Friday, July 3, 2015

The LORD is My Shepherd: Learning to Pray 23:2–6

In Psalm 23:1, the psalmist prays memorably, "The LORD is my shepherd. I lack nothing!". Read my blog on this verse.

Psalm 23 continues with reflection on the meaning of the LORD serving as the good shepherd of our lives. Verses 2–6 offer specific ways in which the LORD serves as the shepherd that each of us longs to address as my shepherd.

Verses 2-3 build immediately on the declaration of Ps 23:1 with beautiful imagery of tranquility and peace. All is well in the life of the sheep. The good shepherd provides all that the flock requires and actively guides each sheep down the paths of righteousness. These verses ground pray-er in abundance before reflecting on the challenges of life.

In verse 4, the tone and the perspective of the psalm changes. Just in case we have been misreading the good news of Ps 23, it gets better. The good shepherd is no fair weather friend. The LORD is the kind of shepherd who is all in for his flock even in the toughest times in life. Darkest valley is traditionally translated “shadow of death.” In other words, the LORD is present and guiding each member of his flock in all circumstances including even those that put us in the danger of death itself. Verse 4 helps us to understand the right paths of verse 3 more clearly. The pathways of life will likely include both times of joy and times of sorrowful trouble. Yet, God remains steadfast in faithfully guiding us through.

The psalmist is so overwhelmed by the realization of God’s presence even in the darkest valley that the prayer shifts from 3rd person “him” language about God to 2nd person “you” language to God. This is prayer at its best. Ps 23 shifts from a song of trust about God to a prayer of faith to God. God is no mere object in the psalmist’s life. God is subject and in relationship with the psalmist. What does this mean? It means that we practice our faith by talking with God rather than merely talking or thinking about God.

God is with the psalmist and brings comfort to him at the point of deepest need. The shepherd uses his rod and staff not as a weapon to punish the psalmist but to guide and comfort.

Verses 5–6 shifts the prayer to its climactic end. The imagery is of a victory feast. The fields, pathways, and valleys have morphed into a well set table. Abundance has triumphed. All of the threats and enemies stand defeated. God prepares and offers a bountiful buffet for the psalmist with former enemies and the dark moments of life now in the background watching.

The message is clear. Trusting God leads to security and abundance. Hardship and darkness will not have the final say. In fact, the pray-er ends with a powerful affirmation of God’s goodness and love in the full confidence that he or she will abide in God’s presence forever (v. 6).

How would you live your life differently if you truly believed that an abundant and good future awaited you?

© 2015 Brian D. Russell

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