Psalm 23 is surely the most well-known psalm, and probably one of the most well-known passages of Scripture in popular culture. Regardless of whether people know where it comes from or what it means, I’m sure if you said “The Lord is my shepherd” to somebody and asked them to continue, most would say “I shall not want” (or some variation on those words!). Musicians as varied as J.S. Bach, Duke Ellington, Pink Floyd, Tupac, U2 and Kanye have set Psalm 23 to music or referenced it in some way, not to mention the plethora of hymns and worship songs based on its verses. It has been heard so many times by every one of us, in some way, shape or form, that it can quickly become just rhetoric, or like a nursery rhyme to us. The reality is, however, that this psalm has touched the lives of many people over the previous few millennia because it is so powerful, and I believe it is as poignant today as it ever has been! Give it another read:
“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
Our world and the lives we tend to live are anything but peaceful, yet this passage speaks of peace. It speaks of a peace that is not dependent on our circumstances being rosy and perfect, but rather on a peace that is dependent on who God is. Many of us tend to “experience peace” when our lives are under our control, going as we would want them to, free of hassles or disruptions. When things are out of our control, seeming hopeless, or verging on disastrous, we tend to think of peace as something that is impossible. This psalm speaks of green pastures and quiet waters, even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death. It speaks of a table being presented before you even though you’re in the presence of enemies! This is the only way peace can work – when it isn’t dependent on us.
I always find it frustrating if I’m anxious or worked up and someone says, “just relax!”. Obviously, if I could, I would! I can’t climb out of a hole that I dug for myself! You can’t ‘conjure up’ peace for yourself. Peace doesn’t start with you. It starts with Him, and He is in you. Our God is peace: One of God’s names is Jehovah Shalom, which means “God who is peace”. Jesus is declared as the Prince of Peace in Isaiah. The Holy Spirit even descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, a global symbol of peace. The words “for You are with me” explain why this peace exists amongst even the worst circumstances. It is because God is with you that you do not need to fear. It is because He is with you that you will know goodness and mercy all of your days. It is because He is with you that you will be led to a place of peace. He never said you wouldn’t experience the valley, enemies and evil, but He gave you Himself – “God who is peace” – as your leader and shepherd through it all. Find stillness in the chaos. He will restore your soul.