Biblical Poetry: Discipleship from Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd.
    I will always have everything I need.
He gives me green pastures to lie in.
    He leads me by calm pools of water.
He restores my strength.
    He leads me on right paths to show that he is good.
Even if I walk through a valley as dark as the grave,
    I will not be afraid of any danger, because you are with me.
    Your rod and staff comfort me.
You prepared a meal for me in front of my enemies.
    You welcomed me as an honored guest.
    My cup is full and spilling over.
Your goodness and mercy will be with me all my life,
    and I will live in the Lord’s house a long, long time.

Psalm 23 is probably one of the best-known Psalms for most people. It brings us comfort and paints a beautiful picture of a loving shepherd and his sheep. So, obviously, this poem uses analogy to describe our relationship with God. It is truly a poem of discipleship.

I’ve read this Psalm most of my life, and I usually thought of it as a kind of declaration of what God is like and what our relationship is like, but the other day it hit me in a subtly different way. I’m not one for stating affirmations, but that is how this psalm hit me that day—as something I needed to affirm to myself, reminding my own heart of the truth of God’s care and provision and protection.

Sometimes we are tempted to worry about things, about money and providing for our family. But Psalm 23 reminds us that we lack nothing. We have all we need. (Sometimes I feel like online shopping is the antithesis to Psalm 23). We don’t need to worry. We don’t need to hoard. We just need to trust. When we believe this, it allows us to also become generous with our belongings. It allows us to walk in faith when God is leading. And it allows us to live at peace knowing that God will meet our needs.

The second verse reminds us that even in crazy, scary, or uncertain times, God leads us in peace. When we follow Him, we find peaceful places even in a tumultuous world. And we find rest. This again speaks to our temptation to worry, to feel anxious or afraid. And it speaks to our trusting and following God in all things. If the sheep doesn’t follow the shepherd, he is not led to the calm waters and peaceful, grassy meadows. But when we follow God and His word and His leading, we find peace, rest, and nourishment for our minds, hearts, and souls—and our bodies. I believe this is all-encompassing. God provides for all our needs and nourishment of every kind.

And we are restored. We are strengthened. Fear and worry zap our energy and make us weak. But, as we stay close and follow God’s leadership, we are renewed in our minds and in our hearts. We find new strength in Him, not in ourselves and our striving. He restores our souls and strengthens us for a purpose—that our lives will glorify His name, that we will grow in righteousness, and we will be salt and light to this world.

And then the Psalmist hits on the biggest worry of all—facing death—the loss of a loved one or the loss of our own health and facing our own mortality. Following as a disciple, we don’t need to be afraid. We don’t need to feel hopeless or alone. God is with us and walks us through that painful, terrible valley that sin has brought into this world. It was not His original plan, but He has made a way if we will only follow Him.

And here, in the midst of the hardest part of life, the psalmist leaves the analogy to remind us that heaven awaits us. But more than that, the original psalm alludes to spending time in God’s temple here on earth as a place of renewal and refreshing. It is a place to dwell in God’s presence (It was especially that for those before Christ, who did not yet have the Holy Spirit in them). For us, we have the Holy Spirit to comfort, guide, and renew our minds daily.

The thought of having a meal prepared for us may create images of Heaven’s feast mentioned in the Bible, but here, I think it is more a picture of renewal and hope in the midst of grief and the struggles of life. When we are grieving, we often don’t want to eat. But here God has prepared a table in the presence of our enemies. God has the victory. God provides a place of comfort and renewal even in the midst of our enemies, right in front of them. Why? I can think of two reasons: because He loves us and because he loves them. His provision is a testimony of His love and care for us, but it is also a testimony to those who are watching us and who are far from God.

I love this Psalm, but I love it even more now that I’ve realized how beautifully it shows the heart of God toward His disciples. He cares for us and our needs. And He gives us works to do to honor His name so that a watching world can see Jesus. God’s heart is not only for us, but it is also for them, even those who are so far from God they may think He would never accept them and forgive them. Through our lives, God can show them His love and His desire to care for them the same as He cares for us.

Our Great Shepherd loves the people of this world. He wants us to follow Him and find strength, peace, renewal, and provision for all our needs. What a loving and wonderful God we serve!

Enjoy this coloring page with your kids/grandkids and thank God together for being our Great Shepherd.

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