The twenty-third Psalm is one of the most famous passages in the Bible. Part of what makes the ancient psalm so moving is that it was written by David, who had been a shepherd before he became a king. It beautifully pictures God caring for us like shepherds care for their sheep. Here is the psalm:
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 3 He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. 5 Thou dost prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Thou hast anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23, NASB95)
The opening of the psalm provides an image of God comforting us and giving us peace. In verse 3 David proclaims, “He restores my soul.” God assures us in verse 4 that even in the “valley of the shadow of death” we need not have fear since he is with us. In the last verse David comforts us by reminding us of God’s goodness and loving kindness which follow us throughout life and one day we will live with him forever.
Some years ago, I read about a Sunday School teacher who wanted to help her young students to memorize this beautiful psalm. She gave her class a month to learn it. Some easily mastered the words, while others struggled to remember all six verses.
At the end of the month, when each child was to recite the psalm, one student, Tommy, was especially excited and nervous. After many attempts to learn the words, he could barely get past the opening line. However, he stepped up to the microphone and nervously said, “The Lord is my shepherd, and that’s all I need to know.”
Although Tommy had not memorized the psalm, he captured the essence of the passage. What matters most is that just as shepherds care for their sheep, God cares for us. While we can and should learn much more about the Great Shepherd, if we know he cares for us, nothing else actually matters.
For the past 25 years I have used a marital survey designed and developed in 1977 by Prepare Enrich when I counsel couples. It helps people prepare for marriage and assists married couples who are struggling. I am far from alone; pastors and counselors have used this resource with more than four million couples.
A recent post by the Prepare Enrich team entitled, “4 Ways Gratitude Helps You Be a Better Spouse,” makes this point, “A wealth of research has been done… showing that gratitude has a positive effect on social, emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing.” As I read this, I realize gratitude affects us whether we are married or not. As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving let me share four ways gratitude can help us become better people.
First, gratitude prevents us from taking one another for granted. Being appreciative dramatically affects our relationship with our spouse, but it is even more significant, it impacts our attitude in ways not immediately obvious. It helps us appreciate our family, friends, neighbors, and even affects our attitude toward our job.
Second, gratitude helps us keep things in proper perspective. When we are thankful, we more easily focus on life’s positives instead of only our frustrations. This does not mean we ignore or minimize what is bad, but it means we do not become so focused on our problems we see nothing else.
Third, multiple studies show how gratitude can help us be more satisfied with our relationships. When we are happier with those around us, we focus less on the little frustrations which are part of all relationships. Gratitude has a major impact on how we respond to those around us.
Finally, expressing thanks to others helps us combat resentfulness. When we are grateful, we deal better with the minor things which annoy us. We are less likely to harbor a grudge and we relate to others in healthier ways.
These positive benefits may be why the Apostle Paul could write this about the value of focusing on what is good, “…I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Philippians 4:8, The Message) Though Paul neither uses the words “thankful” nor “gratitude” they are implied when he says we are to focus on “things to praise…”
God wants us to understand how having an attitude of thankfulness can pay huge dividends. Thanksgiving offers us a yearly opportunity to be more grateful. It is always appropriate to thank God, however, when we show gratitude to both him and others, we not only honor our Creator we make life better for others as well as for ourselves.