“He leads me beside quiet waters (23:2b, NKJV)
Last year I had the privilege to officiate the funeral of a longtime member of my former church. The family requested that I read the 23rd Psalm and as I did before the crowd of family and friends, you could sense that this Scripture was resonating with the emotions of both loss and hope. Reading it reminded me that this was a psalm that we needed not just for a funeral but for our everyday lives here on earth, especially when we face unsettling times like we all are experiencing now.
The Psalmist, traditionally attributed to King David, continues with this image of a shepherd leading his sheep to peaceful green pastures (23:2a) and now beside quiet waters (23:2b). The shepherd not only leads his sheep to food but now also to drink. For a sheep, this is a picture of full satisfaction and contentment. Sheep spend much of their day either eating, drinking, resting and then moving—so they can eat, drink and rest some more! Even for humans, having good food and drink—perhaps among those whom we love—is one of the happiest pictures of satisfaction we can imagine.
But this shepherd not only leads the sheep to drink, it is specifically a peaceful drink. When I travelled to Israel years ago, one thing I became aware of were the storms can hit the hillsides of Israel at any moment. What was once a peaceful afternoon stroll could turn into a flash flood where you are fighting for your life. Myself not having lived in an area where flash floods occurred, this was quite an eye-opening revelation. The waters produced by the rainfall careen through the deep valleys and shake the ground like an earthquake, sweeping up all living things unaware of its deadly approach and destroying everything in its path. Quiet waters meant the shepherd navigated this dangerous reality of flash floods. The shepherd keeps the sheep safe until the flood had passed and the waters were quiet and still once again.
This is a picture of safety amidst an environment that is constantly stressful. Psalm 23 assumes you know that shepherding happened in a wilderness with rugged terrain, wild animals, thieves and even flash floods. This kind of treacherous environment is where Jesus the Shepherd promises to be with us, lead us and fill us with goodness. Jesus is neither unaware nor unskilled to guide us through challenging seasons. He will not abandon His own in their time of need.
As we approach Good Friday, we are reminded of our Lord’s commitment to not only be the Shepherd but to lay down His life as the Lamb of God. This is truly a good God who will go to great lengths to secure our salvation and to lead us home.
Living Out God’s Word
The Psalmist, switching to an image of a kingly feast, even refers to enemies sitting at the table at the end of the song (23:5). Thus backdrop to Psalm 23 is a life filled with danger, disappointments, uncertainty, and enemies. This is a Psalm that we need for today in uncertain times!
What would you say is your biggest worry right now? Is this worry about your own life or someone else’s? Do you feel like you or someone you know has been hit by a flash flood because of the coronavirus? What would quiet waters look like if God were to answer your prayers this Holy Week?
Share with someone you can trust this issue that is bringing you the most worry, stress and chaos right now. Spend time praying with them that the Good Shepherd would reveal His provision in this season for yourself and for them. Invite them to join our Good Friday service online and our Easter Sunday services. You just might be giving out hope exactly when someone needs it.
“Lord Jesus Christ, We are so thankful to you that you have said, ‘Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ We are thankful for the ease with which you walked upon this earth, the generosity and kindness you showed to people, the devotion with which you cared for those who were out of the way and in trouble, the extent to which you even loved your enemies and laid down your life for them. We are so thankful to believe that this is a life for us, a life without lack, a life of sufficiency.” Dallas Willard, Life Without Lack (p. xiii)
**An earlier version of this devotional can be found at https://depree.org/life-for-leaders/