The Story of Life

[ 5 minutes to read ]

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
~ Psalm 23:1
A tale that grows in the telling.

Some people are natural born storytellers. They can reminisce and talk about life and family and experiences all day. I had a conversation with a church member a few years ago where he told me about a time when he was a boy and his family was traveling out west. Their truck broke down, so they walked to the nearest farm and ended up staying there on that farm and working for a few months. Eventually, they fixed the truck and left. That was an incredible story. One of the benefits of pastoring is getting to know people and hearing their stories.

No matter the skill of the storyteller, no one gets to tell their life story to the end. For all those who trust in Christ, David helps finish the tale.

A beautiful poem of life

Psalm 23 is one of the most well-known and beloved psalms in the Bible for good reasons. It is a masterpiece of poetic imagery and expression of truth. It has inspired countless sermons, books, songs, and paintings depicting idyllic country pastoral scenes on a peaceful afternoon. The first three verses paint a beautiful word picture.

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
– Psalm 23:1-3

The psalm opens looking like a typical day for the Shepherd and his sheep. He has led them out from the fold into the countryside where they walk, eat, drink, and lie down to rest and digest under the safe watch of their Shepherd. David captured the life of the Lord’s sheep, and because the Lord is their shepherd, they will not want, or will not lack anything they truly need in this life.

What is verse 1? It is a declaration of faith and a commitment of trust in the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. David is not only describing his own life, but the life of everyone of Christ’s sheep. This is the life of everyone who trusts in him. We all have different stories, different struggles, and different triumphs, but God cares for everyone of his sheep.

The life of the Lord’s sheep is not only lying about in soft grass beside calm water in the warm sunshine. By the end of this psalm, David describes the sheep that has made it home, but he changes the imagery from the field to a house and from the Shepherd to the Host and from the grass and water to a feast in verses 5-6.

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: And I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”
– Psalm 23:5-6

Once home, David doesn’t even mention lacking anything. Everything he describes is in abundance. A table is spread, his cup overflows, and his head is fattened with oil. That may seem a strange figure to us. We don’t generally think of being made fat as a positive good thing, but that is what the word for anoint here means and a common figure in the Old Testament for prosperity, abundance, luxury, uncontainable blessings, and great joy. Yes, it is a very good thing to be made fat by the Lord in his house.

But, why the change in image from sheep pasture to house of feasting? For one, the change produces movement in the psalm. There is progression that shows change, so the Lord’s care and provision is not only in one place or in one way. It also makes sense in light of what is at stake in the psalm. David spoke of his soul (3), death (4), and life (6). What seemed to be a poem about a lazy afternoon in the sunshine, is much more serious than that.

A beautiful poem of death

When we track the movement from the field in the beginning to the house at the end, we realize there had to be some way between, some way to get from one to the other. That way is literally between them in verse 4.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
– Psalm 23:4

For Christ’s sheep, the way home leads through the valley of the shadow of death. The word for valley means a narrow gorge. It was the sort of place that was dark with shadows. Its terrain difficult. Its dangers many. Evil is obviously present. David doesn’t disguise that this is the valley of death, but rather says when he walks that way, he will not fear the evil and he will be comforted because the Lord is with him. The word for comfort means to sigh, as in breathe a sigh of relief.

When it comes time for Christians to go home, we have to pass through that valley. You may be lying in a bed and surrounded by loving family. No matter how much they love you, they cannot help you through that valley. You have to walk through that valley alone. But just as David wrote, you’re not alone. The Lord goes with you and delivers you from all evil. Labored breathing becomes a sigh of relief. You are comforted and will be with the Lord forever to live happily ever after. That’s the rest of the story.

The faith of the Lord’s sheep

I mentioned earlier how David started this psalm with a declaration of faith and commitment of trust in the Lord. The psalm ends with the reward of that faith, so I want to quickly trace that path.

Verse 1 gives the declaration of faith that places one’s life in the Lord’s hands. Though there are many dangers, pains, and sorrows in this mortal life, the soul is in safe keeping with the Shepherd and he provides everything we truly need to make it home.

This faith is not some blind leap in the dark, but is actually secured by the name of God (3). Jesus vowed that he would not lose any of his sheep nor fail to bring them all home (John 6:39; 10:28-29; 18:9). God has given his name as security for his promises. If you put your trust in this Shepherd, you will never be lost.

After walking through the valley of the shadow of death, you will be brought home. Eating in the presence of enemies (5) shows that faith being vindicated. It wasn’t foolish, or silly, or a waste of time, or a fairy tale to commit your trust to the Lord as Shepherd.

Finally, faith is rewarded as you will dwell with the Lord forever (6). His goodness and covenant love will pursue you and bring you to glory. This is the faith David had. This is the faith Christians profess, and this can be the story of your life, if you repent of your sins and trust in Jesus Christ completely for salvation.

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