Knowing the Good Shepherd
by Robert J. Morgan
A mother of five recently approached me after I’d spoken at a conference on the subject of resting in the peace and power of Psalm 23. She wanted to tell me about the birth of her fifth child. Her first four babies were delivered while she was under anesthesia, but knowing this was her last child she wanted to be fully awake and aware of every moment. Psalm 23, she said, got her through the strain and pain of the experience. She quoted it over and over until her little lamb finally made his appearance.
At the same meeting a man told me of blacking out. When he regained consciousness he was inside some ominous piece of medical machinery and understandably frightened, but he prayed, “Lord, I don’t know where I am so I’m just going to recite the Twenty-third Psalm.”
Whenever I speak on this passage I hear stories like that. People are far too busy and burdened today. The stresses of life are wearing us down, and the noise around us is an unending cacophony of confusion. Our lives—with all our electronic tethers, emotional entanglements and financial pressures—are demanding. We’re not resting, not managing our clocks and calendars as we’d like, often anxious and angry. We’re pulled in so many directions we feel like twistable toys in the hands of a toddler. But consider this: Six verses and about a hundred words of Scripture can improve our lot every day, because every lot needs a few sheep.
From the moment it was penned 3000 years ago, Psalm 23 has been the world’s best-known and most-loved poem. It’s been engraved on the hearts of every generation from antiquity to modernity. Its words have been quoted in hospitals, jails, homes, schools, and churches; in open-air rallies and underground meetings; in seasons of peace and in times of war. It’s been whispered by the bedsides of children and spoken as the last words of convicts. It’s the most memorized and memorialized passage in the Bible. It begins with “The Lord,” and it ends with “forever.” What could be better than that?
I learned Psalm 23 in childhood, but I came to better understand it after my family spent several years raising sheep – not a large herd but a small flock. I’m convinced God purposefully invented these simple creatures as four-legged object lessons to teach us an array of lessons about our own complexity and to show us how He loves us, tends to our needs, and leads us all the days of our lives.
Psalm 23 isn’t a static photograph, but a moving picture of migration in six stages. Following the ancient route described in Genesis 37, David based Psalm 23 on the annual circuit he took with his flocks: (1) from his home base at the family farm in Bethlehem; (2) onto the roadways (the right paths), pushed northward by summer’s heat; (3) through Judean dark canyons; (4) into the higher altitudes and tablelands of southern Galilee during summer; (5) southward toward home in autumn, herded by the twin sheepdogs of goodness and mercy; (6) and back to the Father’s House, which for David meant the homestead in Bethlehem and for us the New Jerusalem of Revelation 21-22.
Psalm 23 is, then, the Bible’s most visual roadmap for life. In The Lord is My Shepherd, I’ve charted out this passage verse by verse, adding a galaxy of stories from shepherds around the world, from the science of sheep ranching, and from gripping testimonies of people, including combat veterans, whose lives have been strengthened and saved by the power of Psalm 23.
I want people to memorize this Psalm, and I’m worried that most children aren’t acquainted with it anymore, that most adults don’t appreciate it as they should. Now more than ever, we need to follow the route of Psalm 23. Will you join me in a quiet campaign to memorize the Twenty-third Psalm and encourage others to do the same? Whatever our age, we must learn this Psalm, love its Shepherd, and rest in its peace and power, saying: “The Lord is my shepherd—that’s enough!”