Thoughts on Pastoral Ministry from Psalm 23

Being Satisfied with Our Shepherd and Pleased with Our Pastor

by Doug Smith

Author’s Note: This article is adapted from a message delivered at the first graduation for the Cumberland Area Pulpit Supply, Phase 1 Training, on April 14, 2007.

Psalm 23—A Psalm of David

smith_sheep.jpgThe LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever (KJV).


Are you satisfied? Satisfaction seems to be a rare commodity these days. In fact, the marketing gurus capitalize on our dissatisfaction by focusing our attention on things that make us discontent or by trying to make us think we need more of something or something better or bigger. How many times have you replaced or upgraded your computer or installed updates for its programs in the last five years? Two years? Year? Month? Week? Have you ever obtained a new vehicle because you were not satisfied with the one you had? Perhaps it guzzled the gas. Or there wasn’t enough room. Or you didn’t have enough horsepower to pull that trailer.

Related to this idea of satisfaction is the “law of diminishing returns.” This is the idea that the more you get of something, the more you need to satisfy yourself. You may never have a car fast enough or a house big enough. You may never have a computer with enough memory or a drill with enough bits. Among others, drug addicts and those enslaved to pornography experience this problem. They constantly seek increasing quantities and increasingly extreme experiences to satisfy their cravings.

The tendency toward dissatisfaction in our earthly lives is ever-present in the ministry as well. If you are the pastor of a church 10 years from now, will you be satisfied and content? Will you be the target of books that promise to increase the apparent success of your ministry? Will you be the type of individual conference promoters seek to court, promising the secret that will make your ministry explode with growth? Will you constantly be depressed because you cannot gain the favor of everyone in your congregation? Each year, many churches close, and many men quit the ministry, often because of such frustrations.

Now, it is true that we should be discontent in some areas, even in our Christian lives. We should never think we have arrived. We always have room for improvement in our relationships with our wives, our children, and our friends. We can do better in our witness to unbelievers and even in our preaching and leadership. But more than any of these things is one area where we should constantly be seeking satisfaction. We should not be satisfied until we are satisfied in our relationship with God. He is the only One who can truly satisfy us.

Are you satisfied? If God is to be pleased with you as a pastor, you must be pleased with your Pastor—satisfied with your Shepherd, who is God.

As we turn to Psalm 23, we are reminded of these familiar images of a Shepherd, a sheep, and pastureland. We think of David, who probably penned these very words and experienced firsthand the life of a shepherd as a young man. He knew what it was like to feed, lead, and protect sheep. He also knew the life of a king. He knew popularity, power, and prosperity. He also knew the emptiness of sin and God’s correction and restoration. He knew his need to be happy in God. David was not satisfied with his prestige but with his Pastor—that is, his Shepherd, the LORD.

Psalm 23 reminds us of some important aspects of pastoral ministry and demonstrates our need to be satisfied with the Person, Provision, and Promise of our Pastor.

1. We need to be satisfied with our Shepherd’s PERSON. This refers to God’s character.

Verse one reveals Him as “the LORD.” When we see “LORD” in all capital letters in the Old Testament, this means that the Hebrew text (from which our English is translated) contains the most sacred name of God: Jehovah or Yahweh. This name is related to God’s self-disclosure of “I AM THAT I AM” to Moses in Exodus 3. It is a reminder of God’s self-existence; He needs nothing because He has the power of life in Himself. He depends on nothing outside Himself for His being. God’s sacred name is also a reminder of His faithfulness. Jehovah, or Yahweh, is God’s covenant name. It is the name of the One who is faithful to remember and perform all of His promises. The God who made the world by His Word has authority, responsibility, and ownership. He is the sovereign Lord. This God is the Shepherd spoken of here, and we need to learn of His character.

God’s character is revealed throughout the psalm as our Provider, Corrector, Leader, and Protector. He is good and merciful. He is eternal, for His children have the promise of dwelling with Him forever. Men, we need to be students of God’s character.

Note the little word my. This makes a tremendous difference. The verse does not say, “The LORD is a shepherd” or “the shepherd” but “my shepherd.” The word my indicates a personal relationship. The psalmist knew the Shepherd personally. This truth is a good reminder to us as pastors that the Lord is not everyone’s shepherd—not even shepherd to all pastors. We would do well to heed Richard Baxter’s warning about ministers who do not know Christ and to make sure his warning does not describe us! In his book, The Reformed (which means in his title “revived”) Pastor, he writes, “Many a tailor goes in rags, that maketh costly clothes for others; and many a cook scarcely licks his fingers, when he hath dressed for others the most costly dishes.”

Who is this Shepherd we must know? Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), the Great Shepherd (Heb. 13:20) and the Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4). He is the One who laid down His life for His sheep—disobedient, hell-deserving sheep who had gone astray but had their sin laid upon the Shepherd. He was the Lamb of God slain as a substitute for sinners, who rose from the dead and commands us to repent of our sin and trust in Him, bidding us to come and follow Him.

Let us not be preachers who, as Baxter put it, “worship an unknown God,” “preach an unknown Christ,” “pray through an unknown Spirit,” “recommend a state of holiness and communion with God, and a glory and a happiness which are all unknown, and like to be unknown to them for ever.” What a horrible condition—a condition that should make us tremble. Let us make sure we know this God personally and can say in truth, “The LORD is my Shepherd.”

We should also realize that God’s person or name is supremely important to Him in how He shepherds us. Therefore, God’s glory, not our recognition, should be the goal of our pastoral ministry. His reputation is at stake in how He cares for us and in how we care for His sheep. As we begin to look at how we should be satisfied with not only His person but also His provision, let us not forget the reason He does what He does: “He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (emphasis added).

2. We need to be satisfied with our Shepherd’s PROVISION. Notice the verbs in the six verses of Psalm 23. Most of them refer to God. God’s activity is highlighted here, showing us why we shall not want, lack, or need anything.

“I shall not want” food because God makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. He gives us calmness and a pure resource of life-giving nourishment. We can feast on His Word. We should be satisfied with the riches of His Word. God has not made us to lie down in a wasteland but in lush pastureland. He has spread a banquet before us and calls us to feast. If we do not feed upon God’s Word ourselves, how can we expect our people to come hungering for it? And if they do, how can we expect to give them nourishment from God’s Word when we are sickly and fainting because we have drunk from the contaminated potholes of cable TV or movies or the Internet or the news or magazines and have neglected the pure springs of God’s Word? Let’s be satisfied with God’s provision so we will have healthy, wholesome food to give the sheep, not spiritual junk food or poison that simply tickles their ears.

“I shall not want” guidance because God leads me. He is the One who takes me by the still waters and who calls me to follow in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. He is a safe Guide who has been down the path we are to follow. We don’t know where we need to go, and we are prone to stray. But Christ walked the path of perfect obedience to God that we failed to walk. But if we trust Him, God clothes us in His perfect righteousness, and then we are to walk in obedience. He binds up His reputation with us—“for His name’s sake.” How then can we be indifferent to matters of obedience? How can we say “follow me as I follow Christ,” as Paul said, unless we are walking with our Lord, following Him? How can we guide others unless we know and are satisfied with the guidance of the Lord?

In addition to guidance, God gives correction. Sheep are pitiful creatures when they are on their backs. So are Christians. We are powerless to restore ourselves. “He restoreth my soul”—putting me back on my feet. I must be satisfied enough with God to confess my sin and to be thankful that He corrects me instead of leaving me to die in it. I must be content with God’s correction if I am to use His Word to correct others and to help restore them, putting them back on right paths.

God also protects. The Shepherd uses His staff and rod to drive away wild beasts and to protect the sheep from their own foolishness in straying. God is with us “through the valley of the shadow of death,” so we don’t need to fear. He spreads a banquet table before us “in the presence of … [our] enemies.” He protects us. We must be satisfied with His protection if we are going to brave the dangers of the ministry, free from the fear of man. We can face death and trials unafraid if our trust is in God. We can face opposition to the message of the gospel, be it man’s words, threats, or actions. And we can rejoice in the midst of persecution if we are satisfied with God’s protection. If we are going to guard our families from spiritual danger and our flocks from false teaching, we must know God’s presence as our Protector and be satisfied with Him.

In all these things, God provides in abundance. He anoints our heads with oil in a manner fit for an honored guest. He causes our cups to overflow and pursues us with goodness and mercy (as one preacher put it) like two sheepdogs, nipping at our heels every time we turn around. We have every reason to be satisfied with our Shepherd’s provision and have no reason to grumble and complain about His goodness to us.

3. Finally, we must be satisfied with our Shepherd’s PROMISES. Notice that this psalm is future-oriented in the responses of the psalmist (verse 1: “I shall not want”; verse 4: “I will fear no evil”; verse 6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever”).

The relationship we have with God and His provision for us are not just for now but for the future. What He has done in the past and present are previews of what He will do in the future. As some have observed, our “best life” is not now but is yet to come. We do not need to worry, but we may trust in the faithful, covenant-keeping LORD to take us to dwell with Him forever as He has promised. Are you satisfied with His promises? If so, your satisfaction will show up in your present life.

John Owen wrote, “It is a vain thing for any to suppose that they place their chiefest happiness in being for ever in the presence of Christ, who care not at all to be with him here as they may.” What does your prayer life and time in the Word say about your satisfaction in the promises of God? Is your hope in this life only? Is your hope in a “big” or “successful” ministry? Or do you hope in the promise of dwelling with God forever?

Men, this world is full of things that will never satisfy us. Material things won’t satisfy, but neither will ministry. Only God will ultimately satisfy, and our ministries will not be pleasing to Him until we are pleased with our Pastor and satisfied with our Shepherd. Are you satisfied with Him?

smith_doug.jpgDoug Smith is member of Cornerstone Chapel Reformed Baptist Church (Bristol, TN) and is a supply preacher with the Cumberland Area Pulpit Supply, an extension of Bancroft Gospel Ministries (Kingsport, TN). He and his wife, Krystal, have three children. Doug is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree through the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY). His blog is located at http://glorygazer.blogspot.com.
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