A Psalm That Calms the Soul

Psalm 23 is one of the most recognized psalms in the world. It has an amazing calming effect in the midst of stress and uncertainty, and it places our focus back where it belongs. No doubt millions have committed it to memory down through the centuries since David first penned it and put it to music.

It has only been in the past several years that I recognized the value of praying Psalm 23 regarding any kind of circumstance, even when it didn’t seem to relate to a particular situation I was praying about. Here are the words to Psalm 23 (NKJV):

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;

He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, 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 runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.

In an article titled, 3 New Ways to Think About Psalm 23,” by Sarah Garrett, educator and founder of Transformed4More.com (a ministry for teenage girls), she writes:

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want . . .”

Sound familiar?

Psalm 23 is one of the most recognizable chapters in the entire Bible. We learn it in Sunday school, see it in funeral programs, and notice it on church décor. Even those who do not attend church have likely heard this psalm before.

When verses and chapters become familiar, we tend to not pay close attention to them. When we see it in our Bibles, it can be tempting to think, “Oh, I know what this says already. Why read it again?”

Here’s why—because the Bible is a living document. In 2 Timothy 3:16–17, Paul writes,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

The Bible never changes, but it always changes something in us when we read it. The Word of God always has something new to teach us, even if it’s from a familiar passage.

Recently, I was reading through Psalms and scanned over chapter 23. I almost skipped it, but decided to read it again. As I did, the familiarity faded, and I felt as though I was reading it with new eyes. Has that ever happened to you? As I read, three questions came to mind. They challenged me. I’m passing them along in the hopes they will challenge you, too.

Question 1: Am I allowing God to lead me?

God is always in control of what is happening, but we also have free will. That means we can choose to let God lead our lives. When we don’t, it’s the same as choosing to be led by our selfish desires. The opening of Psalm 23 beautifully shows what we can gain from surrendering and allowing God to lead our lives.

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 (vv. 1–3).

As I read this again, I realized that if God is our Shepherd, that means means we give Him control of our life. When we do, look at what there is to gain!

    • God will meet our needs.
    • He will give us peace.
    • He will restore us.
    • He will lead us down a path of righteousness and not destruction.

If your world seems chaotic or unfulfilling, ask yourself, “Am I allowing God to lead me?”

Question 2: Am I camping in the valley?

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 (v. 4).

I heard a pastor say that this verse clearly states that the “valleys” of life are to be walked through, but some people tend to put up a tent and camp there. Convicting, huh?

Sometimes we get bogged down in our circumstances and just decide that’s the way it will always be. We figuratively pitch our tent in the valley. This tends to rob us of the joy that can come from our relationship with God.

During the valleys of life, you must remember the last two lines of this verse, that God is with you and will comfort you as you walk. Don’t choose to camp out and wallow in your misery. Put one foot in front of another while asking the Lord to provide a way out.

If you are going through a season of sin, discouragement, or despair in your life right now, ask yourself, “Am I walking or camping?”

Question 3: Have I lost sight of God’s faithfulness?

Let’s keep thinking about valleys for a moment. Sometimes in the valleys of life, we take on a “woe is me” attitude and completely ignore all of the blessings that God has given us.

Let’s circle back to Psalm 23.

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 forever (vv. 5–6).

This means that if you could put your blessings in a cup, they would run over the top. Goodness and mercy will be following you everywhere, and you will spend eternity with God. That’s the ultimate blessing!

Ask yourself, “Have I lost sight of God’s faithfulness?” If you feel like you have, even if you are not going through a hard time, stop and make an actual list of all the ways that God has been faithful to you. You can start in the comment section below. Even on your worst day, you will see God’s blessings overflowing in your life if you look for them.

As an added bonus, you will feel your spirit lift as you write. You literally cannot dwell on bad thoughts and the blessings of God at the same time. Seriously. Try it! (Quote source here.)

Specifically, Psalm 23:4–“Yea, 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”–is one of the most well known verses in the Bible (as stated below). GotQuestions.org states the following regarding this verse:

Psalm 23:4, which reads, “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” (ESV), is one of the most well-known verses in the Bible. It is commonly used during funerals or by those approaching death. The message of Psalm 23:4 is one of comfort. We do not need to fear. God is with us, and His presence gives us strength and hope.

However, “valley of the shadow of death” is possibly not the most accurate translation of the original Hebrew text. The NIV, NLT, and HCBS translate the phrase as “darkest valley,” resulting in Psalm 23:4 reading as, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley . . . .” The Hebrew word for “shadow of death” is sal-ma-wet, which means “darkness” or “dark shadows.” It contains the same root as the Hebrew word for “death” (ma-wet), so it is easy to see why some Bible translators include the mention of death in Psalm 23:4.

In addition, the concept of darkness fits much better in the context of Psalm 23Psalm 23, especially verses 1–4, uses the language of a shepherd and his sheep to describe our relationship with God: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. . . . 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” (Psalm 23:1–4).

Sheep do not understand the concept of death. They do understand, though, that entering a dark valley can be dangerous. The point of Psalm 23:4 is that, even when we might have reason to be afraid, we do not need to fear, because God is with us, and He will take care of us. He, like a shepherd, knows what He is doing and has our best interests in mind.

So, it does not appear that “valley of the shadow of death” is the most accurate translation in Psalm 23:4. A “dark valley” connects much better with sheep lying down in green pastures and beside quiet waters. However, the main point of Psalm 23:4 still definitely applies to death. Many people fear death, and those facing death certainly feel as if they are in a “dark valley.” But even in death we do not need to fear, for God is with us, and He will protect and comfort us through it all. (Quote source here.)

Regarding the rod and the staff mentioned in Psalm 23:4, in an article titled, Your Rod and Your Staff, They Comfort Me,” by Aaron L. Garriott, production manager of Tabletalk Magazine, he opens his article by explaining how the rod and staff were used in the cultural context of David’s time:

There was much to fear in the dry, craggy wadis and ravines of Judah, presenting sheep flocks with the most perilous elements of their migration. Yet, the fears of the sheep are dispelled upon recognition of two implements carried by the shepherd, a rod and a staff, by which he would govern his flock. The rod and staff can be broadly categorized as tools of protection and guidance, respectively. The rod warded off predators; the staff was a guiding tool with a hook on one end to secure a sheep around its chest. Only the two tools together provided comfort to the sheep.

As the shepherd-made-king David places himself in the role of a sheep, his fears of every evil are quelled by a glimpse of Israel’s true Shepherd-King. David compares God’s governing care of His flock—His providence—to a rod and a staff, a sight that ought to quiet all fears and assure the flock of the care of their faithful and able Shepherd. (Quote source here.)

In the final article for this post titled, That’s All I Want,” by Ray Noah, lead pastor, Portland Christian Center, and founder/CEO of Petros Network, he writes the following on Psalm 23:

“The Lord is my shepherd.” ~Psalm 23:1

Psalm 22 foretells the cross of Christ and Psalm 24 speaks of a time when Messiah rules the earth in justice and righteousness. This strategic placement of Psalm 23, universally, the most beloved of all the psalms, is fitting since it’s between Christ’s cross and Christ’s second coming, between our salvation and heaven, that we find ourselves facing life in all its rawness: The ups and downs, the victories and defeats, the joys and sorrows, the life and death that make up the human condition.

Even though the pastoral setting and shepherd-sheep analogy are foreign to our modern culture, there is just something about this Shepherd’s Psalm that resonates in our core. That’s because we are pretty much like sheep—dense, directionless and defenseless—and we cannot do life without the Good Shepherd. You need a shepherd…so do I.

I am not sure where this came from [author unknown], but I suspect you will be blessed by it as I was.

The Lord is my Shepherd—That’s Relationship!

I shall not want—That’s Supply!

He makes me to lie down in green pastures—That’s Rest!

He leadeth me beside the still waters—That’s Refreshment!

He restoreth my soul—That’s Healing!

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness—That’s Guidance!

For His name sake—That’s Purpose!

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death—That’s Testing!

I will fear no evil—That’s Protection!

For Thou art with me—That’s Faithfulness!

Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me—That’s Discipline!

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies—That’s Hope!

Thou anointest my head with oil—That’s Consecration!

My cup runneth over—That’s Abundance!

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life—That’s Blessing!

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord—That’s Security!

Forever—That’s Eternity!

If you are experiencing major upheaval in your life—a home in turmoil, a relationship on the rocks, a job not working out, a personal humiliation, an inconsolable sorrow, the cumulative effect of heartache and disappointment has shaken your confidence and filled you with doubt, fear and despair—then trying reading and absorbing Psalm 23. David wrote it just for you. Just grasping his first line will transform your life:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”

Robert Ketchum told of a Sunday School teacher who asked her class if any of them could quote the entire Twenty-Third Psalm. A little girl came forward, made a little bow, and said: “The Lord is my shepherd, that’s all I want.” She then curtsied and sat down. Now she may have overlooked a few verses, but I think she captured the key to enjoying the benefits of this psalm. Psalm 23 is a pattern of thinking, and if it saturates your mind, it will lead you to new way of living which will counterbalance the raw reality of life with hope, faith and trust, causing you to be utterly content in the Shepherd’s care.

Yeah, the Lord is my shepherd—and that’s all I want. I believe that about covers it! (Quote source here.)

I hope this has provided some new insights on a very familiar and beloved psalm. I’ll end this post with the words from Psalm 23:1

The Lord is my shepherd . . .

I shall not . . .

Want . . . .

YouTube Video: “Psalm 23” by Jeff Majors:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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