In last week’s sermon, Pastor Wu Yuzhuang encouraged the congregation by sharing that God is their Shepherd, and He is constantly leading and guiding them through life’s circumstances.
Out of 150 Psalms, Psalm 23 may arguably be the most quoted passage in the Old Testament. “King David was the one who wrote Psalm 23,” preached Pastor Wu Yuzhuang as he began his sermon on 7 and 8 Jan. “What is so amazing about Psalms 23 is not who wrote it or what he said; but when he said it,” While some assume that David wrote the psalm when he was a shepherd boy, most theologians and early fathers believe that Psalm 23 was written when David was king over Israel.
David painted two pictures of God in these six verses of Psalm 23. From V1 to V4, he described God as the Shepherd who takes care of the sheep in the field. V5 to V6 go on to illustrate God as a wonderful host who takes care of his guests in the palace.
Pastor Zhuang noted that David was familiar with these two roles as he himself was a shepherd when he was just a boy, and later on became king of Israel. However, interestingly, David assumed the roles of sheep and guests in this psalm.
Ps Zhuang got the congregation to imagine how the king could have been sitting in his palace reflecting on how he went from the field to the palace. After realizing that God had been His Shepherd, leading and guiding him, David started to pen down his thoughts, which eventually became Psalm 23.
This passage can be divided into three segments: V1 to V3 speaks of God’s direction, V4 to V5 speaks of God’s protection and V5 to V6 speaks of God’s provision. “In this first weekend of 2023, I think that it is appropriate for us to look at the direction segment of Psalm 23 because we need God to lead us in this brand-new year,” he said.
THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD
In verse 1, the word “Lord” refers to the Hebrew word Yahweh or Jehovah, which is the covenant name of God. It was first mentioned in Exodus 3:14 when Moses asked God for His name. Since the people in Egypt worshipped many gods, Pharoah had asked Moses for the name of the God who sent him, to which Moses replied, “Jehovah has sent me”.
In essence, God was saying, “I am who I am”; and whatever follows the name “I am” is the covenant that God makes with His people. When Abraham needed provision, He was Jehovah Jireh. When Gideon needed peace, He was Jehovah Shalom. When Moses needed deliverance, He was Jehovah Nissi. When David needed direction, He was Jehovah Rohi, His Shepherd. When God makes a covenant, He ensures that He will keep it.
Pastor Zhuang went on to explain that when David wrote “The Lord is my Shepherd”, it showed his personal relationship with God. For others, they may know theoretically that God is a shepherd, but to David, he knew God in a personal way. God loved and cared for him, enabling him to find much comfort and security, just like how a shepherd cares for his sheep.
A shepherd’s job is to lead and guide his flock. “We all have a personal guide living in us, that is the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:13),” Pastor Zhuang explained. Many Christians are too focused on finding God’s direction for their lives, they forget that the Director of their lives is living in them. They can rest and be at peace in Him even when they are uncertain about how God would work. They will understand that God will lead them, like how a shepherd leads the sheep, to still waters and green pastures.
Pastor Zhuang went on to share three keys to following Jesus, our Shepherd.
1. Hearing God’s voice
Sheep tend to go astray easily. It was reported by the Guardian Paper, in July 2005, that a sheep from a flock had jumped off a cliff and 1500 others followed suit, resulting in the death of 450 sheep.
Reading from Isaiah 53:6, Pastor Zhuang noted that the Bible often refers to people as sheep—with the tendency to follow the latest trend and culture. He then asked the congregation a thought-provoking question, “Who is your shepherd?”
Research has shown that many teenagers spend five to eight hours on social media every day. “Who you are is a result of what you see and who you spend time with,” the pastor reminded the church.
The reason why sheep go astray easily is partially because their wool covers their eyes, and they cannot see clearly. However, as they grow older, sheep learn to recognize the voice of their own shepherd.
“Sometimes we can’t trust our eyes, especially when all we can see is negativity. We’ve got to learn to use our ears,” the pastor said. Quoting from John 10:27, he encouraged the church to learn to recognize God’s voice by spending time in God’s presence, in His Word, and attending church services regularly. He urged them to follow His leading, instead of listening to the voice of the world.
2. Giving up control
Psalms 23:2 reads, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures”. Pastor Zhuang brought attention to the word “make” and observed that some might feel uncomfortable with the notion of God “making” them do anything. While some may object, David understood that his Shepherd was good.
“God wants to be our shepherd, leading us fully on His terms, but always for our benefit,” Pastor Zhuang remarked. David understood that he had no wisdom to find the right pasture and therefore depended on God fully.
While Pastor Zhuang acknowledged that giving up control is difficult, he also asserted that it is necessary. “Because control is an illusion,” he said. “We may think that we have control, but we actually don’t.” For instance, one can control how hard they study but they cannot control whether they are accepted into the school of their choice.
Proverbs 16:33 reads, “every decision is from the Lord.” The pastor taught that only God can bear the responsibility of controlling the outcome of a matter. If we tried to manipulate the outcome, it may well result in a disaster. That is why he encouraged the church to give God full control of their lives and let God be their Shepherd.
3. Trust His leading
Reading from Jeremiah 29:11, Pastor Zhuang noted that God says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you”. This implies that while God knows and makes plans for His people, He may not reveal the plans to them. To arrive at His intended destination, one needs to trust in His leading (Isa 55:8-9).
Pastor Zhuang then pointed out the principle of perspective, stating “where you sit determines what you see, and what you see determines what you do.” God is able to see further into the future and therefore, believers need to follow His leading even when it seems incomprehensible.
The second part of Psalm 23:1 reads, “I shall not want”. Another verse in Psalm 34:10 reads, “The young lions lack and suffer hunger; But those who seek the Lord shall not lack any good thing.” This means that God would provide all things that are good and beneficial for His believers.
The pastor went on to explain that “I shall not want” also means, “I only want what God intends for me to have. If it’s not God’s plan for me, I don’t want it.”
Some people go through life with discontentment, looking for greener pastures at every turn. “But if you are not content with what you are now, you will not be content in the future as well,” explained Pastor Zhuang.
As King David reflected on his life, thinking about his journey from being a shepherd boy to becoming a king, he understood that God had been his Shepherd all his life. It might not have made sense to David in the past, when his anointing did not match his appointing and when his abilities did not match his opportunities. However, when David looked back at his life, everything became clear and he could say, “The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”
Pastor Zhuang raised the example of Christian public speaker, Corrie Ten Boom. She preached that God’s faithfulness is like a piece of embroidery. On one side, a cloth is untidy, ugly, and strange-looking—and that could be a believer’s perspective. The tracks of their lives show how messy it is. However, on the other side of the cloth is the front of an embroidered crown. That is God’s perspective—a beauty to be marveled at.
“We cannot see what God sees, but God is always working for our good, for His glory. We must learn to trust God’s perspective and His leading. He wants to lead us fully on His terms, but always for our benefit,” reiterated Pastor Zhuang.
In closing, Pastor Zhuang told the story of Fanny Crosby, a missionary and songwriter. When she was 6, she developed a condition in her eyes. A man pretending to be a certified doctor tried to fix her problems, but the failed treatment made her totally blind.
However, Fanny at the age of 10, could memorize five chapters of the Bible every week and could even recite the entire Pentateuch. Subsequently, she grew up to write over 8000 hymns and gospel songs. She once mentioned in an interview that she wanted to thank the man who made her blind because if she had her sight, she might not have developed that faith.
He ended the service by urging the church to allow God to be the Shepherds of their lives in 2023.