Thursday, July 2, 2015

The LORD is My Shepherd: Learning to Pray Psalm 23:1

Following the passionate lament and thanksgiving of Ps 22, Psalm 23 serves as a declaration of deep trust in the LORD. Psalm 23 is written from a first-person individual perspective. It serves as a prayer or meditation on one’s own faith in the LORD’s provision. Is there any better response to the reality of God’s presence in any circumstance than reflecting on the depths of our own trust in God’s faithfulness?

Verse 1 begins memorably with psalmist reflecting on his/her relationship with God. The psalmist choose the words carefully and they are ripe with meaning. The LORD is my shepherd. The psalmist knows his/her God personally and relationally. The Psalmist prays my shepherd and not our shepherd, his shepherd, her shepherd, your shepherd, or their shepherd. Don’t rush past this observation. Trust manifests in the individual. Ps 23 invites us to pray and proclaim our own individual faith in the LORD. Martin Luther once wrote, “Everyone must do his own believing just as everyone must do his own dying.” What does this mean if you are struggling in your faith? Again the Psalter provides words for us to offer to God in times of bounty and scarcity, on days of unshakeable faith and on days when we are closer to the words of the father out of whose son Jesus had cast a demon, “I believe LORD help me with my unbelief.” The faith expressed in Ps 23 can even inspire us in times when we find ourselves barely able to pray at all and teetering on unbelief. The power of Ps 23 is its ability to sustain us even in the darkest times.

The key is not the strength of my faith but its object. Ps 23 directs our faith onto the LORD. In Ps 23, the LORD is imaged as shepherd. What do shepherds do? They abide with, take care of, protect, and guide a flock of sheep. The sheep can live their lives as sheep safe from all harm because of the skill, power, care, compassion, and commitment of the shepherd. This is the metaphor that the psalmist offers us for contemplation as we pray. The assumption of course is a capable and faithful shepherd who has the best interests of the flock. In John 10:11, Jesus exclaims, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

What flows from an intimate trust in the care of the LORD as my shepherd? It is the realization of my own lack of need. If God is truly my shepherd, I am in need of nothing. The same God who invites us “Give us this day our daily bread” can be trusted with all aspects and areas of my life: financial, relational, physical, and spiritual. Praying “I lack nothing” also puts me in a position of generosity. As my needs are met, I can look outward to the needs of those around me as well.

Reflection Questions:
What does it mean for you to pray “The LORD is my shepherd”?

What does the imagery of “shepherd” tell us about God?

© 2015 Brian D. Russell

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