The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in 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.
In Biblical times, a shepherd had many responsibilities. Flocks needed constant protection from predators, suitable water sources, and plenty of grass to feast upon. Sheep had the ability (and still do) to eat a field right down to the soil in a very short period of time. The shepherd would have to continually move them in order to provide enough food for them to survive. Not only that, there would be birthing ewes to nurse, wounds to tend to, and small lambs to keep an eye on. Knowing this, it is no surprise to me that David, a shepherd boy turned king, would see God as a shepherd gently caring for His flock.
One aspect of “shepherding” found in Psalm 23 that has always captured my attention is found in verse 5:
“…you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.”
I have often found myself asking, “Why oil?” What was the purpose of pouring it on the head of the sheep? Researching for this book, I found my answer. Oil had two purposes. The first was to protect the sheep from sunstroke. The second was to protect the sheep from gnats, small parasites, flies, and fleas. It was both a sunscreen and a bug spray! If only I could market that somehow and make millions.
These small pests were more than just a nuisance to the sheep. They had the ability to kill the sheep if allowed to remain. The oil would pour down the sheep’s head into every crevice of his face – around the nose, the eyes, the ears, and the mouth – creating a barrier of protection.
Oh, how I wish somedays that I had a barrier of protection from the “pests” in my life – those small, seemingly insignificant things that happen and so often rob us of joy, peace, and the last bit of patience we possess. From a bad hair day to the loss of keys when running late– little stresses can lead to big emotions and big emotions can often lead to regrettable reactions.
11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
To be “content” in the original Greek language means to be “strong enough, possessing enough to need no aid,” and something that is “independent of external circumstances.” Paul writes to the church in Philippi that the source of true and genuine contentment comes from within and not from without. External circumstances cannot provide lasting peace or joy. Contentment cannot be based on such things.
Paul had found "the secret to contentment.” What was/is the secret?
Marriage is not the secret. Having a child is not the secret. Money is not the secret. A bigger car, a better car, or greater popularity is not the secret. True contentment can only be found in Christ.
Why? Because bad days are inevitable. Cars break down. People make mistakes. Babies cry. Sweaters shrink in the dryer even when they say they won’t. Keys get lost. Friends double book. Toes get stubbed and bad hair cuts happen. Yet on those days – those horrible, ugly, terrible days when it feels like everything has gone wrong – one thing remains the same. God is who He says He is and does what He says He will do. Paul writes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (vs 13).”
I can have joy when I shouldn’t have joy and peace when I shouldn’t have peace. I can stay calm in the midst of chaos and overcome the big pressures and the little stressors of life. I can do it through Christ. As He infuses me with His strength, I am empowered to do what I cannot do on my own (Acts 1:8).
Let’s go back to Psalm 23 and read verse 5 again.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
In scripture, oil is most commonly used to represent the presence of the Holy Spirit and His mighty power. Paul talks often in his letters to the churches of the New Testament about the importance of living in this Spirit. He encourages them to be filled to overflowing and bear the fruits of a Spirit-filled life (Galatians 5). As the minor and major irritants of this life buzz around us – our barrier of protection is none other than the Holy Spirit Himself.
It is through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we have been given access to the “the same power that raised Christ from the dead (Romans 8:11).” Upon his departure from the earth, Christ promised: “I will send you a helper (John 15:26).” The Holy Spirit – “Christ in me” – empowers me to do what needs to be done no matter what kind of day I have had.
“Lord, today everything has went wrong and I want to scream. I am asking you will infuse me with strength today to do the right thing and help me to bear the fruit of peace in the midst of chaos. I welcome the work of the Holy Spirit in my life.”
When we quit trying to do things on our own and start tapping into the well of the Holy Spirit inside of us – we will find contentment and the ability to walk in integrity no matter what is happening around us. Our Shepherd has provided the oil – will we receive it and let it do it's job?
A few days ago, I was hit with a bombardment of work emails at the same time my children were doing math and needed my attention. Between the “dings” of my phone and the constant calling of my name from every corner of the house, I found my stress level rising. That’s when it happened. My phone froze. I thought I would lose it. I could feel the angry, “Stop asking me questions about math!” on the tip of my tongue. Thankfully, I grabbed it before it escaped and took some time in prayer to ask the Holy Spirit to help me walk out the fruits of the Spirit towards my family. However, that has not always been the case. The early years of my parenting journey were filled with the angry tirades of an exhausted and stressed-out Mama. My husband would try to calm me down, but it seemed like every small ‘stress’ was the very end of my world.
“Stress” is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as a “state of mental tension.” It is related to terms like “worry” and “anxiety.” In my life, I have discovered that all of these – stress, worry, and anxiety – have been rooted in a much larger topic: My lack of trust in my Shepherd.
The only way to walk in integrity when faced with the stress that comes with this life here on earth is to walk in a secure knowledge of our Shepherd’s character and stay drenched in the oil of His Spirit. My level of integrity in the “press” and in the “stress” is directly related to my level of trust in God. Psalm 9:10 says that those who “know (His) name, trust in (Him).” This means that my level of trust in Him is directly related to my level of knowledge of Him. This is the why it is critical for us to dig deep into God’s Word and spend time with Him. Knowledge of Him is the foundation of trust which is the foundation of our integrity. Insecure foundations lead to unstable structures. It’s time for you and I to secure our foundations before they affect the “integrity” of our structure!
· James 1:18 says a “double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” Could this describe you? Why or why not?
· Do you feel you have a secure grasp of who God is?
· What are some characteristics of who God is that you are confident in?
· What are some characteristics of who God is that you find yourself often questioning in the pressure or stress of life?
· What are some practical things that you have done that have helped you grow in your relationship with God over the years?
· Do you still do those things?
*Excerpt from Planted U's 5th Bible Study in the Planted Series entitled, "Integrity" coming out in 2023.*