It is a fair question: “Why Should I trust God?” I can’t see God. I can’t talk with Him the way I talk with the people in my life. I can’t even be sure of what He’s going to do in any given moment. So, why should I trust Him?
For the follower of Christ, walking by faith, that is trusting Him completely, is the cornerstone of what it means to live a life that is pleasing to God (2 Cor. 5:7). Therefore, during such trying and hard days, we should draw near to God and chose to trust in Him. But the question then becomes, “How? How do I learn to trust God?”
There are many ways that we can grow in our trust of God, but the one that towers over all is meditation on God’s word. There is nothing that compares to spending time in God’s word to grow a love and trust of Him. One such place that persons have turned to time and time again to develop that trust in God is Psalm 23.
The Psalm is not only simple in the two pictures that it paints, but beautiful in the promises that it has given to saints over the years. It has given courage in the midst of hardship, faith during the storm, and trust when life is hard. Let’s take a moment to review the Psalm and end with some practical applications.
Verse 1 ends with a promise that all can find hope. If God is your shepherd, you will not find yourself in need of anything. Many translations render the Hebrew as “I shall not want,” which can give the idea that this is more of a command and imperative. The original is read more like a promise: “I will lack nothing.” This is akin to the promises that Christ makes in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 6. Here, Christ tells His listeners to see how God provides for all their needs.
If you find yourself worrying and asking, “Will God take care of me? Will I have all that I need?” The answer is YES. Now, that does’t mean that there won’t be times of privation or challenges ahead. Later in the Psalm, David says that God is preparing a table for him “in the presence of my enemies.” Just because God has promised to take care and provide does not mean that there will be an absence of hard times. It simply means that He guarantees the end result.
As the Psalm moves forward, the metaphor of God being a caring shepherd continues to develop. The text says that God MAKES the sheep lie down. David makes such an interesting point. It is not too much to say that during times of worry, left on our own, we do not want to lie down. When we experience anxiety in our lives, we often feel that we must do something. We get busy. God says He will have us lay down in green pastures. Remember from verse one how He said we would not lack anything? Verse 2 shows us that God has already begun to fulfill that promise. Take a moment to picture yourself as a sheep, and God is making you lay down in a green pasture. He then lovingly leads you to a quiet water. If this visual picture is already creating a serene sense in you, that is the point.
While in this lush, green, quiet, and tranquil pasture the next verse tells us that God “restores my soul.” The Hebrew word for soul is “nefesh,” which is the life-breath of a person. Robert Alter comments, “The image is of someone who has almost stopped breathing and is received, brought back to life.” The Psalmist felt that he was almost done for, yet God revived him. From there He leads him down the right path. If one of our great challenges is that we want to DO something in times of anxiety, the next great challenge we have is, “What should I do?” Wisdom is elusive in challenging times. Right after describing what trials will produce, James tells us that if we need wisdom all we must do is ask, and God will provide (James 1:5).
The verse ends with a purpose clause. Why does God do this? Why is He providing, leading, and restoring? For His name’s sake. To put it another way: He is doing it to make Himself look really good. This fits with everything that we know about God. He does everything for His own glory! We were created to make God look good (to be glorified) and everything He does, He does for His own glory. For some that might sound like God is a bit selfish and perhaps proud, but that thought will vanish if you remember who God is. He is the creator of everything. He is the sustainer of everything. He is the person who is deserving of all praise and worship because of who he is. So, for him to be concerned about anything less than his own glory is like a parent being concerned with anything less than the wellbeing of the child. To do so would be derelict.
Now back to the text. Why does He allow hard times to come? For His glory! Why does He revive and provide for his children? For His glory! Or as the text says, for the sake of His name!
It is hard for us to see how God is ordering everything for the glory of His name during times of great challenge. However, Scripture is replete with not only that truth, but also the reward that comes for us living like God’s glory is the most important thing. Paul would actually go as far as saying that in the midst of these really hard days, we should view them as momentary and light (compare 2 Cor. 1:8-10 with 2 Cor. 4:16-18). He could say that because he knew that these hard times produced “for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” Meaning, the glorification of God by us, results in something eternally amazing for the saints.
Verse 4 in the Psalm anticipates the objection about God’s care. “What about those really bad and dark times?” David says with confidence that God will be with him (and us) in “The Valley of Shadow of Death.” A lot of could be said of this valley, but if we stick with the sheep and shepherd metaphor for a moment, the picture shifts from green, lush pasture with lovely streams of water, to a deep (remember a valley) and dark place. We went from bright and sunny to dark and scary. Yet, David finds that he has no reason to fear evil. Why? Because God is with him!
Every parent knows that being with their children is one of the great ways to calm their fears. In the middle of the night, when a child wakes up scared and afraid, the presence of their parent is what is needed to soothe. For the child, being held by their parents, hearing them breathe, and feeling the warmth of their presence removes all fear. The same is true for us. We need not fear what comes our way. Why? Because God is with us. This is the great promise of Emmanuel (literally God with us), and this was the hope that Israel had as it entered the Promised Land and had to fight the Canaanites. Joshua constantly tells the Children of Israel to not fear, for God is with them.
In verse five, the picture changes from the shepherd and sheep to something different. We now see God providing a feast for the writer. Because God does it in the presence of his enemies, this isn’t just any old feast. Not only are we to see that God will provide for us, but we see here a pattern that we see in all Scripture: if you humbly depend on your God, at the right time, He will exalt you. We see Peter telling us that if we humble ourselves by casting our anxieties on God, He will exalt us at the right time, meaning, when it is part of God’s plan (1 Peter 5:6). This same patient exaltation was done for Christ, as well (Phil. 2: 9-11). The scene is one of opulent blessing. God is preparing a feast in front of the enemies of David. His head is anointed with oil, and his cup is overflowing. The picture is clear: God is blessing and taking care of those who trust in Him.
Finally, the short Psalm ends with a declaration of truth: “The goodness and lovingkindness of God will follow me all the days of my life.” Just pause and get that picture in your mind for a moment. God says that His love, the love that would ultimately send Christ to the cross, will pursue you all the days of your life. God’s goodness will be chasing you forever! There is no getting away from God’s love if you are in Christ. If you have trusted in Him for the forgiveness of your sin and made Him the Lord of your life, then He will be chasing you—forever. He will not be giving up.
While the Psalmist did not have the full picture we do of Christ, he could, by faith, say that he would dwell with God forever. Christ solves that great problem we have—alienation from God. He does this by satisfying God’s wrath and cleansing us from our sins. Because He does this for Christians, they can have great hope and trust in the goodness of God.
Now, let’s consider some applications for a moment by way of questions:
Are you slowing down and taking time to really study and meditate on God’s word? Are you laying down in those green pastures, like the Gospel? Are you reminding yourself of who you are in Christ each and every day?
Do you take time to drink from the quiet waters of His word each and every morning? When you need refreshment, are you going to Him, the Fount of Living Water? Or are you going elsewhere to find what you need for life (Jer. 2:9-11)?
Are you rejoicing that God does everything for His glory? When He says that He will take you down a hard path (like this COVID–19 pandemic) are you celebrating at His plan?
Do you believe that God will, at the right time, make all things right? Do you believe that He will fulfill every promise that He has made to you? Do you rest knowing that He will never forsake you?
In the midst of all that is happening in your life and in our world, let’s see if we can walk just like David did in Psalm 23. If we do, we will not fear. We will see God’s name made great, and we will be exalted one day.