Each week, I have the privilege of ministry at a Richmond-area senior living center. These wonderful people come from every walk of life. Since most have surpassed their ninetieth birthday, they have much to share from their life experiences. As Scripture is read, they provide keen insight and knowledgeable comments.
However, no matter what Scriptural text I use as part of the Bible study, they won’t let me leave until I have read Psalm 23. To them it is more than a warm custom or suitable benediction. Hearing Psalm 23 brings to them valuable memories and hope for tomorrow. We always say the last word together: “Forever.”
Listen to it again for the first time: “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. 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. 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.”
Many times I have read this Scripture in hospitals, nursing homes, and hospices. So often, patients are comforted as soon as they hear the words, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Amazingly, the message of this one portion of Scripture is beloved at both weddings and funerals, and life in between.
Known as the Shepherd’s Psalm, it was written by King David, who was an experienced shepherd. You can tell that he loved animals, and had a deep appreciation for this lowly, but challenging occupation. His soothing words bring comfort and calmness to the most distressed mind.
A number of years ago, I was leading a Bible study on leadership and authority. Trying to impress the saints, I dug a deep theological hole while trying to explain the roll of the local pastor as a shepherd in the church. My thoughts were based on the original Greek word “poimen,” and it’s use in Ephesians 4:11. While most students slept through my cumbersome diatribe, one lady was glaringly awake.
Several weeks later, she visited my office with a handmade tapestry. Before she gave me the gift, she gave me a piece of her mind. She said that my teaching on the pastor as a shepherd was confusing and non-Biblical. Further, no earthly pastor was her shepherd. Jesus alone was her Shepherd! She then read John 10:16 NLT which quotes Jesus as saying, “They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.”
As she stood to leave, she handed to me the wall hanging that boldly proclaimed, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Point made. After she left, I hung it on my wall. Though vivid yellow and dazzling orange clashed with everything in my bland study, it became a daily reminder to better prepare my teachings, to be clear and doctrinally correct, and to remember that somebody out there is actually listening. Besides, Jesus alone is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11).
Now, every time I read Psalm 23, I am prayerful, pleased, and pinched.