Psalm 23

1The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 3He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. 6Surely 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 NASB

Humanity is so often marked in history by its struggles. We catalog our own lives in much the same way, marking our days and seasons by trial or triumph. We post things on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter; either attempting to let others know how good things are, or how mistreated we are.  It is this universality of trial that points to the need for peace. Both personally and societally, peace is seemingly in short supply. The Shepherd of Psalm 23 leads us to idyllic scenes, green pastures, calm waters. These are more than literary constructs, however, as the reality of a peaceful guide is an offer to us in the Good Shepherd. What is the result of this peaceful leading?

The one that brings peace doesn’t simply bring us to a place of peace, He brings personal restoration, peace within us. The Shepherd guides us on paths of righteousness, paths of hope and renewal, by His good pleasure, for His name sake.

When so many are afflicted by the bondage of unmitigated addiction and the letdown of unanswered affection, we have a God who wants nothing more than to provide calm amidst the chaos.

In His presence, we find the still waters our souls crave. In God, there is perfect peace.

Anxious man, Active God

The world we inhabit is an anxious place and we, the inhabitants, are an anxious people. The Good Shepherd of Psalm 23 is no mere bystander. Our God is an active God. He makes me like down. He leads me beside quite waters. He restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness. He is active.

An interesting thing about Psalm 23 is the structure the psalmist uses. In the first three verses the psalmist refers to God as “he”, then in verse four and five God is referred to as “you”:  “I will not fear, for you are with me; your rod and staff comfort me; you prepare a table for me; you anoint my head with oil.” Then in verse six he the psalmist switches back to third-person: “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord”.  This teaches us that we should not reserve our discussions about God, but actually include him.

Do you interweave talking to God when you talk about God?

We must simply surrender our anxiety and allow Him to lead us, guide us, and restore us.

Peace of Quiet Waters

The image of quiet waters of Psalm 23, called “still waters” in other translations, is among the most vivid word-pictures in Scripture. For the sheep, these waters are not simply a place of pastoral beauty. Quiet waters are a practical respite, since drinking from turbulent waters could be both difficult and dangerous. The image of sheep sipping from a smooth stream is one of the safety and deep serenity. For those willing to surrender to the Good Shepherd, the incomparable, unending peace of God is available.

Do you believe that still waters are safe? If not, what are the dangers? If so, where is your focus?

Follow the Leader

The text of Psalm 23 is not complex, but that does not mean that it is a simple text by which to live. The Shepherd guides and leads. The sheep must faithfully follow. This is true of our lives following Christ. As the Holy Spirit leads and guides our lives, the only imperative for us is that we must follow. Willing obedience brings us to the green pastures and quiet waters, to restoration and righteousness. It stands to reason, then, that willful disobedience leads us astray. While we cannot truly hide from God, the pain and shame of living in our sin is the opposite of what the Shepherd desires for us.

Have you ever experienced a time of being lead by still waters? Have you experienced being in still waters, but led by your independence or pride? What was it like?

Paths to Peace

The same Shepherd who brings us peace and tranquility, who restores and renews our souls, desires to see us on paths of righteousness. It is true, as well, that off the path of righteousness we are prone to all the maladies that oppose peace and tranquility. It is like the mariner, who in plotting a course even one degree off from the true way-point, ends up hundreds of miles from his intended destination. The paths of righteousness are paths to peace. To step off those paths is to step into the trajectory of trouble.

Are you more prone to wander in the green pastures (good times) or valleys of death (bad times).

We have all been on a variety of paths. What is a path of righteousness?  What is righteousness?

His Name’s Sake

It would be easy, in reading Psalm 23, to create a me-centric construct from these gracious verses. But we must see and consider why the Shepherd guides the sheep in the paths of righteousness. It is explicitly for HIs name’s sake. The Shepherd, the Lord God, intends to be glorified in all things. When we reorient the world to be chiefly about us instead of chiefly about God, the Creator of the Universe, we steal HIs glory. We cannot experience full peace or restoration if our focus is on our own glorification. The sheep only truly rest in the Shepherd. Stealing glory, rather than building us up, only leads to us to stolen peace.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, we want nothing more than to know the restoration you offer. Help us to release our anxiety, our worry, and our doubt. Give us the courage to let go of the control long enough to to allow you to guide and lead us. Your love for us is active and unceasing. Thank you for loving us.

Lord, our soul cries out for peace. We admit that we seek peace in every product and prescription the world offers and yet none of it satisfies. We need the deep, comforting peace of quiet waters. Lead us, Prince of Peace, beside these waters. We long to know the depths of your goodness.

God, restore us. Forgive us for all of the self-inflicted wounds of our sin. Forgive us for compounding all of it with pride, as we try to fix ourselves or hide our scars. Only you heal and restore. We lay ourself before you, Lord. Grant us the restoration of our soul and remind us that our newness is in the crucifixion of our sin with Christ. We’ll rest in that sacrifice and we surrender anew.

Father, we are stubborn souls, so often convinced that we can lead ourselves. And yet, Father, the only place we’ve ever led ourself is deeper into trouble, deeper into sin, further away from you. Forgive us for our obstinacy, our refusal to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. We submit again. Guide us, Lord.

Lord, you guide us in paths of righteousness. you know the way we should walk. Convict us anywhere we are off those paths – even an infinitesimal degree – and where we’re walking into anything other than your truth. Let us rest in you alone, God. Find us in your will.

God we are so often a thief of your glory. We are self-absorbed and self-concerned. Convict us where our heart is not humble before you and remind us, Father, that you are far more concerned with our well-being than we could ever be. Show us the truth of your love in Jesus again today and remind us that to rest in your perfect peace is to rest in you alone. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

adapted from Psalm 23 Devotional by Kyle Burkholder