It is a picturesque scene. A scene of a shepherd, waring his cloak. A staff in one hand and a crook in the other. He is strong, confident, and prepared to do whatever it takes to protect his sheep. He leads them onward to nourishment. He leads them to the serenity of green grass flowing in the wind, and waters so still it looks like a pane of glass. Paradise, one would think. It’s easy to imagine a lake side retreat, with towering Norway Pines reaching towards the heavens. The wispy clouds overhead laid on a backdrop of sky blue. Water reflecting the image like a painting, God’s handiwork. It is a place of restoration, a place where weary sheep gather to rest. The Shepherd stands watch as his sheep drink and graze, in safety, security and comfort. A beautiful sight. A comforting sight.
This Psalm is one that brings up a lot of memories for me, because the imagery used here calls me back to my childhood. See, growing up, and still to this day, one of my my favorite places in the entire world is my grandparents cabin up on Clitheral Lake in Northwest Minnesota. We spent a lot of time up there as a family growing up, it was a place where we could escape, get away from the world, and we could for a day or two recharge and be restored. We could for a moment find ourselves almost outside of the world, outside of reality. When you were at the lake, nothing else seemed to matter. Homework could wait, you could drink Coke when you wanted, and have cookies for breakfast. When you were at the lake you were never hungry or thirsty, and there was no shortage of love. It was a beautiful thing.
This sight is one of the many reasons this 23rd Psalm is beloved. This poem paints a picture in our minds that brings us comfort, peace, and an invitation to rest. This Psalm is one that speaks to souls who are weary and grieving. It is for those who are anxious and afraid. It is for those who are uncertain and confused. It is for those who are lost and are fading. It is for those who are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. It is for those who have it all together, and for those who find themselves comfortable. It is a Psalm that is for all people, wherever they may find themselves.
We like to be comfortable. It is easy to be comfortable and it feels safe. Too hot? Turn on the AC, too cold? Turn on the heat. Need a firmer mattress? Get a sleep number. Thirsty, the fridge has ice cold water waiting to fill your cup. We are surrounded by comforts, and comforts that the world has ever known. We live in a comfortable place, where we can, for the most part, go about our lives without any real threat. We can worship when and where we please, in a nice building, where we have very little concern of outside interference. We even have nice new comfy cushions. Even our worship lives are quite comfortable. We can attend church when we want, and other times we can miss, it doesn’t really demand anything of us, it doesn’t necessarily impact the other days in our lives… And if we show our faces at least twice a year well that’s good enough. Ultimately, we live a very comfortable life, and with that a very comfortable faith.
See, as great as it was to get away for the weekend, to go to the lake where homework, emails, and deadlines don’t exist, there always came that day when we would have to pack up, load up the car, and head home. We had to enter back into reality, back into our lives where there were demands, conflicts, and real problems to face. While it was nice to escape, it wasn’t reality, it wasn’t permanent. Merely just temporary comfort.
We have inconveniences, trials, and struggles. But our surroundings allow for comfort, promote it, and even encourage it. This is what we desire, to be comfortable. If we aren’t comfortable, we long for it. We crave it, and we will work for it. It is what we dream of, even when we are comfortable, we want more comfort, more safety, more security. It’s why we love this Psalm so much. It’s why some of you were forced to memorize is at VBS when you were a little kid. It’s why even if you don’t read your bible, you are familiar with it. We long for green grass, radiant warm sun, water which reflects a perfect blue sky. We want external comfort.
Yet it isn’t the lush grass which brings us comfort, it isn’t in the water, or the sun shining, the comfort for the sheep doesn’t come from the location. Instead, the comfort is found in an unexpected place. The comfort comes from the following, from who you are following, from the shepherd standing near by with his staff and his crook, vigilantly watching for wolves. The comfort is found in the presence of the shepherd.
This is the reason that this Psalm takes a striking turn. We often like to stop in that green grass and still water. We look for comfort in our surroundings when our comfort truly comes from this Shepherd. The one who watches, guides, leads, provides and defends us. It is because of the presence of the shepherd that we can go to places that are unexpected. Notice, that this 23rd Psalm brings us to a variety of places. Not only that place of comfort, green pastures and still waters, but to right paths, through dark valleys, and to tables with enemies, yet in all things… The Lord’s rod and staff comfort me. It is because of the shepherd, standing by, with rod and staff, His presence that brings the comfort we long for.
This is who Christ is, our good shepherd who willingly lays down his life so that we can walk in comfort. We do so unincumbered by fear, but instead we do so confidently for we follow our good shepherd who defends and guards us from sin, death, and the devil. So, wherever we find ourselves. Wherever you are in life at this moment. You may be in a place where life is good, you have no issues, everything is green pastures and still waters, you can know that even if life takes you into a valley, that Christ will comfort you, restore you, and nourish you.
Notice, at the end of this section, at the end of the green pastures and still waters is restoration. Yet, notice where the restoration comes from, it doesn’t come from a beach with palm trees, or from a beautiful lake, or from a yearly raise and bonus, or from a nice house, or from a warm home, but instead the restoration that comes here is from the Shepherd. The restoration, the refreshment, the comfort comes always and only from Christ. From being in HIS presence. So, where can we look for restoration? Where can we find it? When we find ourselves in a good place, or trying to faithfully walk on right paths, or in dark valleys, or surrounded by enemies, where can we look for comfort, defense, providence? We can look to the places Christ promises to be. The place where His word is faithfully proclaimed in accordance with the scriptures, the place where he gives of himself, where His body and blood are physically present to nourish hungry souls. Where we are safe and secure as we gather in the body of Christ together.
In all things, in all places in our lives, and during every season, we know where this comfort is found, it is found where Christ promises to be. It is found here. In this place, in his presence. It is a foretaste of what is to come. It is a glimpse of what lies at the end of dark valleys, righteous paths, and green pastures. As we follow this shepherd, we receive a preview of the final comfort that comes when we finish our walk, when the race comes to an end. This comfort that we experience now here, will one day be our total reality, when we dwell in the house of the Lord forever.