I’m fond of William Shakespeare. I quote him often. I think he’s the greatest master of the English language. So, if we think he’s boring, I don’t think we hear him correctly. He took an unwieldy English language and turned it into art. He made it funny, multi-dimensional, and come alive. He made it rhyme in ways that are incredibly difficult to do. Have you ever tried to write in iambic pentameter? It is challenging.
Moreover, he invented new ways of communicating. He took the “play,” something the Greeks perfected, trimmed it down, and made them exciting and watchable. In this process he created the soliloquy. Do you remember the soliloquy from English class?
It’s a speech, a talk that a single character gives to let you know what’s on their mind. It’s kind of an inner monologue combined with a speech. The audience and a character hiding off stage secretly listen to the character giving the soliloquy. I’ll give you two quick examples, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet.
Juliet and Romeo are starting to fall in love. They met at a masked ball. Romeo wants to express his love. So he goes and hides under her balcony. She gives her soliloquy. He pops up and says, “I’m right here.”
Hamlet is a much darker play. Neither, however, have a happy ending. His daddy (the king is dead) and his uncle has married his mother. He’s an unhappy kid anyway but this makes things worse. In Act 3, scene 1, he’s walking around holding a skull asking, “To be or not to be, that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings of outrageous fortune.”
The first time you see it, it’s incredibly moving. Then, whether they are in period clothes or a more modern production, you pick up on Hamlet’s angst and anger. But after the third or fourth time, it starts to get old. You want him to get on with the story. The redneck in me starts to come out. I want to shout at the stage, “Get on with it. Now what?” Stop moping about with the skull and make a decision. You know your uncle did it.
That’s how I feel when I read Psalm 23. It is a soliloquy of sorts. We know it as well as we know these tiny pieces of Shakespeare. We want it sung, read, and printed at our funeral. It’s published and hung on our walls. It’s on Bible bookmarks. We quote this scripture. But what do we do about it? Is our knowledge only superficial and ephemeral? After the 1000th time saying it, repeating it, and looking at it, what will we do about it? Now what? The Lord is your shepherd. Now what? What are you going to do about it? So what? How is that going to change how you live your life? How will these comforting words push you out of your comfort zone?
- It is one thing to say the Lord is your shepherd. But how do you live as if the Lord is your shepherd? We say the Lord is our shepherd. Often, we lead ourselves around the pasture because we think we know better than the man with the staff. We want to go here. We want to go there. Is the theme of your life being shepherded by God? I’m not saying being a sheep. Are you willing to be shepherded?
- He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. Now what? Are you willing to be led by God? Are you ready to be led anywhere and everywhere by God? Humans are inclined to lead themselves into conflict, violence, arguments, and trouble. Are we willing to be led by God into places of restoration, stillness, and healing? Are we willing to admit that we have problems that need to be healed? Are we willing to accept that we are broken, and without times of restoration, we will fall apart? Without consenting to be led, we will die in the pasture? Are we willing to be led or die of thirst? Or do we think we know better?
- He leads me through the right paths for his name’s sake. Now what? Are we willing to be led by his name and not our name? Are we willing to be identified by the name of Christ and not our family name and have our identities subsumed entirely and totally by that of the shepherd, Jesus of Nazareth? The right path is a path that is a path that centered on the identity, purpose, and passion of Jesus Christ-not us. We are at our best selves when our names and paths are aligned with the path and name of Jesus. Where do we find this? We go back to the Beatitudes.
- Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil. Now what? Are we going to let fear control us or let faith guide us? Are we going to talk faith or walk faith? It’s easy to fear evil when we’re trying to lead the shepherd when we’re trying to go first. When we think we’re in charge. However, if the shepherd leads, fear diminishes exponentially. It’s not that our worries are non-existent or life is perfect, but we can function, despite our fears.
- You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. Now what? Your force me to recognize the humanity in my adversaries. You force me to face my fears and my foes. You move me to a place where I can consider making peace. A shared meal is the best place to find reconciliation, forgiveness, love, justice, grace, and mercy. If you want to reconcile with an enemy, share a meal. Now what? God provides. God provides for everyone. God provides opportunities for healing between you and your enemies. Notice they aren’t God’s enemies. They are my (your enemies). That’s now, what. That’s putting it into practice. That’s an unimaginable blessing. You might even say your cup is running over.
- Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. Now what? Does that mean everything is going to work out fine? No, far from it. It means if we let God go first if we consent to be led, there will be an order, a purpose to our lives that would not be there otherwise. What kind of person do you want to be? What is your purpose in life? Are goodness and life central answers to both of those questions? Are you able to say: I want to BE a good person? I want to BE a person of mercy. How does that happen? We stop giving orders to the shepherd. We stop giving lip service to the Psalm and give life service to the actions behind the words of the Psalm. We take the next step, the now what step.
- This is what, I believe, the second half of the sixth verse means, if we take the next step, we will dwell (live) with God for the duration of our lives. We find purpose and meaning. God will be at the center, and we can align our “who we want to be” and our “now what’s” outward from there. Being led by the shepherd becomes who we are; being shepherded is our way of life.
So how do you make the 23rd Psalm you can live today, not just something they’ll read at your funeral? Give this a try. Embrace this 23rd Psalm as a way of life, not a comfort blanket. You are not a sheep. Sheep are dumb. You are made in the image of God. Remember these points:
- I am willing to be shepherded
- I will be open to life’s abundance. I will reject scarcity.
- I will acknowledge my need to be restored, that I am broken and need healing.
- I realize fear is a choice, I am not abandoned, and God precedes me.
- I accept that God wants me to restore relationships with my enemies. Therefore, eat with your friends, and share table fellowship with your enemies. Break bread together.
I will order my life with a God-centered purpose, a central meaning, and a life theme, which will be God. This will help us determine who we want to be and should be, inspire others, create a legacy, and deal with adversity. Life will not be perfect, but it will have meaning.
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