Ms.Dora, a certified Christian counselor, explores facts, attitudes, and habits that can help us maintain our physical and mental wellbeing.
“Jews and Christians alike hold it dear, and there are few, if they were asked, but would thankfully confess that of all the psalms, it was to them the sweetest and most precious.” —W. Forsyth (The Pulpit Commentary)
What makes Psalm 23 so sweet and so precious? In it, there are no reminders of our faults, no judgments, no scolding, no condemnation. It highlights a universal Shepherd who supplies individual needs. It is an abundant offering of accessible relief for tired minds, and of refuge for helpless and hopeless souls.
While recognizing the greatness of its theological value, and its historical and cultural significance, we focus here on some of its literary images, which boost our mental and emotional wellbeing, as well as they did for David the shepherd-psalmist, thousands of years ago. Each following subtitle refers to one of these images as stated in the New King James Version.
Visualizing yourself as a sheep, placing absolute trust in the Shepherd will help to boost your confidence and stabilize your emotions.
"The Lord is my shepherd" (emphasis inserted). -Verse1
It is usually when you’re alone with your thoughts, that you search for significance. “Who am I?” “Do I count?” “Does anyone value me?” If you’re tired, frustrated or disappointed, negative thoughts will provide your answers. “You’re nobody’s spouse.” You’re nobody’s best friend.” “Seems you’re nobody—even when you do your best.” You are tempted to feel disconnected and lonely.
That’s when the affirmation in the first verse of Psalm 23 can boost your sense of belonging. “My shepherd” says that you have connection. He responds to you as a member of His flock and He provides for you in such abundance that you have no more wants. Instead of wants, list your personal needs that have been supplied: life-giving provision and protection, survival skills and opportunities, mental awareness, ability to choose, and more. You may decide to affirm every day, “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
Green Pastures...Beside Still Waters
"He makes me to lie down in green pastures . . . beside the still waters." -Verse 2
Sheep stand when they are grazing. They lie down when they are full. Here is the image of a well-fed, thirst-quenched, satisfied sheep portraying a peaceful, restful posture. Green pastures are not everywhere, neither are they permanent, but when the sheep needs it, the shepherd finds it. Attached to this peaceful scene is a cool and quiet stream nearby—no turbulence and no disruption from wild creatures.
Peace and quiet, rest and relaxation are human rights. The more your feed this truth into your mind, the sooner you recognize the divine interventions for your comfort. It is already established that the Good Shepherd provides all that you need. When there is a sudden drop in the day’s temperature, or a decrease in the day’s business, or a delay of an important package, it is not time to worry (which doesn’t help, anyway). It is time to request a restful evening in green pastures. The Good Shepherd supplies this need for your enjoyment.
Paths of Righteousness
"He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness." -Verse 3.
Wise individuals recognize the need for counsel and direction toward spiritual, mental and emotional satisfaction. The Shepherd knows the path that’s right for each one, and it adds to His credit when you find your true destiny. Therefore, He offers renewal (restores our souls) in preparation for the journey. The frustrated receive friendship. The sorrowful learn new songs. The fearful exercise faith. All negative vibes are replaced with positive energy, as He leads the sheep toward joy and fulfillment.
He chooses paths of righteousness, of “faith, and obedience, and self-denial, and purity, and truth, and honesty, and love,” clarifies John Stoughton, D.D. in The Biblical Illustrator. Such paths are conscience-friendly. They will not burden your mind with deceit, or entangle your emotions with regret. They enable you to follow safely and purposefully on the path paved with integrity.
The Valley of the Shadow of Death
“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . . You are with me.” -Verse 4
Life is not always a bed of roses, not even when you follow the Shepherd. Some paths wind downhill through ravines where thick bushes obscure the light. When it gets darkest, it is easy to think that death is near, and the presence of death real or perceived can be frightening. But does the shadow (thought) of death cancel your trust in the surety of the Shepherd’s presence?
When the medical prognosis is physical death, when the layoff predicts financial death, when the fight signals the marriage death, the presence of the Shepherd is the best option for your focus. He, by the hook of his rod can pull you out from the reach of all these deaths, if He chooses. As long as you live, even until the end of life, the assurance of His presence will always be your most intimate comfort.
Feasting In the Presence of Enemies
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” -Verse 5
You do not know all your enemies. Some have reasons to dislike you, some are not even sure why they do. Some try secretly sabotage your efforts, others try less subtly to discourage you. But people are not your only enemies. Add diseases like COVID and cancer, conditions like poverty and prejudice, systems which feed facts mixed with fiction. These can also threaten your joy and sabotage your progress.
Despite all these adversaries, the Shepherd prepares a celebration, reserves your space at the table and feeds you sumptuously. The enemies can lurk around but the excitement is too great for you to be distracted. There is a time to count your blessings and rejoice at the overflow. Allow your mind to usher you into this feast of blessings, despite the circumstances around you. The more you rejoice, the more reasons you will find to celebrate.
Goodness Shall Follow Me
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life.” – Verse 6
When you sincerely trust the Shepherd, the six quotations listed beneath the six subtitles can become meaningful affirmations for you, at the beginning of the day, or at any time you choose. This sixth affirmation cancels your worry about the future. Know that no matter what comes, goodness and mercy will be right there too. Choose to trust instead of worry. Choose joy instead of fear.
- You belong to the Good Shepherd; visualize His abundant supply.
- Make use of His peace and rest in green pastures beside still waters.
- Follow His leading in the paths of righteousness.
- When darkness sets in, hang onto the assurance of His presence.
- Join in His celebration while your enemies are watching.
- Smile at the image of goodness and mercy following you—forever.
© 2022 Dora Weithers