To this day, I smile when I read Psalm 23 as it reminds me of a story that I still hold so dear. Many years ago, whilst still in high school, a friend of mine who resides in the United States told me about a study a couple of theological students conducted. The study triedto determine the favorite Bible verses or chapters of students on their university campus. Unsurprisingly, Psalm 23 came third, right after the verses “God helps those who help themselves”, and “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” I love that story, since neither these verses are actually in the Bible!
Many different studies have found that Psalm 23 is one of the five most read parts in the Bible, along with John 3:16, Jeremiah 29 etc. So what is it about this specific Psalm that attracts and comforts so many? Arthur Weiser, one of the top Old Testament commentators describes it so beautifully: “It is marked by the tender touch of a serene soul, enjoying perfect peace of mind, a peace of mind that flows from an undoubting trust in God.”
Enjoying perfect peace of mind? Just imagine! So many of us long for peace of mind as we live in a world where this is a scarce commodity indeed. In both my jobs, as a pastor and financial planner, I deal with very concerned individuals and families on a daily basis. Finances are only one of their many concerns. They are concerned about their countries (something not unique to South Africa), the economy, global warming, crime and corruption, racial tensions, terrorism, the widening social gap, the continually growing disconnect between governments and everyday citizens, HIV, the developing situation in North Korea, the future of their children. The list goes on.
Many are concerned about their own future and the future of their jobs. Recent studies predict that with the lightning fast developments in Artificial Intelligence (such as WATSON by IBM), as many as 41% of both white and blue color jobs in the US could be automated by the year 2050. What will happen to the world if almost half the workface lose their jobs in this so called fourth industrial revolution? Will my children be able to provide for themselves? The reality is, we simply do not know what the future holds, or where the word is headed. I often find myself giving very little advice to clients, but instead acting as an agent to just keep people calm.
In times like these, Psalm 23 reminds us of a wonderful shepherd. A shepherd who cares for his sheep so deeply, that they lack NOTHING! A shepherd that leads his flock to still waters and green pastures, both attesting to the abundance of this shepherd’s care.
Listen, nothing has changed in the 3 000 years since this Psalm was written. The shepherd has never stopped caring for his flock and he will not stop caring now. This shepherd already knows what the future will hold, so come what may, we are following in the footsteps of this shepherd!! I personally find great comfort therein.
If we follow him, He will continue to lead us to these still waters, green pastures and to a table of victory, where His goodness and love will follow us in all of our days. Yes, even in the valley of death! So whether you carry any concerns in your heart and are uncertain about the future, whether you are stuck in a deep hole of depression, or are terminally ill and facing a valley of death, know this, we have a shepherd that will lead and carry us through! We just celebrated Easter, where we confessed that he gave his life for us! This is the greatest form of love that one could be shown!
I want to ask you today, are you following THIS shepherd that gives us peace of mind or are you following your own shepherd? Derek Kidner, one of my favorite Old Testament commentators, writes about this Psalm and says that every single person follows a shepherd. For some that shepherd is fame, for some it is beauty. For some it is money, friends, status, perceived job security etc. He reminds us that every one of those shepherds will leave us when we walk through the valley of darkness (whatever that valley may be in your life). Only one shepherd will lead us through and give us peace of mind as we do. So which shepherd are you following?
To think about: What Shepherd are you following? Will that Shepherd lead you through the valley of death or leave you behind?
Written By: Wynand du Preez, Tentmaker Reverend, Parkkruin Familikerk (Family Church)