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As a child, what was your favorite pet? How did this pet respond when it heard your voice?
Encounter the Word
Read John 10:1-10.
- What do the *sheep, *shepherd, *sheep pen and *stranger represent?
- How do the sheep respond to the shepherd?
- How does this relate to the Pharisees’ difficulty in understanding Jesus?
- What does Jesus mean by comparing himself to a gate for the sheepfold?
- Who are these “thieves and robbers?”
- How is Jesus different from them?
- Look at verse 10: how does Jesus’s death relate to his promise in this verse?
Now, going a little further . . .
- What was the turning point for you in terms of hearing God’s voice and responding?
- How do you discern God’s voice from all the voices that vie for your attention (that shout at you)?
- How does it make you feel to think of God caring for you as the Good Shepherd? As the Gatekeeper?
Connect with God’s Story
Read Psalm 23.
- When you were growing up, how did you deal with stress?
- What did you do when you were feeling anxiety?
In this Psalm, David departs from the “rock” and “stronghold” images of God. What do we see in this Psalm as a source of comfort or strength? Read 1 Samuel 16:10-12. How does this relate to Psalm 23?
The objective center of this psalm is the Shepherd, who is God. The Shepherd figure dominates the psalm and is constant throughout. But the emotional center of the psalm is in verse 4—“Death Valley.”
Read verses 5-6.
NOW read the psalm in the negative—for example: “The LORD is not my shepherd . . .”
- Which verse is most disturbing to you?
- Through what dark valley might you be walking right now?
- Has God rescued or protected you with his “rod and staff?”
- To what green pastures and still waters has he brought you?
- Who are your enemies today?
- With what would you like your cup to overflow?
That “Death Valley” experience is so frightening to think about—we do everything in our power to avoid it, don’t we? But how can we see the light without the shadows? How can we see the good without the bad? One time my mother got a fortune cookie that said, “Never fear the shadows—they simply mean there’s a light shining somewhere nearby.” And another favorite author (Barbara Johnson) said, “Fear is the dark room where negatives are developed.”
Sooooooooo is a Death Valley necessary? Honestly decide what you think about that.
Engage with the Kingdom
The first half of the psalm (verses 1-4) sees the Shepherd in relation to his sheep. Left to themselves, the sheep wander aimlessly into danger. They need a shepherd. The psalmist has experienced the activity of God in his life as a sheep would a shepherd. He has been guided away from the ravines of deep shadows, where death lurks, and has been led to the little hollows, where water and grass make life possible and safe.
The second half of the psalm (verses 5-6) continues the dominating figure of the Shepherd but exchanges the life of the sheep for that of a fugitive. In the ancient nomadic culture, if a man’s life was in danger, he fled to the desert. In that culture, a murderer would be hunted down until he was found. The desert was home for the fugitive, but it was a horrible home—a home of fear, danger, and exposure. Because we live in the desert, we know how inhospitable the desert can be without resources.
Verse 5 could be translated “You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies.” If you are fleeing for your life or living in fear of your past catching up with you, this image is one of forgiveness and peace. Being welcomed into the Shepherd’s tent, and there in front of your enemies, served a meal. In the Shepherd’s tent, you are safe.
For the sheep in danger of the death which lurks in the valley like shadows, the shepherd is a guide. For the fugitive hunted down by his stalkers, the Shepherd is a protective host. The Shepherd provides both guidance and grace: guidance for the wandering sheep and grace for the guilty fugitive. And that should be a comfort to all of us, however deep in the valley we find ourselves in . . . or how dark the shadows.
Note: this psalm is one of the most recognizable parts of the Bible for people who don’t know much about God or much else about scripture.
- In your opinion, why do you think that this particular psalm has so much appeal? Do you agree or disagree, and why:
On being a sheep:
Sheep are not smart. Really not smart. They need lots of help. Help to find the grass necessary for their existence. Water to sustain them in the deserts through which they must walk. Prodding to keep them moving so that they do not destroy the vegetation by overgrazing. And caring for them each day. One day at a time. The shepherd really needs to know what they are doing, and where they are taking those sheep.
And we are the sheep. Please remember that.
Here is the video used as part of the sermon illustration: Ray Vander Laan Green Pastures
 Peterson, Eugene. Conversations: The Message Bible with its Translator. NavPress: Colorado Springs, CO. 2007. 796.