

What an experience in facing sickness or some other scary episode, to be able to look God in the face and say, 

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil for you are with me. Your rod and your staff they comfort me.”

David Watson’s experience might suggest that facing our fears is simply a passive thing—that we ‘fear no evil’ if it comes to us.

I love the way that Shonda Rhimes talks about facing her fears head on.5  She’s a writer and producer of television shows like Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy. 

In a most popular TED Talk she says that for one year she tried an experiment. For one year, she decided to say ‘Yes’ to all the things that scared her. Yes to anything that made her nervous. Whatever took her out of her comfort zone, she decided to say ‘YES’ to. 

Did she want to speak in public? No but Yes. 
Did she want to be on live TV? No, but Yes. 
Did she want to try acting? No, no, no, but Yes, Yes, yes.

And she said, a crazy thing happened. The very act of doing the scary thing undid that fear. Her fear of public speaking evaporated as she did it. The power of one word—YES, changed her life. Saying ‘Yes’ and following through on that fearsome activity.

So rather than saying, ‘I will fear no evil’ and letting that fearful thing come to us there’s a more active way of facing our fears, saying ‘Yes’ to doing that thing, and believing, “for you are with me, your rod and staff they will comfort me.”

What I’d like us to think about is where this Psalm connects with our lives right at the moment. Is there a phrase in this Psalm that represents our burning need? Is there a word that highlights where we need the touch of the divine shepherd at the moment?

The Lord is my shepherd—do we need to know God with greater reality and certainty at the moment?

He makes me lie down in green pastures—our need for nurture, feeding and rest.

He leads me beside still waters—my life is so busy. I need stillness, serenity.

He restores my soul—I’m jaded. My emotional tank needs filling.

He leads me in the paths of righteousness—I’m in the dark, confused, lost. I’m in need of guidance and direction.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me your rod and staff they comfort me. I am going through a scary time in my life. I am fearful of what’s ahead. I crave peace and comfort, the sense of God’s presence in the darkness.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows—I am in need of God’s protection against my opponents, the medicine of anointing to salve my wounds, my cup of joy needs filling.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will live in the house of the Lord my whole life long—forever. Lord I need your resources to accompany me and hope for the future.

Is there a word, a phrase that we can highlight, a treasure we can take as we head into this new week?

Let’s think about that question as we hear this Psalm and as the words roll on the screen.

The Lord is my Shepherd, Tune by Howard Goodall, The Vicar of Dibley Theme.6

For our final prayer we going to begin by being seated and as I read the 23rd Psalm I want to invite you to stand right at the word that is speaking to you or right at the phrase that you want to hang on to in a special way. 

If you can’t find any word then stand when we get to the last statement. After that I will say: ‘This is the Word of the Lord’, and we all say together, ‘thanks be to God.’

Psalm 23

23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 

23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. 

23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me. 

23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 

23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long. 

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God!

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[1]New Zealand farmer uses drone to round up sheep’, The Telegraph, 31 May 2015.

[2] These thoughts are informed by John Piper, Restful Words for Labor Day.

[3] W Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, Zondervan, 2007.

[4] David C K Watson, Fear No Evil, Walker, 1986.

[5] Shonda Rimes, ‘My Year of Saying Yes to Everything’, Ted Talks, 2016.

[6] The Vicar of Dibley theme.