Psalm 23 is one of the most quoted or preached passages in the whole of the Bible. It has beautiful imagery. Often read at funerals, it contains words and phrases that have comforted and encouraged millions of believers down the centuries.
Today I am going to suggest that it presents a breathtaking view of Prayer.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
Even from just one reading, we see incredible promises of what the Lord can do for us from the place of prayer:
· He can restore a weary soul.
· He can guide us in paths of righteousness – that is, he can help us make right choices, and impart wisdom to us.
· He can deal with our fears.
· He can comfort us through the simple knowledge that He is with us.
· He can enable us to celebrate – note the picture of a feasting table – even when the battle is not yet won.
· He can anoint us or fill us with the power of the Holy Spirit.
· There is goodness and mercy, and we can dwell in His presence.
· And all of this with the promise of forever.
King David wrote this around 1,000 BC, and he never forgot his roots. In fact, he recalls them very clearly in this psalm as he remembers his responsibility as the youngest of 8, to care for the flock belonging to his family.
Back then he would have travelled with the sheep, sleeping under the stars with them, guiding them to food, water, rest and safe pasture. From time to time, he fought off wild predators like lions and bears. He gave his life to serving the sheep.
And it occurs to him now as king, that the Lord does the same for him: The Lord is my shepherd, he writes (just as he used to be a shepherd to the flock all those years ago).
And that means, says David, “I will want for nothing. He will give me everything I need, for any and every situation. I shall not want. I can trust Him for that.”
So, where might the prayer be in this psalm? Simply this: “He makes me lie down in green pastures.”
He tells me to stop and rest. In his presence.
Sheep don’t always know what they need. David, as a good shepherd, would have sensed when they were getting tired, hungry or thirsty, leading them to where they can rest and be refreshed. Or maybe he would know there was a long trek ahead and so he would have coaxed them to stop to recoup energy for the journey ahead.
The Lord our shepherd, our loving heavenly Father sees everything that goes on in our lives too (remember he knows even the number of hairs on your head) and knows exactly what we need at any time of the day.
And Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is keen to bring us to the place of restoration, guidance, comfort, celebration, anointing, goodness, and mercy.
So, how might the Lord (Father, Son and Holy Spirit as One) make us lie down in green pastures in order to find those things?
1. He assures us of His presence.
In his book, A Shepherd looks at Psalm 23, W Phillip Keller, who grew up in Kenya, and, as a young man, worked as a shepherd, writes that there are 4 things that will stop a sheep (and the whole flock) from lying down peacefully:
· Anything that causes them to be frightened.
· Any tension between sheep in the same flock.
· The presence of pests like flies or parasites.
· If they are hungry.
Keller realised that the only thing that reassured the sheep enough to lie down peacefully, was that they saw him with them. His presence brought them peace. He dealt with the tensions, and the flies; made sure they had food and protected them from other wildlife. They could lie down knowing he was there.
Keller goes on to remind us that when we know that Christ is with us (reminding ourselves and allowing the truth to sink into our hearts), that truth sheds new light on our circumstances. We can relax, knowing He is in control.
2. He whispers to us.
The book of Romans talks about us being led by the Spirit of God. How does the Spirit of the Lord lead us? One way is by the still, small voice – God’s whispers.
Remember the story of Elijah?
· After the victory at Mt Carmel, Jezebel threatened to kill him, and he became frightened and depressed.
· He ran believing he was the only Godly man left in the nation. He ended up at Mt Horeb.
· God took care of his needs, but then this happened:
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
· God didn’t speak through noise or miracles, but through a gentle whisper.
When did you last whisper to someone? It was probably with someone you love or care about. A whisper is personal. Intimate. You have to be quiet and still to hear it.
That is the relationship with have with our shepherd. He loves us. Wants to talk to us. He wants us to slow down enough to hear him.
As we allow the Lord to lay us down in green pastures:
· Being assured of His presence
· Knowing that Christ is with us.
· Knowing that He loves us.
· Knowing He can take care of the things we worry about…
We can stop, sit at His feet, meditate on His Word and listen for His gentle whispers.
And in that space we can find guidance, comfort, joy, anointing, goodness, mercy… and so much more.