Psalm 23 is perhaps one of the most recognizable passages of scripture. It is a passage that millions of people have committed to memory. It is frequently requested as the psalm to be read at funerals. It is so well known that some of its phrases have even found their way into modern advertising; remember the “Fear No Weevil” commercial for systemic insecticide?
Please join me in revisiting these familiar words. Allow visual images of these descriptive words to float into your mind and rest there. Think about hymns and camp songs based on this ancient psalm. Ponder what this psalm might be saying to you today.
The Lord is my shepherd
What image arises when you think of a shepherd? Is it a painting of a blonde-haired blue-eyed Jesus carrying a shepherd’s staff and a baby lamb? Is it a Basque sheepherder in the Idaho back country? What comes to your mind today?
I shall not want.
These words were translated from Hebrew into English long before the term “want” became equated with demanding three year olds. What are you in need of today?
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
Where is the place that gentle sounds soothe your spirit? Where does God quench your thirst with cool water?
He restoreth my soul;
In addition to rest, food and water, in what ways does God restore your soul? What might you change in your life, allowing space for God to provide more of these opportunities?
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Do you prefer to find your own way to the paths of righteousness? Are you willing to let the Lord lead you to (and along) them? When do you act rightly for the sake of your own life and reputation? How do your words and actions reflect on the name of the God whom you have sworn to follow and serve?
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:
In your own mind’s eye, what shape does the valley of the shadow of death take? What is the evil that you would fear, were it not for your confidence in the Lord? In naming this, you release a bit of its power over you.
For thou art with me;
When someone asks you to describe your sense of the presence of God with you, what words or images do you use?
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
What are the handrails and guard rails of your journey that keep you from careening off the edge? Do these feel confining or comforting?
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Of the many ways to visualize this “table”, which is your favorite? Is it a table loaded with good things to eat? Is it a high plateau upon which you can perch, safely above those who wish you harm? Is it something else?
Thou anointest my head with oil;
What healing balm would you welcome right now? What commissioning for the next holy chapter in your calling might await you as a disciple of the risen Lord?
My cup runneth over.
For what abundance do you give thanks today? For what bounty are you grateful?
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life:
What bits of blessing lay hidden in your past, things that did not seem like blessings at the time? What blessings are evident today? What mercies do you hope for in your future?
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
In what way does your life at present feel a bit short of “dwelling” in God? What is your image of “being at home” with the Lord?
Loving Shepherd, bring me reminders of your tender care and provision, of your bounty and mercy, of your protection, of your plan for my life. Amen.