Life is a series of ebbs and flows. With every end, there is a beginning. The end of summer introduces the beginning of Fall. The end of one school year leads to the beginning of the next semester. The completion of one successful financial quarter initiates the striving for yet another. There is little that is constant in our earthly lives, and our tendency as finite creatures is to always look to what is next for fulfillment.
Is this what God intended for His people? Are we to live in a constant state of desiring what is next, seeking fulfillment and contentment in each new endeavor? David helps us to answer this question in his writing about the Lord as the shepherd of his life is Psalm 23:
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me besides still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Psalm 23
Many who have been believers for a long time are familiar with this Psalm. It is a retreat for those who are walking the valleys of life. It is a comfort to those experiencing grief. But it is also a guide for contentment in the Lord in every season of the Christian life. Let us observe three primary ways that Psalm 23 teaches us to be content in the goodness of our Shepherd.
The very first statement made by David is a statement of identity. Yet, David doesn’t state who HE is. He doesn’t identify Himself as God’s anointed one, as the one through whom God would establish Israel as a powerful and prosperous nation. He doesn’t identify himself as he who killed the great Goliath, or the leader of the mighty men of God who defeated the infamous Philistines in battle. No; he identifies himself by the one to whom he belongs: “The LORD is my shepherd.”
Where then, do we find our identity? The world tells us that our identity is in our accomplishments and success, or lack thereof. This means that many of us find our identity in our sales numbers. Others of us find it in our education and number of degrees. Some of us even find it in our years of church service or in the successes of our children. We hold our resumes and our personal goals next to others in the hopes that we will measure up to what the world deems as successful, and hope that this in turn tells us who we really are. Don’t get me wrong, these things are not inherently bad in and of themselves. But they were never meant to give us our identity or lasting contentment.
The true meaning of contentment is not found in what we accomplish, but to whom we belong: the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice that the result of David’s identification in the Lord is that he, “shall not want.” How can this be so? The Lord is his shepherd! In other words, what could David desire or accomplish which would be of more value, more worth, more comfort than in knowing and walking with the living God? What in life could he achieve which would climax the care he knows as a sheep in the flock of the Lord?
For those of us who are believers, Jesus has accomplished all we need to become sheep who belong to the Good Shepherd. We will never find contentment searching for the acclaim of the world and the accomplishments of man; true contentment only comes to those who belong to the flock of the Lord. Your identity is not in who you are, but in who He has declared you to be in Christ: a sheep belonging to the Good Shepherd.
Not only does David define himself by his identity as a sheep in the fold of God, but he expounds even further on the ways that God cares for His sheep. He is not a rough rancher; one who provides for the sheep only so far as they will bring Him profit. Instead, His care for the sheep involves genuine love. He gives them protection to lie down in the luscious fields of grass which will fill their stomachs to satisfaction. He leads them confidently to still waters which quench their thirst and maintain their health and vitality. He genuinely cares and leads them in His way, asking that they trust His guidance and protection in the valleys of life.
True contentment in God our shepherd is trust that He will provide for your needs. By the Word of God He feeds our hungry souls like luscious green grass that satisfies our inquiries. By the power of His Spirit He leads and guides us by still waters where we can experience His righteousness and learn His ways. By the peace that surpasses understanding, His presence protects and comforts us in the midst of trial and difficulty, that we would identify with the sufferings of Christ. In all of these things, our shepherd cares for us, and when we experience such care, we begin to understand that contentment in the midst of the changes of life can only persist by His gentle hand of care in our lives.
David knew that goodness and mercy would follow the man who was content in God all his life. How could he make such a confident assertion? The security of his place in the flock of God was not sustained by his own work, but by the shepherd. Therefore, with confidence even before his enemies, David could rehearse, “I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
Such is the promise to all who place their faith in Jesus Christ. If all else on this earth is lost; all wealth, all loved ones, all status, all accomplishments, everything we have, one thing the world cannot take is our security as one in the fold of God. Why? Because it is no effort or production of the sheep that defines them as one of the fold, but the work of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, which has made a way for their invitation into the flock. And that security alone is goodness and mercy beyond comparison; such that it is the very foundation for contentment in life.
There will always be ebbs and flows in life. Times will be good; times will be bad. Some things will come to an end, and others will begin anew. But as sheep in the flock of God, our song remains the same through it all: “It is well, with my soul. It is well, it is well with my soul.”
Let us find our contentment in God alone, who gives us identity, genuine care, and eternal hope in the glory of His Risen Son!