The comfort of Psalm 23

By Jim Allen

Do you ever feel discouraged? I do. In fact, most believers do on occasion. It is never easy trying to live the perfect life. Have you tried? Have you ever thought, "Oh what's the use?" I have. Even though I am joyful and in good spirits most of the time, life has a way of bearing down on the soul. There are days when the sun is less bright, colors less vivid, and good things take on the ambiance of just average.

Discouragement is personal thing. Like a bad friend, it has a taproot that goes deep into the emotions with a tether to life's troubles. Life can be like a hammer that pounds away without end. I am reminded of the Coptic Christians in the Middle East fleeing their homeland with family and friends. They know the true meaning of discouragement. Every moment of every day is an excruciating existence. These precious souls are innocent but sentenced by evil to an untimely end, simply by professing faith in Christ.

Will the Lord allow these broken-hearted souls to be crushed in spirit? Will He hear and deliver them out of their troubles? Where is the Shepherd now to guide them to safe refuge? Is there any escape for them?

Psalm 23 could be the answer. Believers rank this psalm among their favorite. It talks about refuge. It begins with, "The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want." But, what does it mean not to want? Want what? Good question. It could mean the psalmist took satisfaction in knowing God was watching over him, that he would not be left forsaken to wolves, and that he could rest through the night knowing the Shepherd's abiding presence would keep him safe. Is this what "I shall not want" means?

Regardless of what it means, the Good Shepherd is our protector and provider no matter what. He stands watchful through the night and through the day, including those cloudy days of discouragement. Got Question writes,
Shepherds in Bible times faced incredible dangers in caring for their sheep, putting their own lives at risk by battling wild animals such as wolves and lions who threatened the flock. David was just such a shepherd (1 Samuel 17:34-35). In order to be good shepherds, they had to be willing to lay down their lives for the sheep. (Source)
More than anything, this psalm is about protection and hope and the sure promise that Jesus is watching over us. It is about the One we can always see from our place amidst the sheep. From wherever we look up, the Shepherd is there standing above the flock watching and attending to those in need. If we stray, he knows it and gently nudges us back into the fold. If we stumble and fall on the narrow path, he feels our distress and helps us rise again and again to continue the journey. And if injured by a wolf, he tends our wounds and if necessary carries us until healed and able to walk again by faith.

But, when some among the brethern fall by the sword and martyred for their faith, the Shepherd is there too. Be assured he is. Though the fallen may not get up, Jesus did not leave them abandoned. Glorious angels descended from on high to lift them up. For these martyred ones, earth is now a memory that seems like a distant dream.

The words, "I shall not want" (for the fallen) take on new meaning. They have escape and safe refuge from their slayers and the promises of Psalm 23 hold true.

Their new life in heaven far transcends the former life they could have known on earth. The joys of life and family would have been good on earth, but now those things pale in comparison by the grander things of Heaven (1 Corinthians 2:9). In their dying on the path of righteousness for His name's sake, we can find comfort and even rejoice in their escape from evil to true freedom!

For those who remain, the toils of life continue. The high call of God is still high (Philippians 3:14), and we are still inspired to walk the path of righteousness for His name's sake (Psalm 23:3).

In closing on this theme, the path we travel leads down into a formidable valley where faith is put on trial (1 Peter 1:7). For many, the journey is just beginning. For some, the journey ends early when fate takes their hand or martyrdom their last breath. Others still, surrounded by unyielding darkness, trudge onward and upward out of the valley with only the Word of God to light their way (Psalm 119:105).

Discouragement is an emotion, like an unwanted old friend that sticks to the soul like glue. Though not a sin, I sometimes forget we give this emotion its power by having the wrong focus. In the valley, we learn to refocus from our imperfection to His perfection (2 Corinthians 5:21). When our focus is on His perfect walk, then the full meaning of the words "I shall not want" takes on eternal prominence, and discouragement gives way to steadfast joy (Psalm 23:1,6).

Image Credit: Unsplash; Untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Depression  | Jesus-Christ

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Published 4-27-2015