Stirring the Still Waters of the 23rd Psalm
“He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me…” – Psalm 23:2-4A
If there was ever a beloved Psalm, it is the 23rd Psalm. Because of the comfort, peace and tranquility it has provided to many believers while on the pilgrimage of life, it has described as the “Psalm of Calm.” It was treasured by the early church and put to song as a song of praise to the Lord. Many artists have been inspired to expressively depict the 23rd Psalm through scenic paintings and stained glass. Pastors and authors have even written books solely focused upon these six verses. However, even in light of its popularity, there is a looming danger for all Christians to avoid, and it is the danger of familiarity. Many have memorized this passage and run through it like water without stopping to drink from the still waters found within. Because of this, many spiritual truths are oftentimes overlooked. Here are just a few to consider as we stir the still waters of the 23rd Psalm.
To begin with, the Lord as Shepherd means we are sheep. Sheep are filthy animals. They are easily frightened and get confused rather quickly. They need constant guidance and never learn from mistakes. They are just not the smartest creatures on planet earth. And so for us to be compared to sheep is a fair assessment, because “all we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6).
Secondly, God’s path for you includes both still waters and dark valleys. It is easy to give God the glory when life’s path is pleasant. But oh how we fail to give God the glory when the path is dark and rocky! Yet the same Shepherd who leads us beside still waters will also lead us through dark valleys. The Sovereign Shepherd intentionally weaves a life tapestry for us that include both paths. Do not assume the dark valleys are not from the Lord. Instead, know that God permits valleys as part of your life path to strengthen your faith.
Third, there is the danger of loving the green grass more than the Good Shepherd. It is comforting to know that God weaves paths marked by green grass and quiet brooks of water on your life pilgrimage. These seasons can be filled with peace and tranquility. Yet if you are not careful, you can end up loving the good gifts more than the Giver of the good gifts. And so you must take every precaution to guard against this particular pitfall on life’s path. The plush green grass might be comfortable, but your affections must be only for your Shepherd.
Finally, you will be most aware of God’s presence while in the valleys. In the first three verses, David talks about the Shepherd. He says, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” He then describes the loving guidance of his Shepherd by saying “He makes me” and “He leads me.” Yet it is only when he expresses the difficulty of walking through “the valley of the shadow of death” that he speaks directly to the Shepherd. He says, “For you are with me.” This grammatical change reminds us that our need and dependency on the Lord is magnified all the more during the dark seasons. And it is in those moments that you will be more keenly attuned to God’s presence.
So the next time you are face to face with this great passage, linger a while longer at the quiet brooks of theology that run deep. As you dig a bit further, you might just unearth a few spiritual gems of to help you along the way.