Chapter OneLiving in Grace
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in
want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he
restores my soul. -Psalm 23:1-3a
Reading by John Ortberg
Living in grace requires new eyes. We must learn to
see God's everyday grace at work all around us.
Jesus was the master of this. For him, it was simply
apparent that we live in a God-bathed world. He saw
that we are surrounded by evidences of God's gracious
shepherding. "Look at the birds of the air; they do not
sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly
Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than
they?" (Matt. 6:26).
Some time ago, my wife and I were watching two geese
and their goslings eat. One adult and nine little goslings
were devouring the grass, while the other adult stood
watch. "Look at that mother goose watch over her family,"
"How do you know it's the mother?" I asked. "Maybe
it's the father goose."
"No, it's always the mother who sacrifices herself for
the family. It's the same in every species."
Just then, the two adults traded off. The eater started
watching and the watcher started eating. I was so grateful.
Jesus said that anytime you see a bird nibble some
seeds, you are watching the grace of God at work. It's
such an ordinary event that most of the time we fail to
even notice it. But it is not a random accident that food
is available. It is the Good Shepherd at work. Every time
you wake up, think a thought, or enjoy a meal, these are
not random occurrences; they are gracious gifts from the
hand of the Good Shepherd.
How many "ordinary" examples of God's grace do we
experience every day and fail to even notice? In the rush
of our days, in the preoccupation of our agendas, how many
provisions of the Shepherd do we race past altogether?
The Discipline of Noticing
If we want to live in grace, we must develop eyes that
see. We must learn what might be called the discipline of
To notice something-to truly pay attention-is a
powerful thing. Children demand it. Spouses feel hurt
without it. If you have ever been so caught up in watching
a basketball game on TV or reading a great book that
you didn't notice how much time had passed, you've
known what it is to pay deep attention to something. You
became absorbed in it.
The practice of noticing is a skill. It involves learning
to pay attention to gifts that we otherwise take for
granted. Stop for a moment and try it. The breath you
just took, the way your eyes are reading these words, the
working of your mind to understand and learn-notice
them. They are not accidents. Nor are they entitlements.
They are gracious gifts. And what's even more amazing is
that their Giver is lovingly present with you even as you
are experiencing them.
The sight of a garden blooming in a riot of color, a
cold glass of water on a hot afternoon, an encouraging
word from a coworker, a warm blanket on a chilly night,
the taste of your favorite food, a long conversation with
a good friend. All ordinary, but all grace nonetheless.
Train yourself to notice, to pay attention, to become
absorbed in the grace of your Shepherd.
Seizing Ordinary Moments
Just as we must learn to see Jesus' ordinary gifts of
grace, we must learn to seize his ordinary moments of
grace-moments that the Shepherd would like to use to
replenish and refuel us.
A lunchtime walk, a moment of solitude in the car or on
the train, the still of the house when the baby is napping,
sitting with a glass of iced tea in the backyard. Each can be
transformed into a personal and private time of "green pastures
and still waters"-if you have eyes to see and the
willpower to slow down. Your Shepherd has provided
everything necessary to transform your rushed soul into a
restored one. But he won't force you to turn aside. He won't
tackle you to get you to lie down. The choice is yours.
I Shall Not Want
When our spiritual eyes begin to work, we become
aware of his grace all through our days. Our lives become
filled with genuine gratitude instead of with ceaseless
discontentment. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not
be in want"-I lack nothing, the psalmist says.
Phillip Keller, a twentieth-century shepherd, writes
about his experiences on his sheep ranch. He describes
one sheep who had the fatal flaw of discontentment:
She was one of the most attractive sheep that ever
belonged to me. Her body was beautifully proportioned.
She had a strong constitution and an excellent
coat of wool But in spite of all these attractive
attributes she had one pronounced fault. She was restless-discontented-a
No matter what field or pasture the sheep were in, she
would search all along the fences . looking for a
loophole she could crawl through and start to feed on
the other side. It was not that she lacked pasturage.
My fields were my joy and delight It was an
ingrained habit. She was simply never contented with
things as they were. Often when she had forced her
way through some such spot in a fence . she would
end up feeding on bare, brown, burned-up pasturage
of a most inferior sort
. She was a sheep, who in spite of all that I had
done to give her the very best care-still wanted
something else. She was not like the one who said, "The Lord is my Shepherd-I shall not want."
-A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23
To say "I shall not be in want" doesn't mean we have
no significant requests or needs. It certainly does not
mean we should be passive in the face of injustice or
poverty. Not wanting means being settled. Settled that
the Shepherd knows our real needs. Settled that his pastures
really are more lush than the burned-up ones we
habitually pursue. Settled that he can be trusted to provide
the best gifts.
In his grace, he does so all the time.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me
lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he
restores my soul. -Psalm 23:1-3a
Read these words each day this week. Let them sink in. Consider
writing them out, paraphrasing them, or committing
them to memory. Your challenge is to live with those words
today. Specifically, experiment with the following:
Today I Will Notice
I will try to have eyes that see God's gracious daily provisions,
even in the ordinary-a warm bed, a closet full of clothes, a comfortable
pair of shoes, a hot shower, the ability to see, hear, walk,
I will look for examples of God's grace around me-in scenes of
natural beauty, in the face of a friend, in wholesome pleasures that
bring me joy, in my church body gathered in worship.
Today I Will Give God the Opportunity to Restore My Soul
I will be open to ways, large or small, that God wants to lead me
to green pastures or quiet waters, and I will consciously try to be
with my Shepherd there.
As you go through the week (and throughout this whole study),
consider keeping a journal of your experiences with this exercise.
How were you stretched to do life differently? Did you find yourself
becoming more aware of God's ordinary acts of grace in your
life? How were you nurtured and restored? What effects did you
notice on your level of contentment? What aspects came easily?
What was frustrating?
1. As you read through the first three verses of Psalm 23, imagine
for a moment that none of it is true. Paraphrase the psalm
below so that it says just the opposite ("The Lord is not my
shepherd-God does not care for me"). What would your life
be like if those statements were reality?
2. Some people view God as distant and uninvolved with his
people-like an absentee landlord-yet in Psalm 23, God is
compared to a loving shepherd. Use the following chart to contrast
a landlord with a shepherd.
In light of these contrasts, summarize what God being your
Shepherd means to you.