The Secret of Contentment
By Charles E. McCracken
GROW January 12
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. PSALM 23:1-3
While Psalm 23 may be familiar, the simplicity of the imagery is worth exploring.
Once, a long time ago, I visited a friend who spent summers tending sheep. I remember him sharing a wealth of trivia about genus Ovis aries, including that they love to eat and spend as much as eighty-five percent of their lives grazing.
Among his duties, my friend’s job was to routinely lead the flock to fresh places to graze. He described them “bleating with delight” when they entered a pasture filled with lush green grass.
When King David testifies, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures,” it’s not the shepherd forcing a “lie-down” on the sheep (v.2). Sheep do not lie down to eat. Rather, because they’re already full and completely satisfied—the sheep can rest in the verdant pastures.
Next, David poetically describes the conscientious shepherd leading his sheep to still waters. This makes sense, if you understand that sheep are frightened of everything—loud noises—unexpected movement. Rushing water has both; and, sheep will not drink there. The shepherd makes a point to know every pool suitable for the refreshment of his sheep. He leads them to water that is neither too swift nor too stagnant where his sheep will be at ease and can drink freely.
David declares: the LORD, my shepherd, cares for me completely. He supplies every need. “He restores my soul” (v.3). We tend to think of the soul as an ethereal spiritual component of our being. Here, David uses the word, nephesh (Heb. נֶפֶשׁ), which refers to life as a whole—not as a compartmentalized spirituality, but the totality of life. The meaning is obvious. The care of the shepherd invigorates, renews, revitalizes; it refreshes the life of his sheep. (1)
The hallmark of a good shepherd is his ability to choose the proper path for the sheep. Sheep don’t worry about which path to follow. They are never in a quandary in regard to choosing a path or whether they are going in the right direction. They simply follow the shepherd.
We can almost hear the king himself strongly affirming, “He leads me in the paths of righteousness” (v. 3).
David conveys a powerful word picture in this brief statement. They are paths leading to fulfillment, provision and contentment.
The Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures) reads, He guides me in right paths as befits His name (v. 3 TNKH). David’s shepherd is Jehovah whose ways are always perfect (Ps. 18:30). Jehovah would never deviate from the right path or lead His flock down an inferior path. Only the right path befits His name and reputation as the God of creation.
The message encapsulated in this portion of the 23rd Psalm is practical and direct. While contentment is elusive in our society, it was a way of life for King David. The LORD was His shepherd; he lacked nothing (Ps. 23:1). There was no doubt in David’s mind that the LORD could be trusted to do what was best for him.
King David advises us that there is only one way to have genuine contentment in the life of faith—stay close to the Shepherd!
1) David understood this as a young shepherd and personally experienced it under the care of Jehovah. This truth is evident in numerous psalms he penned. Many begin with David recounting a time when he was overwhelmed by circumstances, but end with renewed hope as he testifies to God’s faithfulness.
© Charles E. McCracken 2016, text content only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author.