Today I’m going to do something a little different. I’m going to pray the 23rd Psalm. Most of us are familiar with this Psalm. We’ve heard it read at funerals, we’ve seen it written on Hallmark cards, we’ve recited it in church, and maybe we’ve even heard a sermon or two on it. Maybe this is your favorite Psalm. You know it by heart. For others of us. We know about it, but it hasn’t sunk into our hearts. Praying this Psalm will help it sink into our hearts in a way that talking about it won’t.
Our sermon series is supposed to teach us how to pray the Psalms, but I would fall short as your pastor if I didn’t take the time to model what this can look like. So for the next 30-35 minutes, I’m going to read this Psalm line by line and pray through it. My prayer will have elements of teaching because I’ve studied this Psalm a lot this week, but my desire is that we will each walk away having a better sense of how to pray the Psalms. I hope that when you go home, you’ll open up Psalm 23 and try praying it through on your own.
Now, you do not have to close your eyes and clasp your hands the entire time I pray. You can, but you can also open your eyes and look to heaven or outside. You can look at the cross. You can look at the text in your Bible. Some of you may fall asleep. That’s alright. The Lord is just making you lie down in green pastures. But I pray most of all that you would attune your heart to mine. That means to listen, think about, and hopefully agree with what I’m praying—to amen it. When you whisper or think “amen” you’re saying, “Let it be so, Lord. Let it be true.” Let’s pray…
A Psalm of David. (ESV)
Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for King David who wrote this poem. He lived 3,000 years ago but was a man just like us (James 5:17). He was sinful and broken. He committed adultery. He murdered. He was jealous and sinful. And yet, you say he was “a man after [your] own heart” (1 Sam 13:14; Acts 13:22). Father, if David can be a man after your own heart, we can be men and women after your own heart. Please help us become men and women after your own heart. I think he was a man after your own heart because he continually opened his heart to you both when he was doing well and in his sin. He wasn’t afraid to ask for forgiveness and to praise your goodness. Help us do the same.
1 “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
Thank you God that you have revealed yourself to us. Thank you that we don’t have to pray to a god of our imagination that hides behind the clouds but you have revealed yourself to us as not just as god, but Lord, which is the original covenant name of God, “Yahweh.”
You’re the God who created the universe but you invite us to call you our shepherd. You are our shepherd and we are your sheep. Shepherds lived lives of sacrifice and hardship to guard and watch their sheep. They had to be with the sheep 24/7. Shepherds could never leave the sheep to themselves. We give you thanks that Jesus is our good shepherd. John 10:11 says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Thank you Jesus for being our good shepherd, and yet you know what it’s like to be a lamb. You are the lamb slain for us (Rev 5:6). Thank you for laying your life down for us on the cross so that you will never leave or forsake us (Heb 13:5-6). Thank you for giving the ultimate sacrifice, paying the penalty for our sin so that you can be our good shepherd for all eternity.
Good shepherd, thank you for the under–shepherds you place in my life and have given to our church. Thank you for Andy, for John, and Terry. Thank you for our Elders. Would we together be examples to the flock. Would we shepherd your flock as 1 Peter 5:2 says, “exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as [you] would have [us]” (ESV). Would you guard and protect your under-shepherds. Help them lead us well. Help us lead from a place of humility and love.
Father, this Psalm says “I shall not want” but I confess my heart looks for satisfaction in other places besides you. I look for satisfaction and contentment in food, in entertainment, in friendships, in crossfit, in the success of this church. I know we all wrestle with satisfaction and contentment too. Father, help us appreciate the good things you give us and find our peace and satisfaction in you.
Father I read parts of the book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller this week. This is a man who meditated on your word as he shepherded a flock of sheep. He tells about a very beautiful sheep he owned. She was gorgeous, the exact right proportions, a perfect looking sheep with a great coat of wool. But she had a problem. “She was restless — discontent — a fence crawler.” Whenever they were in one field she was always looking to the next field. She might be in the most lush green field, but she would be sticking her head through the fence to try and get to the rocky and barren field on the other side.
Father, I’m just like her. I always want more. I’m not content and I have you! This is sin. Forgive me. Satisfy me. Give me contentment in my relationship with you and what you have given me instead of the field on the other side of the fence. In his book Phillip said his sheep was so discontent she began to lead others astray. The only solution was to slaughter her. Father, change our restless hearts before we lead others astray. Jesus, we thank you that you are “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (ESV) (John 1:29) Thank you for taking away my sin. Thank you for being slaughtered for me so that I don’t have to die. Please give me greater faith and greater contentment in you.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
God we want to praise you for being the one who makes the green pastures, who makes the white mountains, who makes the trees and their branches and their seasons. We praise you for making the ocean and the cool waters. We praise you for hikes and sunbathing. We praise you for swimming and wading in the water. We praise you for creation and how it refreshes us.
Father, you give us so much that displays your glory and power and we forget to lie down and rest in you. We think it’s a sin to be bored and to rest. Help us stop the busyness, end the madness, and rest in your presence. You provide a river of the water of life (Rev 22:1). Father, would we enter your rest (Psalm 95:11) through Christ Jesus (Hebrews 4:3). Would he be our rest, even in the busyness of life.
Thank you for the ways you refresh us physically, but also how you refresh us spiritually. Thank you for your Word, the Scriptures. Would you give us a greater love for your Word. Help us to love and meditate on the Scriptures. Would each of us feel confident enough to pray the Psalms with you. Would you lead us to your life-giving Word?
3a He restores my soul.
Holy Spirit, some of us are all poured out from life. All the busyness and stress of life has gotten to us and we have nothing left to give. We want to give to our families, to our friends, to our coworkers, to those who need Jesus, but we have nothing. We’re out of breath. This word for “soul” is the word “nephesh” and it means “breath” or “life.” Holy Spirit, we feel so out of breath. Would you fill our lungs? Would you help us catch our breath?
We cast all our anxiety on you because you care for us (1 Peter 5:7). Would you pour into me so that I can pour into others? Would you fill us up as a church body? Would we be known as a place where the Holy Spirit’s presence is real and active and filling us up! Would you satisfy our souls?! We need you. Would you restore my life? Our souls?
3b He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Jesus, thank you for the ways you’ve lead this church. Thank you for the people and the plans you brought together. You put this building in our lap. You formed a team. And most importantly you brought people with gifts and talents to give to your kingdom. Thank you! Thank you Jesus. Help us pick up our crosses daily and follow after you (Luke 9:23).
Would you lead us forward in paths of righteousness? Righteousness means right standing before God. Would we experience right standing before you God through your Son Jesus Christ. Would we know we are walking on the right path because we’re walking after him? Would he be the leader of Cornerstone, the Chief Shepherd, and would he lead us forward (1 Peter 5:4)?
Help us live lives that honor and obey you. We recognize Lord that nothing less than your name and reputation are on the line. I confess Father that I often live ashamed of Jesus, and don’t live to bring him fame. I want to live a life that honors your reputation and brings you fame. Help me do this, and help us as a church do this.
4a Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
Some of us are walking through dark valleys, Lord. We’re sick and need your healing. I thank you for taking Joe and Jennie through the dark valley of cancer. They’re almost out. Please heal Jennie completely. I pray for Andy’s back and Keri’s migraines, two types of shadows that cripple. Please heal Andy and Keri. I pray for Diane’s chest cough and damage to her lungs. Would you give her peace and heal her? I pray for Mark’s parents, Doug and Turnice. Please take away Doug’s seizures and keep Turnice healthy. I thank you for providing for Lisa’s vehicle needs. Would you continue to walk with her through the valley of care troubles? I pray for Noah’s family. They’re walking through a very dark valley. Please comfort them. I pray for those who are walking through dark valleys who I don’t know or have not mentioned. Would you comfort them and if nobody knows would they tell someone so we can walk with them in this time?
I remember The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. I remember how Christian has to walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death to get to the Celestial City. It’s “A wilderness, a land of deserts and of pits, a land of drought and of the shadow of death…” It’s a land of demons and Satan and unspeakable misery. Clouds of discouragement and confusion hang over the valley. Death spread its wings and hovers over it. As Christian walks through it he had to avoid a ditch on his right and a quagmire on his left.
The pathway there is so dark that when he lifts his foot to take a step forward he has to place it down entirely by faith. It was so black he can’t see one step in front of the other. It’s in this valley that Christian stares into the very mouth of hell, but instead of pulling out his sword, he prays. He cries, “Oh Lord, I implore you to deliver my soul!” And “I will walk in the strength of the Lord.” Help us hear the same words Christian heard another pilgrim praying just ahead of him, “Though I walk through the valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.”
This valley is dark but Christ is brighter. Father, would you provide the light we need through him? Help us look to Jesus Christ, the one who walked through the dark valley of the shadow of death first. If he died and rose again, what do we have to be afraid of? If Jesus has set us free from sin and death through the cross, and has given us eternal life, we have nothing to fear. There’s no evil that can do us any lasting harm. Help us look to our good shepherd as he leads us forward.
4b your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
Thank you Father for your rod. The rod was a tool shepherds used to protect their flock, to beat away the wolves. Thank you for the ways you’ve spared us from dangers we didn’t know about. Thank you for those times you’ve used the rod of discipline on me. Thank you for my parents and their discipline. Thank you for those other Christians who have had the courage to confront my sins. Father, would you give our Elders and our Congregation wisdom for those times when we may need to use the rod of discipline. Give us humility and teachability for those times we need to receive it.
Father, thank you for the staff used to rescue and lead the sheep. Thank you for the ways you’ve hooked me out of the brush and traps I’ve gotten caught in. Thank you for both your discipline and your rescue.
Your Holy Spirit is known as the comforter. Thank you for the Holy Spirit’s comfort in my life. Would you Holy Spirit comfort my brothers and sisters who are sick and hurting and still in the valley of darkness. Would your Holy Spirit fill our church with peace.
5a You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
Father, you are a God who reconciles enemies. Father, I think of the evils of abortion. It’s absolutely evil, and yet the people that ask for abortions are desperate and the doctors who give them are humans like us, broken by sin. Father, would you provide opportunities for pro-choice and pro-life advocates to sit at the same table and share a meal? Would we be pro-grace? Would you end abortions in this country, but in a way that surprises us all, a way overflowing with grace and compassion and forgiveness. Would we become a church that provides for the needs of the unborn, for foster kids, for children in need?
Father, there are a lot of racial tensions in our country right now, especially between the black community and the police. Would you reconcile the black community and the police? Would they hear each other, and come up with longterm solutions and healing?
I confess Jesus that I feel like those with different politics often feel like enemies. And when I look at other people who think and vote differently than me, or just understand life through a different lens, I’m often impatient. Would you give me and all of us greater grace, greater humility, and listening ears. Would I invite them into my home and eat with them, listening to their story. Thank you for how you reconcile broken people, people who should be enemies and sit at separate tables. You bring us together, you give us fellowship at one table where Jesus Christ is sitting at the head.
5b you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
I remember how the Elders last week prayed for and anointed Diane. I remember how Terry explained that anointing in the Bible was a special way of consecrating priests and kings. These people were anointed as a special way to say they belonged to God and set apart for him. So when the Elders anoint someone with oil they’re consecrating their body to the Lord for healing and service. Father, this Psalm says you anoint us. Would you consecrate us? Would you set us apart for service to you? Thank you for overflowing cups. Thank you for a completed church budget, that we don’t miss meals, and for your abundant blessings.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
Surely goodness and hesed, lovingkindness, your covenant love, shall follow me all the days of my life. Thank you Father that this Psalm is not really meant for funerals. It’s meant for today. It’s meant for living Christians who are journeying through life. It’s meant for pilgrims like myself and your people here today. Would you remind us everyday of your goodness and lovingkindness? Would we find the clearest picture of these in Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. We look forwards to the day when we will dwell with him for all eternity. Amen.
Picture: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16818