St. John’s University, Collegivelle, MN, 56231 2006
Monday, June 8
By Willard Teel
A Psalm of David – Psalm 23
1. The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters.
3. He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
4. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me: your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Aren’t these six verses beautiful? I suspect, most of us have had them memorized from our earliest years. And, like most things, the more we read them, study them, pray the words……..the more we understand them and see them with new eyes and heart.
While there is study about whether David wrote all the psalms, some of the psalms, or if they were written as a tribute to him, we will work with the consensus that David wrote the 23rd Psalm. Because as Dr. Lawrence Wilson states, “King David…grew up and worked as a shepherd, so he knew a lot about sheep and shepherding. He loved the metaphor of seeing God, or the Lord, as a shepherd.”
One of my earliest memories of childhood include regular church attendance. My mother would dress me in a handsome little suit that was similar to Dad’s, and I would go to the flowerbed and pick a small delicate flower for my lapel. At that time, Jimmy Allen was fresh out of the seminary and was our pastor. The church was very committed to evangelism, therefore, one of the first Bible verses all the children learned was John 3:16. It wasn’t a hard task to see that God loved all the little children and wanted us to be part of His family, because we were his children and He loved us. The next verses we memorized was Psalm 23. This memorization required more work and a lot more understanding – understanding which continues to this day. Somewhat later, I was taught “Do Not Fear”.
Don’t these three verses fit so nicely with each other?
First is to believe in the words of John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only son, that whoever believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Second is to know how God proactively cares for us. How much He loves each of us as beautifully written in Psalms. We will come back to this.
Lastly, when we falter, when we grieve, when we stumble, when we fear (and we will); we will be well served to recall the admonition “Do Not Fear”, and begin again.
Psalm 23 is likely one of the most beautiful chapters in the Bible, and has been used in liturgical and classical settings from Bach to Bernstein to Schubert. And, its verses have been sung by such artists as Duke Ellington, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead, U2, Coolio, Cissy Houston, Lucinda Williams, and Kanye West. In these six verses are words and phrases that appeal to so many.
When one reads the first three verses we are struck by how firm and positive David proclaims God’s activities are on behalf of us. Read these verses with emphasis on the verbs:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters.
He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
As Dr. Wilson explains, God is like the shepherd of the field who provides everything for His sheep and will guide us, if we are faithful, along our life path. These are such positive and forceful statements.
I will admit that I’ve had difficulty when I’ve walked through a dark valley. When I was in my senior year at Baylor, my parents came to see me. This was an unplanned visit and they arrived as a surprise. The news was not good for they came to explain they were getting divorced. While not unanticipated, it still arrived like a lead brick. After they departed, I began to enter my own dark valley. Two weeks later they were back. The news this time was that my beloved grandfather had passed. Another blow and I was deeper in a darker valley. I watched as my home church in Dallas failed, as I saw it, to respond to either of my parents or myself with these two losses. This third blow pushed me away from the church for a few years. Overtime, I began to consider that in 1972 these people whom I loved just didn’t know how to respond to these circumstances. Do we love her, do we love him, do we love both, or do we be silent and do nothing to console the loss of a marriage or a death in the family? Silence was the chosen answer. After many months, I began to realize that I needed God. God never left me, but I left God. I needed God as my Shepherd and needed still waters. My soul needed refreshing and I needed a better path. With God, I left that dark valley with renewed love guided by God’s rod and staff and received comfort.
In verse 5, it says that God is active again for He prepared a table and symbolically anointed me in the presence of my enemies. Aren’t we often our own worst enemies? Aren’t we like Paul in Roman 7:15, not doing what we should be doing; instead doing what we shouldn’t?
I don’t know about you, but I do like knowing that “goodness and love” will follow me and that I will live with God forever. Oh, there have been more valleys for isn’t that life, but the journey through them has been easier. I hope it will be so for you, too.
A Time of Reflection and Prayer
What valleys have you walked through and how did you find your way out of them? Are you in a valley during these days of Covid-19?
Do you fully realize how much God loves you and, if not, what needs to be accomplished to change your life’s path?
Music for our Souls
I would like to leave you with five interpretations of Psalm 23. Select one or all five links to hear these verses. Perhaps, you might enjoy scrolling to the top and read again our verse selection for today, or simply close your eyes in prayer and let the music be your prayer.