Have you ever thought about how we only read the Bible in two tenses? We read the Bible in the past tense: God did this, he did that. We read the Bible in the future tense: God will do this, he promised to do that. But do we ever read it in the present tense? God is doing this. When God revealed himself to Moses, he said “I am.” He is eternal, everlasting, unchanging, and timeless. It’s easy to think of God in a deistic sort of “big guy upstairs” way. We shrug our shoulders and go about our day without giving too much thought to him. But he is here, whether we want him around or not. Psalm 23 explains this beautifully, encapsulating the immanence of God in just a few short verses and really capturing the significance of his role in our daily lives and walk with grace.
Psalm 23 is perhaps one of the most famous Psalms, and likely the most used at funerals. I became desensitized to it because we use it so often. And then, I heard it with different ears. The ears of a college student. We read this Psalm on Good Shepherd Sunday at church, and I noticed something I’d never thought of before.
The Lord is my shepherd.
This is written in the present tense. I kind of just thought that the Lord was my shepherd. You know, he found me, the little lost sheep, threw me back into the flock, and then left me to my own devices while he went in search of other sheep. I was second banana now that I was saved. But no! He is my shepherd. Always, every day, walking beside me, doing all the things a good shepherd would do.
I shall not want.
This one is tricky to swallow. I mean… in modern day America, as a middle-class individual, I guess that’s true. I have three meals a day plus snacks, a roof over my head. Not too much to complain about I suppose. But what about when we feel like we are in fact wanting? Perhaps your finances are not where you’d hoped they’d be. What about your relationships? Had you hoped to have a significant other by now? What about spiritual want? Do you want patience but never feel like you have it? Do you pray for peace but still feel anxious? There are all sorts of things that we want in life and it often feels like that’s when God is silent. But he doesn’t leave us wanting.
Pain, suffering, and unfulfilled dreams are not signs that God is leaving us wanting, they are signs that he is working to make us fit for his kingdom. It sounds harsh, it feels hopeless, and this is where so many Christians get lost in the fray and leave the straight and narrow. God addresses this directly in Luke 11 right after he teaches his disciples the Lord’s Prayer.
“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)
He knows that from our perspective it feels like we are wanting, and he speaks to that here, calming our fears and promising that he is indeed giving us good gifts. He also promises the ultimate gift: the Holy Spirit. We might not be healed, we might not be financially well-off, but we shall not want. There may be sorrow for a night, but Jesus promises that joy comes with the morning.
He leads me beside still waters.
Hold up. What?? He does not. He leads me through crowded streets, let’s my car get totaled, piles on homework, and generally allows my life to be messy, chaotic, and noisy. Where on earth are these still waters you speak of?
They’re right here. Think about it, what exactly are “still” waters? We’re not talking about stagnate puddles here. Water is always moving, bubbling, ebbing and flowing. I think the idea here is that the waters are still because God is in control of them. The path is beautiful because God himself paved it. The way is safe because God is beside me. Even in the chaos, crowded streets and car accidents, I am beside still waters because God is in control. It’s such an incredible comfort to me to know that God is present even in the pandemonium.
He restores my soul.
This word is used actively because it’s a constant process. He is always restoring my soul. When the blows of the world damage my spirit, he’s right there picking up the pieces. To restore is to return something to its former condition. I think the argument can be made that God is restoring our souls to their original form: the form they took in the Garden, when they were perfect and untainted with sin. C.S. Lewis compared it to turning tin soldiers into real men. “The real Son of God is at your side. He is beginning to turn you into the same kind of thing as Himself. He is beginning, so to speak, to ‘inject’ His kind of life and thought, His Zoe, into you; beginning to turn the tin soldier into a live man. The part of you that does not like it is the part that is still tin.”
God is working. Present tense. To walk with grace is to walk hand in hand with the Good Shepherd, for his grace is abundant and sufficient. He stands by us the whole way, caring for us every step. “Are you thirsty?” He asks us. “Here is living water.” “Are you broken? I will restore your soul.”
What an awe-inspiring thought this is. God is immanently a part of our lives. The creator of the universe walks beside me, provides for my needs, listens to my prayers, guides my steps, and carries me when the going gets tough. God is right here, daily, as my shepherd.
This thought should also give us pause. God is immanently a part of our lives. This doesn’t mean that God is following you around with a notepad putting black marks by your name when you mess up. Psalm 23 is not law, it’s Gospel. God is with us! Every step I take in my walk with grace has new purpose when the Good Shepherd is by my side. That’s what it means when we say that the Lord is our shepherd. It means that we have the ultimate guide, friend, and father watching us. What more could we ask for?