One of the beautiful things about prayer is that it allows us to get to know the LORD. Maybe not when our prayers are just long “wish lists” or special orders that we place in God’s inbox. But when you and I spend time with our Father, our Abba, our Daddy, opening our heart, expressing praise and thanksgiving, seeking forgiveness, wisdom, direction, encouragement, and so much more, we come to experience our Heavenly Father in a personal way.
I believe King David experienced the LORD like this. He spent hours and days, from his boyhood years, out in the fields with the sheep, probably talking to the LORD, singing to the LORD, crying out to the LORD. And through all those daily, personal experiences in prayer, David got to know the LORD, not just as God, Creator, and King, but in a role that he understood well: the role of “shepherd.” In the most famous psalm in all the Bible (the one Spurgeon called “the pearl of the psalms”), David helps us also to get to know our Shepherd through prayer.
When I became the pastor of Vandalia Baptist Temple, I inherited the Shepherd Staff from my predecessor, Troy Todd. It is a large, wooden staff that symbolizes my role in serving this local church. The Bible uses the word shepherd to describe the role of a pastor. But on a much higher level, the Bible compares the LORD to a shepherd, and even describes Jesus as the “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4), far higher than any earthly shepherds or pastors.
Over the next few posts I want us to look briefly at this beautiful psalm, which helps us to get to know our Shepherd a bit better, and reminds us of how we can experience Him personally through prayer, just like David. David begins this psalm with two phrases that set the stage for everything else:
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).
David expresses that:
Our Shepherd is a personal shepherd (vs 1a)
David uses the holy name of God: Yahweh (translated “LORD” with all caps in the KJV; at times, “Jehovah”). There was no doubt who he was referring to. In fact, the name Yahweh, Jehovah, LORD is understood by many to be an Old Testament reference to Jesus Christ, God the Son, the Creator Himself. So the New Testament references to Jesus as the Good Shepherd, or the Chief Shepherd, are no coincidence (John 10:11, 14-16; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 5:4). He is the same Shepherd that David got to know in a personal way.
The LORD wants to be a personal shepherd to you. David said, “The LORD is my shepherd. I am a shepherd, but the LORD is my shepherd.” He says so with confidence (not “if” or “I hope”). He speaks in present tense (“is”). David was looking out for his father’s sheep, and caring for them in so many ways, but David knew that there was Someone who was looking out for him, who was caring for him in countless ways. That was the inspiration of this psalm. God wants to have a personal relationship with you, as your Shepherd. Not just as your Savior, but as One who is an intricate part of your daily life. Someone whom you spend time with every, single day. This is not a chore or a burden; it is a priceless blessing. The LORD is a personal shepherd, and you can experience that through prayer. Prayer makes this more than theory; prayer makes it a reality.
Our Shepherd takes care of our needs (vs 1b)
The fact that the LORD is our personal Shepherd means that He is there to meet the needs that we face. “I shall not want.” The word want refers to being needy or destitute (Merriam-Webster). David uses the Hebrew yiqtol, which refers to being devoid of, having too little of, or being deprived of something. A shepherd takes care of the needs of his sheep. And having the LORD as our Shepherd is an implied promise that He will not allow us to be deprived and destitute of life’s essentials.
While you and I struggle to distinguish between wants and true needs, God repeatedly promises to meet the needs of His people (Matthew 6:31-33). Jesus reminds us that our part is to seek God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, but His part is to take care of life’s essentials (Philippians 4:19). Our seeking the LORD, seeking the Shepherd, is done through our personal prayer life (Matthew 7:7-11). When we seek the LORD in prayer, we have no legitimate reason to worry. He is our Shepherd; we shall not want.
You and I can get to know our Shepherd through prayer. We will get to experience the LORD in a very personal way (“my” shepherd), and experience Him meet the needs in our life, family, home, church (“I shall not want”). Are you praying – really praying? Are you getting to know the Shepherd, or are you just going through the motions? Let me encourage you to give yourself to prayer; not just to give God a “wish list,” but to know Him and experience Him as your Shepherd.
In what ways have you gotten to know the Shepherd through prayer?