I often think of Psalm 23 as an “old friend.” My choice of wording might seem odd, but I turn to this old and trusted friend repeatedly. For instance, on those increasing occasions when I wake up and can’t fall back to sleep, I have some trusted friends who visit. One of these is Psalm 23. The others include the Lord’s prayer and the Apostles’ Creed. Irregularly, they are accompanied by a fourth, the 10 Commandments. Sometimes, other Scriptures too. But often the Psalms.
On these occasions, I usually recite, in my mind, the words of these close friends. Then, I go back and consider or meditate on one or the other. Often, this brings me to Psalm 23. Then, phrase by phrase, I focus on its meaning. Doing this, I have observed that it may be used in various ways.
Psalm 23 teaches and reminds me of various truths. Yahweh is the one who is shepherding or taking care of me. Yahweh will provide all of my needs. He uses various circumstances in my life to provide rest, reflection, protection, etc. Thus, I can read and review the details of Psalm 23 and be encouraged because I am reminded of these precious truths.
Psalm 23 can be read as an affirmation or statement of faith. That is, as I recite it, I affirm these facts to be true. Thus, I affirm that Yahweh leads me and provides for me. I may reflect how he has been with me in the dark valleys of life. This might prompt me to a different emphasis such as appreciation and gratitude. So,…
Psalm 23 may be offered as a prayer of thanksgiving. I might go through it, phrase by phrase and reflect on how the Lord has provided, protected and led me in the past. I acknowledge his tender care and protection. Then I thank him for it. Thus, it is a Psalm of praise to the Lord!
Psalm 23 can be uttered as a prayer for protection, provision or direction. I might pray something like this: “O Lord, you are my shepherd and have promised to provide for all my needs. Please Lord, refresh my spirit and restore my soul. I am tired and weary; I am confused and don’t know where to turn… Oh Lord, I need your help. Please help me…”
Psalm 23 may be recited as an aspiration or something which I strongly desire to be. Thus, I would pray, “Good Shepherd, I am your sheep, help me to find my all and all in you. Help me to be content with you. I thank you and praise you that you have in the past, led me to pleasant pastures and quiet places. You have restored my soul and led me in paths of righteousness. Please be with me in death’s dark valley. Cause me to know that you are with me…”
Psalm 23 can be used as an intensely personal prayer or, with the focus on others, such as your spouse, children, family, friends, church, etc.
More often than not, Psalm 23 is offered in “kaleidoscope form.” By this, I mean that it is difficult for me to stick to one focus. I might begin with praise and thanksgiving that the Lord is my shepherd – that he is the Good Shepherd who has given his life for me. Then, after giving thanks, I might pray for refreshment and provision. I might request that my faith is strengthened as I phase troubles and difficult situations…
Then, I might turn to the future and reflect on the truth of the Good Shepherd’s promise to be with me in what lies ahead. Doing so might encourage me to think about the more distant future and the wonderful promises he has made to those who love him. I will live in his house forever.
Sometimes, I think of the abundant provision which Jesus has made for me as one of his people. I thank him that even though my enemies surround me, he continues to provide for his own – especially for me! He protects me. I have nothing to fear.
By now, you get the picture. Rather than just sticking to one line of thought, my brain jumps back and forth between these various aspects. Perhaps you’re more disciplined or focused. Great! But I can tell you this, that when I feel confused or alone, I can turn to my trusty friend (Psalm 23), who quickly points me to my Good Shepherd, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Then I quickly confess, “That’s all I want!”
Someone once asked a wise pastor about his preferred version of the Bible. With the great proliferation of versions, both old and new, which is the best – the most helpful? He replied, “Although there are many excellent choices, get one that is a good translation, faithful to the original manuscripts and which you can understand and will obey. He went on to explain that what really matters is that you use the one that you have. That’s it! Use what you have.
Likewise, take Psalm 23 and use it. There are very good reasons for why this Psalm is so well loved. Make it one of your favorites too.