We all know the twenty-third Psalm, the Psalm of David. I imagine most of us can recite it almost word for word. But, have you ever thought about what it really means, what it is really saying? It seems with our fast paced, frantic world, people are feeling increasingly stressed, depressed, or lost. And while there are drugs, and therapy to help us deal with any issues we may face, there is also a very powerful tool, a special gift that our heavenly Father has given us – Psalm 23. Let’s take it line by line, and explore how just by reciting, and praying, on each part, it will provide us with a way to cope with the stresses of this world.
Psalm 23 (KJV)
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
What is the purpose of a shepherd? To guide his flock of sheep, to gather any little ones who wander astray. He also must make sure they are well fed, and cared for, to insure they live a long life, so their purpose is assured (the gift of their wool). Isn’t this exactly what God does? He provides us with all of our needs, even if we don’t realize at times what exactly we need. Even if we ask Him for nothing, He still provides. We can be assured that will shall never want. He is our Shepherd!
“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures”
I tend to go throughout my day as if it’s a race. I have a mental to-do list in my head, and on top of that I also care for my ailing husband, babysit my granddaughter once a week, and most days run errands, such as go to the store. So you can imagine, I get pretty tired and worn down. Though my best friend cautions me to rest, I don’t always listen. But just as a shepherd knows that his flock must rest at times, so too does our heavenly Father. I’ve noticed that sometimes it takes a major illness, or injury, to get us to stop, to get that much needed rest. And there should be no shame in slowing down at times, and allowing our body, and mind, to recuperate.
“he leadeth me beside the still waters.”
If you know anything about sheep, they are timid creatures. And just like all God’s creatures, they get thirsty. But, they are afraid of fast moving streams. So the shepherd will lead them to a calm pool of water. He doesn’t make fun of the sheep for being afraid, he doesn’t push them in to a place where they are not comfortable. Our Shepherd does the same for us. If we are afraid, He makes a way to calm our fears. He leads us in to the calm pool, and away from the rapids of life.
“He restoreth my soul”
I had a chaotic childhood. My parents divorced when I was little, my mother committed suicide, and now I care for my ailing husband. It has taken me many years to learn to trust people, and to trust myself. When a shepherd takes his flock out for the day, when they pause to rest, I imagine the sheep wander close to the shepherd, maybe for a snack, but I also believe for just a simple ear scratch, or to be petted. This makes the sheep feel loved and cherished, it makes them happy. We cannot be happy all the time, because life has a way of knocking us down. Our soul can feel crushed in the midst of all life’s troubles. But just like the sheep who come to the shepherd for love and care, so too can we go to our Father. He will help restore what has been broken in us.
“he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”
Imagine a flock of sheep, on a farm, beside a busy street. What would happen if there were no shepherd? Sheep tend to wander off, if left on their own. Well aren’t we the same? How many times have you made a decision, that on looking back, you realized that was not the best decision at the time. But we have a Shepherd, just like the sheep, who will lead us down the right path.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me”
This one line provides so much comfort, if you will only hear the message. Talking to many people who suffer from depression, or other mental illness, they almost always describe their illness as a black hole, a dark place. And don’t we always fear the dark, the night, at times? I imagine sheep are the same way. But think of the shepherd’s light, which guide the sheep at night, as God’s love and protection, leading us out of the darkness. When you feel darkness, gloom, the bad stuff, all around you, recite this simple prayer. And know, you are never alone in that darkness, because He is always near.
“thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
I love the pictures of baby sheep (lambs)! They are so cute, but also so helpless. When we see pictures of shepherds, usually they carry a staff. Have you ever wonder why it is curved at the top? When the sheep, or lamb, has wondered off, possibly fallen down a hill, the curved end of a shepherd’s staff allows him to grasp the lamb who is out of arm’s reach. And bring it to safety. Our Father carries a rod and staff, so to speak. The rod is to protect us against harm, the staff is used to rescue us when we stray.
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies”
How does the shepherd know where the best grasses are, to graze for his flock? What would happen if he wasn’t as vigilant, and they became poisoned by something? We are not always as careful as we should be, in where we go, what we eat, who we meet, etc. As parents, we always, always try to guard our children from the dangers of life. This isn’t always easy. But, because we have a constant Shepherd who goes before us, preparing a way which is safe from our enemies, we, and our children, can continue to come to no harm.
“thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”
At the end of the day, I imagine as the shepherd brought his herd inside the barn, he checked each one for any cuts or scrapes. My granddaughter will be the first to tell you if she has a boo-boo. She then demanded I kiss it first, as if that had some magical healing properties. Then the offending cut was anointed with medicine, and bandaged. Just as I imagine the shepherd does for any hurt ones in his flock. Like the sheep, and my granddaughter, we all need medicine when we are sick. But we also need the anointing grace of our loving God. Only then are we healed, and our cup of blessings will overflow.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”
I’m a worry-wart! I can take a mole hill, and make it a huge mountain. Does what I picture in my mind, actually happen? Most days the answer is NO. But it doesn’t stop me from worrying. We all carry pictures in our head of what we think may happen. For some reason, we always picture the worse. But in this humble verse, we are reminded that God’s goodness and mercy is always with us. It does not leave us…..so when you feel yourself picturing the worse that could happen, remember you are promised His love and mercy, for “all the days of your life”.
“and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
I love this simple declaration by David. He doesn’t say maybe I will, or I hope I will. He declares, “I will”! He gets it, he knows who his shepherd is. Just as the sheep put their absolute trust in the shepherd, so does David put his trust in the Lord. As we should do also, because like sheep in the field, we would be lost without our Shepherd.