I've been slowly re-working through W. Phillip Keller's A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 for about a year, picking it up off and on as I’ve felt led. Keller’s experience as a shepherd provides a ton of practical insight into this particular Psalm, which is a favorite for many. He takes each phrase from the Psalm and expands on it with experienced tenderness and wisdom.
I’ve been praying Psalm 23 on a daily basis for a long time now. Since I still so often wake up scared and alone, as an orphaned sinner needing to be found again, it helps me solidly reorient myself to the place of being found in God’s kingdom of love on a daily basis. This has become a precious habit for me. As needed, I continue to pray it throughout the day, using various translations and paraphrases in an attempt to keep it fresh and connected to my actual heart and mind experiences.
This Psalm is slowly becoming a part of the fabric of my inner life in that it has expanded my imagination immensely as I walk with God in his green pastures and still waters. When I’m rooted and established in it and the symbolic world it opens up to me, I can (sometimes!) see grass under my feet and wide open blue sky above me, regardless of where I am.
Last night I was reading a section under “You rod and your staff – they comfort me,” (23:4) and I came across this precious section:
“Sometimes I have been fascinated to see how a shepherd will actually hold his staff against the side of some sheep that is a special pet or favorite, simply so that they are ‘in touch.’ . . . It is He [the Spirit] who gently, tenderly, but persistently says to us, ‘This is the way - walk in it.’ And as we comply and cooperate with His gentle promptings, a sense of safety, comfort, and well-being envelops us. . . . Through Him I am ‘in touch’ with Christ. There steals over me the keen awareness that I am His and He is mine. The gracious Spirit continually brings home to me the acute consciousness that I am God’s child and He is my Father. In all of this there is enormous comfort and a sublime sense of ‘oneness,’ of ‘belonging,’ of ‘being in His care,’ and hence the object of His special affection.” (Pp. 121-22, emphasis mine)
This vision of walking along together in constant touch with my tender and strong Shepherd captivates me! It is necessary for a sheep to comply and cooperate with the Shepherd’s love in order for “comfort and well-being” to be experienced. Sheep are so stubborn though! This cooperative trust takes practice, especially with sheep as stubborn and wounded as I (as anyone reading my blog can attest!). I am starting to experience his wise and tender goodness though, attending me through most of my days (at least more than I did 5 years ago!).
Through this steady “walking together” I find I am experiencing more of the Shepherd’s love, care and attention. I also am being changed, into His image and likeness. On rare occasion I can say, “I am one of his favorites and he is very fond of me!”
I too, have sheep following me (not least of which are my children), and I can see the Shepherd’s hand on mine as I shepherd them. It will take a lifetime, it seems, to re-learn ways of trust and surrender. I’m thankful he’s not in any hurry.