By Kate Cogswell
Sitting at Wadi Qelt, Israel, overlooking the valley between Jericho and Jerusalem, I experienced the most unexpected highlight of our Israel trip. Shlomo, our Israeli guide, sang Psalm 23 in Hebrew. A long-favorite scripture, studied, treasured, loved…and now heard in its original language! It was a striking reminder that God’s presence – and goodness as our Shepherd – transcends language and culture and time.
As I listened to Shlomo sing and looked out over the valley, the memorized words of Psalm 23 traveled through my thoughts.
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing…”
Those familiar words began to carry fresh meaning.
There weren’t a lot of visible green pastures from my vantage point.
The way to still waters is not smooth or easy.
The beauty of God’s creation does restore the soul.
The oasis can be found, but it’s not always obvious to the eye.
The terrain is rough and rugged on the path.
The valley really is the best way to get from Jericho to Jerusalem.
The valley route actually provided protection and provision.
One could easily get lost without a guide.
Seems a lot like life.
“The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing…”
I am continually learning what it means to have Jesus as my Savior and Shepherd. He calls me to spend time in His word, to know Him, to spend time in His presence so I can recognize His voice whether I’m sitting in joy or sorrow, easy or hard, confidence or uncertainty…
I have found Him to be my faithful and good shepherd, and I really lack nothing.
This doesn’t mean I’m denying the realities of life – the highs, the lows, and the ordinary days of just doing life. Nor do I always get the answers I most want – though sometimes I do.
It does mean there really is a way to live with Jesus as your shepherd that lets us live differently. I definitely experience His peace more easily when I let Him lead and guide than when I try to navigate life on my own.
In some ways, it comes down to the voice we choose to listen to. Will we listen to the voice that came to steal, kill, and destroy? OR the voice that came that we may have life, and have it to the full? (John 10:10) There are so many competing voices - but I wholeheartedly believe His is The Voice worth listening to!
Is choosing which voice we listen to the key to an “I lack nothing” life? I believe it is.
As we continue to walk with Jesus to Jerusalem during Holy Week, I invite you to pause with me to ponder the connection between Psalm 23 and Jesus as our Good Shepherd and valley seen from Wadi Qelt.
This valley, which may or may not be the valley David was thinking about as he penned Psalm 23, is the very path Jesus and his disciples walked from Jericho on his journey to Jerusalem. (Mark 10:46,52, Mark 11:1)
Jesus, who tells us twice in John 10 that He is the Good Shepherd. (John 10:11,14)
Jesus, who tells us the good shepherd lays his life down for the sheep. (John 10:11)
Jesus, who tells us He knows his sheep and his sheep know him. (John 10:14,15)
Jesus, who goes on ahead of us, and whose sheep follow him because they know his voice. (John 10:4)
God, who provides guidance, beauty, oasis, protection, provision, and so much more. (Psalm 23)
God, who is equally present in the peaks and the valleys.
The gifts of Psalm 23 are connected to God being our shepherd.
In Jesus, the Lord who is our Shepherd, we lack nothing.
We began this “walk with Jesus to Jerusalem” Lenten journey with the invitation to remember and intentionally focus on Christ’s life, ministry, sacrifice, and resurrection. We began Lent before the realities of a pandemic affected our personal lives. As we considered what we might give up for Lent, we could not have imagined what love, wisdom, and state ordered strategies to flatten the curve would ask us to give up.
While the how and what look different for each of us, we have collectively found ourselves giving up things we would have never chosen. Admittedly, there is much to grieve during this time; we may need to not rush past the grief. Yet, just as we anticipate celebrating the resurrection of our Good Shepherd, there is joy to be found in the midst and joy ahead.
Walking through the valley with Jesus to Jerusalem, though rough at times, leads us to Christ’s most intimate invitation to us to lack nothing. Leads us to Jerusalem where we see the Good Shepherd lay down His life for the sheep. Leads us to Jerusalem where Jesus showed His love, God’s love, in His willingness to die so we could have a relationship with Him, so He could be our savior and good shepherd.
God’s Gospel invitation is often presented as our way to heaven. While that is true, it’s not the full story. Jesus came so that we could have life - and have it to the full. (John 10:10). He came so we could live that abundant life now. We do need to have a heart of repentance and turn to Him. We do need to accept Him and His invitation. And for us to experience this fullness of life, we need to invite Him into all of it, not just when life is hard and we can’t deny our need for help. Not just when life is easy and we naturally feel gratitude. We are invited to learn how to engage with Him in each part of the journey, including our everyday moments so we experience both the fullness of joy and sense His presence even in days of pain and sorrow.
God invites us to turn to Him, to listen to His voice, to choose to follow Him.
"He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." 1 Peter 2:24-25
Inviting Jesus to be your Good Shepherd doesn’t guarantee the terrain of our lives will be easy. Life will continue to contain joys and sorrows, ordinary days and all the days in between. BUT it does mean we will have His faithful presence to guide we as we navigate the peaks and valleys on our journey. It does mean when we trust in God and not our own understanding, He will direct our path. (Proverbs 3:5-6) It does mean that there really is a way to live with Jesus as our Savior and Shepherd that lets us live differently, lets us live in faith and hope and joy in the midst of whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
Jesus is calling each of us.
Jesus is calling YOU.
He longs to be your Good Shepherd.
Will you choose to follow Him today?
Will you get to know Him better so you can recognize His voice?