The Lord is My Shepherd – A Personal Reflection

[auth]However, if I had to pick a favourite Psalm, up till some time ago, I would have never chosen Psalm 23. I would have preferred for example Psalm 84, which speaks about the beauty and blessedness of dwelling in intimate communion with God, analogically represented by God’s temple courts - “How lovely is your dwelling place O Lord God Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord”; or Psalm 51 – David’s Miserere, “Have mercy on me oh God, according to your unfailing love, according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions”. These, are only a few of the many other Psalms which make up my personal garden of praise.  However, as strange as that might seem, when reading and praying through the Psalms, I used to simply by pass or take no notice of Psalm 23. Maybe this was because, it was one of the very first psalms that was presented to me as a child, or perhaps I used to associate it with those beginners who had or have the tendency to look for the nice verses in the Bible; or possibly because it seemed to be too sentimental for my taste and I was prone to consider it as being too good to be true. Anyway, for whatever reason I had, I know for sure that I used to take this particular Psalm for granted.

And yet, surprisingly enough, I have come to encounter God in a much deeper way through this Psalm when - by chance– I was recently advised to meditate on it.  As a result of that, I believe that I have had a deeper inner revelation of God’s beautiful character.

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“The Lord is my shepherd I shall not be in want”

It is amazing how God’s Spirit works in a person’s heart when one is meditating the scriptures. You’ll never know what God is actually up to or what exactly He would like to communicate to you. Besides that, many a times, one might slip into the temptation of thinking that he or she already knows the spiritual or biblical meaning of a particular scripture. And that is when God incredibly surprises you with His Word and stirs within your heart renewed inspirations.

Through Psalm 23, I’ve come to understand at a heart level, that God cares about the details of my life and is always present with me in every situation. It was as if I could visualize God as a Shepherd who knows me by name and is familiar with all my ways. It was as if I could understand in a renewed way the real meaning of these beautiful attributes in God’s character symbolically expressed through the characteristics of the good Shepherd. Now I know that these words cannot be taken for granted. Although I must admit that I had been hearing them again and again, without truly understanding the depth and significance, and the life changing effect that they could have on my life. They had become a farfetched cliché and only now I realize that I needed to be reminded of the veracity of God’s Word for me. When I look back I realize that it was as if God the Holy Spirit was giving testimony to Jesus’ Word whispering it in my heart and telling me – Yes that is so very true. At times it is as if God the Holy Spirit is transforming that Word into a reality making it come true in front of your own eyes. It is as if God the Holy Spirit - the giver of life - was opening my eyes to the truth He wanted to reveal to me at that particular moment by manifesting His Word in my heart and in my life. No wonder the first believers and Fathers of the Church used to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit before reading the Word of God.

The Beautiful thing that God wanted to communicate to me through Psalm 23 is that God is truly my Shepherd and He is truly the one who leads me by the hand. The statement, “the Lord is my Shepherd I shall not be in want” speaks about that invisible but always present reality of a God who is shepherding my life and protecting me from the snares of the evil one. A God who is with me and there for me all the time, present side by side with me through the journey of my life, always there, guiding, teaching and enabling me to move a step forward to bring about in me that perfect surrender to Him who is the Lord and shepherd of my life; to Him who is, in the long run, my greatest fulfilment and my heart’s true desire. It is the confirmation of what Augustine said in his confessions, “our hearts are restless until they find rest in You”. And that is why, as a natural consequence of that, “I shall truly not be in want”.

This reminds me of that man in the parable who, after finding that precious pearl went and sold everything he had because he had found the pearl of great worth. And undeniably, I can say that when I obeyed God’s will for my life and was in close communion with Him, despite all the limitations and all the ups and downs, I can truly say that I lacked no good thing. I believe therefore that, this is what God wanted to remind me of and impress on my heart, the truth that with Him by my side I lack nothing, not necessarily because I had become rich according to the standards of this world, but mostly because I had found God again in a deeper and renewed way and as a result of that truth nothing else really mattered or satisfied. Actually, this also reminds me of the simplicity of the life of the saints, most especially St. Francis’ life, who according to the standards of this world was considered to be poor, but according to the life in the Spirit, He was rich and He lacked nothing because he had everything He could ever dream of - God. Well, on the other hand, I certainly cannot compare myself to St. Francis, but the trends and ways of this world do not believe in the spiritual riches that we all have at hand as believers. We all have the tendency, at some point or another, to become blind or alienated to the reality and beauty of God’s love and character, and that was certainly true for me. My spiritual sight had become dulled and I was unable to clearly see who God really was because I was made to believe that that was a farfetched reality. However, the good news is that God is always ready to renew His love for his children and He is always ready to “restore my soul”.
“He leads me beside quite waters, He restores my soul”

sb10067150d-001In this Psalm I’ve come to realize that there is a close symbolic relationship between all the characteristics of the Shepherd spoken of in Psalm 23 and the characteristics of God the Father. I have come to understand that because God’s fatherly heart is filled with so much love, mercy and compassion, He is always the one who takes the initiative first and finds a way to take me back to the original roots or the original plan of love and of salvation, for my life. It seems that for God, nothing is so insurmountable and the timing is not an issue for Him because He can easily bring about that original plan or mission He’s had about me in His mind. The words, “He leads me besides quite waters” is God‘s personal way and method of drawing me back to an intimate place where He can re-establish again within me a deeper communion, a deeper knowledge and a deeper intimacy with Him. And this is always done in a very personalized way. God, knowing my weak points, can tell immediately what is the best required way, tactic or strategy to be used to woe me back again into his arms of love or to take me to a deeper place of communion with Him. He certainly can bring about or create the adequate providential situation tolead me beside quite waters where He can speak to the depths of my heart, quite me down with His love and restore my soul.
“He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake”

However, since God’s plan is complete, and His will for me is to be like Jesus and to strengthen His image and characteristics in me - He doesn’t stop there. Being the good shepherd, He fulfils all His responsibilities to the full and He sets out to lead and guide me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Once again I was brought to a renewed understanding of this verse. Every time I used to read the verse for his name’s sake in the Old Testament, (say like Ezekiel 37, 22 – 23), I used to unconsciously think that God wanted to undertake His plan of making me like Him not because He cared  but mostly because He wanted to safeguard His reputation andHis name. Being such a miserable sinner from birth, I knew that I could never pleased Him enough to be like the Son, so I used to instinctively believe with my heart that God was going to carry out his plan mostly because He wanted to defend the Holiness of His Name. Now there is nothing which is not true and which is not of great immeasurable value about the fact that His Name is Holy and Awesome, but the fact remains that for me it was a bit too detached. This gave me the wrong impression that God always wanted to lead me in paths of righteousness for the sake of His Sovereignty, and not because He was a genuinely Loving Saviour who was interested in the details of the life and welfare of His children, and who was eager to fulfil and bring about His plan of salvation for all people.

Instead, I’ve come to the realization that the verse, “He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake”, is more of a gentle loving whisper of His beautiful Name in my heart. The Name Jesus (meaning God Saves), is the Name that brings hope and brings about the good news of salvation. His Name is the guarantee that affirms His immeasurable power to carry out His plan of salvation in me and deep inner transformation - if I trust and obey Him as my Shepherd. Therefore, because His Name is the Name above all Names, that is in itself a guarantee of His ability to save, to change and to sanctify. His Name is Yahweh; He is the great I am, “is anything too hard for me?” says the Lord.

Moreover, as a gentle loving shepherd who leads the way forward for his sheep, God lovingly and beautifully shows me His way and will for my life. Jesus lovingly reveals to me the way I should go, my next step in life, or that particular mission or life project that He has in store for me. God is the one who sets me on the paths of righteousness and sends me in the right places to be the person God created me to be.

“If you are who you are meant to be, you will set the world on fire.” (St. Catherine of Siena)

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 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me”

The characteristics of the Shepherd spoken of in Psalm 23 also include the kind of love that gives room for challenges and growth. The Shepherd in Psalm 23 has all the balanced and solid characteristics of a good parent. His love is constantly there, but this love stirs Him to prepare me to face trails of any kind, through the journey of my life. “Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle” (Psalm 144). The love and goodness of God takes all the necessary steps to renew, build and transform me into a strong and faithful disciple of Christ simply because He is faithful and committed. This particular verse reminded me that the dark and difficult moments will come but the good news is that God is with me always, and those times will not harm or leave their effect on me, if I keep my eyes fixed on Him. With Him by my side I will be able to deal, solve or handle life with His strength and perspective.

The words, “I will fear no evil for you are with me” reminded me that the God who is ever present for everyone in the world, is simultaneously the ever present silent guest residing in the most humble and powerful way with love in my soul. Besides that, God is faithfully determined to deal with the enemies of my soul – my fears, my sin, and my failures - in the most radical way if I trustfully allow Him. In front of my eyes God is able to slay my own spiritual enemies and show Himself Great, Almighty, Powerful, Sovereign and Victorious. But that requires a lot of surrendering and discipline – of any type and kind from my part - and a lot of self-denial or death to self!  His good plan entails Him to “prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” and Christ is committed to do that in my life. The abundance of His grace supplies all that is lacking in me in order to make me strong and steadfast in Him.  By these trials I shall also be prepared and be able to face the last and most difficult trail – Death. As eventually, God’s ultimate desire for me is to be forever with Him in Heaven. If I’ll be able to live under the attentive Shepherding eyes of Jesus, I shall not fear this last and final trail. But before that, I must learn to trustfully surrender my life into the Shepherd’s hands, day by day, knowing that God is the constant and careful provision for the journey of my life.

 
“You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows”

107746002Therefore, the gentle loving Shepherd in Psalm 23 is also my Provider. He is the one who patiently nurtures His life in me, promising me to give me Life in abundance. He is careful enough to protect the growing seed of faith in my soul, kind enough to look for me and start all over again when I have drifted away and never too tired to restore my soul to the dignity of a child of God. Heanoints my head with oil and causes my cup to overflow making the small seed of my faith gradually grow by enhancing and supporting its capacity to flourish and become stronger.

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out”. (Is. 42, 3)

 
“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”

I believe that all these inspirations through Psalm 23, were a manifestation of His love for me, making His Word a surprisingly real and vivid experience of His love for me as it can be. The final and most impressive thing about Psalm 23 is that through it God has disclosed His plan and intentions for my life. Psalm 23 speaks of a carefully planned and detailed spiritual journey that is meant to include every believer in its own personal way and manner.  This, in a way also confirms the famous Jeremiah 29, 11 verse with which we are all familiar with. I know that God has been very gracious with me and He will ever be so for all my life. One thing I recommend - if by any chance there is a particular Word you seem to take for granted – be on your guard, you’ll never know what can happen!!! For surely God’s word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path, and it is a well known fact that, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt 4, 4)

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen.[/auth]