Over the next several months, you will be invited on an interactive journey through Psalm 23. In each of the following months we will focus our attention on a portion of the Psalm, beginning this month with the first verse. I hope God will use this Psalm to help deepen
your trust of God, expand your concept of God, and ignite your love for God.
Psalm 23: The Shepherd and the Sheep
Psalm 23 is one of the most beloved of the Psalms. Christians and non-Christians are drawn to the comfort contained in the words of this psalm. The message of Psalm 23 is drawn upon at funerals and times of despair, with the hope that the image of the caring shepherd leading the sheep through the valley of the shadow of death/despair will bring encouragement, solace and hope to those who are struggling with the difficulties of life. But there is more to this psalm than first appears.
In this psalm you are confronted with life as it really is; a life that wears you down, a life where there are dark valleys and evil, a life where enemies and fears are alive and well. But thankfully that is not all that the psalm reveals, for it also reveals that God is a caring God who invites you to rest, seeks to refresh you and bring restoration to your soul, guides you in life-giving paths, and is always with you, seeking to comfort you, honor you, bless you, and provide for you with a sense of hope and security. There is no promise here of a carefree life, a life without the valleys of the shadow of death, pain or evil. What is promised is a caring presence, a personal being with, and a goodness and unfailing love that will pursue you at every step. And finally, there is the promise of comfort, restoration, rest and abundant blessing.
Psalms 23 is also a passage that challenges you to look at your concept of God. As you spend time sitting beside the quiet waters, walking through the valley of the shadow of death, or dining in the midst of your fears, you are offered opportunities for transforming and challenging revelations to emerge. This psalm enables you to get beyond your head knowledge and discover what lies deep within your heart about who God, the Shepherd, really is.
Additionally, this psalm confronts the reader with the words of verse 4, which read,
you are with me. These four words challenge you to explore your level of trust when it comes to God, for those four words form the foundation upon which all that can be experienced in this psalm is built. Thus the psalm invites/challenges you to explore what you mean when you say you trust God and what the level of your trust in God really is. It is only as one is able to embrace and depend upon the words you are with me that one is able to experience the comfort, strength and encouragement contained in Psalm 23.
As you explore Psalm 23 you will be invited to linger with the words and images contained in it. You will be afforded the opportunity to sit with the life-shaping, transforming truth that is contained in this psalm. This is not a time for you to rush through it but rather to slowly make your way through the psalm, listening for the tender voice of your Shepherd, seeking to linger with Gods spirit. Take your time to heed, savor and embrace the words of the Shepherd and fully enter into the invitation and challenge that may be contained in those words.
As you slowly make your way through the psalm you will be explore your concept of God, your level of trust in God, and your concept of yourself. This exploration of God and self is critical in the ongoing development of your spiritual life. So sit with the questions and explore the feelings that arise as you journey through this psalm. Be willing to wrestle with God, with yourself, through this process. This journey through Psalm 23 is not about getting answers, but connecting with God and exploring with God and listening to God.
Our focus for this month is "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want." This verse will be explored in two parts. I encourage you to carry this verse around in our heart this month seeking to notice when you are living life in light of the truth that God is your shepherd, and also notice those times when your desires may be hindering your awareness of God.
The Lord is my shepherd
1. Take some time reflecting on the Lord being your shepherd. What are the images and feelings that arise within you and you ponder God being your shepherd? Share these feelings with God. Is this God being your shepherd a comforting image for you? Why? Why not? Once again share your thoughts and insights with God.
2. What commitments/promises do you believe are contained in the declaration, The Lord is my shepherd? Do you feel God has been, is, a shepherd to you? Why/ why not? Spend some time sharing your feelings with God.
3. Spend some time exploring/pondering your experience of God as the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18).
How well do you know his voice?
What is your level of trust of God?
What are you currently trusting God for?
What feelings do you have as you ponder your Shepherds willingness to die for you?
4. Use the list below, drawn from Psalm 23, to explore the frequency in which you experience the following byproducts of your relationship with God, ranking the different byproducts from 1 to 7, number 1 being the most important and number 7 being the least important. Assign a different number for each of the items listed below.
ability to rest
leading of God
comfort from God
strength from God
feasting with God
presence of God
goodness and love pursuing you
What are your top three? What are your bottom two? What does this tell you about your desire for/need of God? Share your discoveries with God.
5. For David, who was a shepherd, the use of the image of a shepherd for God spoke powerfully to him. But in our day and age, when we have little if any first-hand experience of seeing a shepherd, let alone being a shepherd, the image of God as shepherd loses some of its nuanced meaning. Take some time to consider what image for God would be meaningful for you to use to communicate your concept of God.
Once you have chosen your image think through: What words come to mind as you reflect on your chosen image? Why is this image important to you? What does this image communicate to you that the image shepherd does not? What are the nuances of your chosen image that speak of Gods involvement with you and care for you? Now write your own Psalm 23 with the image you have chosen to represent God. When completed, share your personalized Psalm 23 with Jesus.
6. Create a collage/paint a picture that communicates the truth of God/Jesus being your shepherd and/or do so with your chosen image for God.
I shall not want
1. Spend some time pondering I shall not want. Do you experience this phrase as an invitation, a challenge, an impossibility, a rebuke...? Why?
2. What do you want/long for?
Why? What are you seeking to receive from these? Ask God how he might help meet these desires.
3. Sit with the words of Psalm 73 below.
23 Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
What do you desire on earth? What do you call good? Do the things you desire and call good lead you to deeper faith in God, deeper trust of God, deeper love for God or do they quench your desire for God and in some cases take your focus away from God? Share your insights with God. What might be God's invitations regarding those things you call good or desire on the earth that are not God, or take your attention fromGod?
4. Julian of Norwich was asked this question by God: Am I enough for you? Spend some time pondering this question: is Jesus enough for me? Why/why not? Be honest with your answer and share it with God, listening for Gods response to you.
Next month we will be looking at Psalm 23:2-3.
UPCOMING EVENTS (click here)
June 30 - Designing and Leading Contemplative Retreats
July 16-20 ( two spots left) and August 13-17 - Journeying with People through the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.
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