Tag Archives: Psalm 23

Beginning at the end

I suppose I’ve always been this way:

  • Shaking the presents to guess what’s inside.
  • Reading the last line of a comic strip to see if it’s funny enough to read the whole thing.
  • Reading the last chapter of a book first or the final concluding paragraph of an article.
  • Actually walking down the entire buffet line before I choose “buffet.”

Some of you understand. Maybe you belong to a family where you only tell the punchline and everyone laughs because they’ve heard the story so many times. Some of you are shaking your heads in disdain, saying it’s the process that counts as much as the end result. And you are right. Sometimes the ending is spoiled when we know it too soon. If you knew all along “the butler did it”, where is the mystery?

Whether it’s waiting for Christmas morning, waiting for kids to grow up, or waiting for an answer to prayer, we have this desire to skip to the end.  I’ve heard some say that whether it’s good news or bad, they just want to know so they can move on to the point they can actually do something.

Though it often escapes us, there is purpose in waiting. Waiting provides for us, protects us, and prepares us.

Waiting provides valuable lessons that can’t be learned in the instant gratification lane. Besides teaching me patience, a virtue few of us enjoy learning, waiting provides me with a renewed sense of perspective. It causes me to realize I’m not in control of everything, not even my own life. There are situations where the only control I have is how I respond to the situation. We aren’t always the captain of our own destiny. Waiting teaches us that God is God; I’m not. It provides greater blessing when I would have chosen less.

Waiting protects us. I recall a number of times when my delay was actually the hand of God protecting me from a poor choice, a bad relationship, or an unforeseen accident down the road. Sometimes we have to wait for certain doors to open because we aren’t ready for what’s on the other side. Sometimes, if we push too hard, we open a door not meant for us, revealing real dangers we hadn’t anticipated in our eagerness to pass through. Imagining the consequence of our choice helps us to wait patiently.

Waiting prepares us. Imagine trying to pass a test without studying and learning the material. Consider the consequences of being promoted too quickly to a job only to find you lacked experience to be successful. Reflect on the plight of being thrust into marriage too soon. Waiting prepares us for a future we’re unready for now. It affords the opportunity to build not only our knowledge and skills, but our character.  Just as we wait for a fruit tree to produce good fruit, so waiting produces good results in our lives.

So which is better, waiting or skipping to the end? As with most of life, the best answer may not be “either/or” but “both/and.”  As difficult as it is to wait, especially in the darkest times, it’s helpful to skip to the end of the bible and read the conclusion of the story. “God wins!” Our God who sees you and me right where we are, who knows our pain and every temptation that faces us – this same Mighty God will work good for all those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. He will lead you through the valley of the shadow of death.  He will show you the way to go because you have not been there before. The end of this chapter of my life is not evident just now. But the end of my story – and all who trust God – is clearly revealed. The power of God’s Spirit gives us peace in the middle of the storm and secures our hope, “as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (Hebrews 6:19)

While you are waiting in difficult times, go ahead and skip to the end of the story and see that it is well with your soul.


I shall not want


Let’s make a list… What do you want right now? Your mind might quickly turn to a needed vacation to get away from the daily grind. I suspect many young mothers with toddlers in tow might dream of a quiet moment alone in the bathroom – without interruptions. Maybe if a friend invited you on a shopping trip, you could list several items that you’d want to buy. Or maybe your greatest want is less tangible; what you want most is peace, relief from pain, the feeling of being valued and appreciated, of hearing those tender words, “I love you.”


We want a lot of things, but can you imagine being in a state of mind where you didn’t want anything? Have you ever been in a place where you lacked nothing? David, the Psalmist did. Let his words linger in your mind and heart as you read them quite slowly, as if you sipping them in, treasuring each phrase. (Psalm 23)

1 “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”


It is a psalm of comfort that soothes our painful woes. It calms us in the height of our anxiety. It speaks hope to our despair.


It’s said that a pastor once walked up to the pulpit to deliver his Sunday message. He opened his bible to the familiar Psalm 23 and spoke thoughtfully and clearly,

“The Lord is my shepherd…and THAT is enough for me!”

And then he sat down, alooking a period of silence for that very short message to sink in.


Why might having the Lord as your Shepherd bring you the very most satisfaction and contentment? Because he cares for you more than anyone else. He paid such a very high price for you and me even when we didn’t “deserve” it. His plan for us is so much better than our own, even if we act contrary to this. Even if our journey leads us to a very dark and painful place he restores our soul. In those times we most need to remember he wants to lead us THROUGH the darkest valley. He won’t leave us there alone. There are better times ahead! He comforts us as no one else can. Though we may lose everything and we feel abandoned, his mercy and love will follow us wherever we go. And perhaps most amazing…we will dwell in his house forever!


What about you? Is the Lord enough for you? It’s been said, “You don’t know how much you need Jesus until Jesus is all you have.” If you lost your job, your finances, your health, all your possessions, and maybe even your family, would the Lord your Shepherd be enough for you?  I think it’s a hard question to answer honestly. We’re tempted to say, “Well yes, of course, Jesus is all I need. I’m fully satisfied with him. And yet, we are satisfied by so many lesser things. CS Lewis wrote:

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”


It’s hard to imagine a trip to the beach or drive to the mountains being like “making mud pies in a slum” until we open our eyes to all that our loving God has in store for us! That’s the real choice we face. Let’s not be “too easily pleased” but rather seek that which satisfies most: a day focused on listening to the Shepherd’s voice and following him more closely – day by day.


“Day by day, oh, dear Lord, three things I pray
To see thee more clearly
Love thee more dearly
Follow thee more nearly, day by day.

– lyricist Stephen Schwartz, Godspell




Don’t be the lobster


One cook claimed that the best way to cook lobster is to put the lobster in the pot before you heat up the water. “The meat’s more tender because they don’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late.” Not everyone would agree with his assessment. In fact, in some places it’s illegal to boil live lobster because it’s considered cruel and unusual punishment.


As terrifying as it might be, the image offers somber warning for us.


Don’t get caught in hot water.


We all know that to be in hot water means to be in trouble that will likely lead to some degree of severe punishment. Hopefully, we’ve learned to avoid the most obvious of painful traps as we’ve matured. We’ve drawn boundaries in our lives that keep us from jumping into pots of boiling water or other situations equally as dangerous.


But there’s another trap that is more deceptive. And that is getting ourselves into warm water that is not too unpleasant at first, maybe even comfortable. But often over time, the water slowly heats up. It may be a book or TV series that starts out innocently enough but gradually becomes more and more graphic and insidiously wicked in content. It’s easy to become so engrossed in the plot that you don’t realize how far it’s carried us away from your values. It might be a simple curiosity that leads you to follow a series of internet mouse clicks that leads you into increasing hot water. Living a life of self-absorbed comfort that is increasingly distanced from the suffering and needs of others is yet another pot of water that slowly heats up. We often become unaware of how our life is heating up, bubbling and churning when we continue to immerse ourselves in the habits of a sarcastic tongue, the silent treatment, belittling criticism, judgmental gossip, and apathy. Even the unproductive and negative patterns of our own minds can turn up the heat from helpful self-awareness to destructive thoughts that boil over in self-judgment.


What begins as a warm bath desensitizes us to the world around us. Not only that, we become lulled into a sleepy stupor that robs us of a full life. In all these situations and more, we are like the condemned lobster: we don’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late.


We are slaves to whatever we obey, captive to whatever we willingly choose to follow. (Romans 6:16). If we persist in choosing to remain in a harmful way of thinking and behaving we will end up in boiling hot water. We won’t see it coming. The longer we remain there, the less we will be aware of its disastrous effect on our life.


When we choose to abandon God and instead pursue living “my way” we get into hot water. But if the Lord is your shepherd, he will lead you beside cool, refreshing waters. He is in fact the fountain of living water we need. (Jeremiah 2:13)


Look at your surroundings. If you find yourself becoming too hot-tempered, overly anxious, fearful of “secrets,” or too comfortable, jump out of the cauldron of harmful thinking and behaving before it’s too late.


Don’t be the lobster.


Powerful prayers of the bible


During the tougher times of my cancer journey, many prayers were simply, “Lord, have mercy.” I didn’t have energy to say more. Perhaps simple word prayers throughout the day pleases Him best:  “Thanks!” – “Help me.” – “Praise God!”  In fact, His Word warns against the vain babbling of endless words. But when the words won’t come at all, there is another source of inspiration for prayer: Scripture.


“Read the Psalms, praise God once; pray them, praise God twice; sing them, praise God three times over!” There’s no value in repeated rote prayers just to say them out of tradition. But if they reflect the desires of your heart, let them become your heart-felt prayers.


Find solace in praying the 23rd Psalm. Substitute your name for ‘me’ and ‘my’:

“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 right paths 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; 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 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.”


I’ve had many occasions to pray David’s shorter prayer (Psalm 51:10-12) throughout my life: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.” It has been a heartfelt prayer to draw closer to my Creator and to live in accordance with His will, especially after I’ve messed up.


You might pray as Moses did: “Teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” (Exodus 33:13,15)


You can personalize “The Lord’s Prayer” with words from your own heart. Tell him you want His name to be honored and respected in your life activities and ambitions. Describe your daily bread (needs). Confess specific sins. Forgive others by name. Ask God to help you live today with forever in mind.


We should pray trusting in the Lord, “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.” (Psalm 25:1)


Consider praying for others this way: “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.” (Philippians 1:9-10)


Or this way: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 4:14-19)


Let the powerful prayers of the bible speak your heart.



Put on and press on



Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. Ephesians 6:11


I Press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:14


Many images are conveyed concerning our life journey. One is the image of standing firm, protected by God’s equipping armor. Another is one of throwing off everything that hinders us and running a race with perseverance, of pressing on to win the prize. Yet another is being still, laying down in green pastures.  Which is it? Stand firm, run the race, or lie down in peace?


The answer is all of the above. God always has our very best interest at heart, protecting us from evil and providing us with His grace. Because we so easily come to think of this life as our only life, He reminds us that we are strangers in a foreign land, and that we are in a daily battle against evil which wars against us in the spiritual realms and sometimes in the physical realm too.


And so we are commanded to put on His protective armor that equips us for the battle. His belt of truth secures us. His breastplate of righteousness guards our heart.  His gospel of peace fits our feet with readiness and help us to stand firm. Our faith in Him shields us from fiery arrows that seek to wound and kill us. His helmet of salvation protect us from being taken by the evil one. The Sword of His Spirit is double-edged. It is the Word of God that protects us and attacks falsehood with the truth of God. With our spiritual armor on, our job is to stand firm, unwavering in faith, fully persuaded that God is able to fight the battle and win the war.


The thing about spiritual armor is that is not like traditional battle armor that we’ve come to know. It is light and agile. It doesn’t entangle us when we need to move. And so pressing on while running the race is another image of our journey with God. Running requires effort and perseverance. If you are running to win a race and the prize it offers, you can’t be encumbered by things that entangle you. You need to be free to run and keep on running. A successful runner doesn’t look behind. The spiritual runner keeps her eyes focused ahead, fixed on Jesus, unwavering in her faith that she will attain the prize and that it will indeed be worth the effort and pain endured in the race.


As a sheep depends on the good shepherd for green pastures, press on in your dependence on God and in your humility. You can’t fight and run in your own power. Press on by resting in the strength of God, not your own. Press on while resting in the green pastures, listening to and obeying the shepherd’s voice.



Who leads you?

Even though few of us live or work in an agricultural environment I think we can all associate with the opening of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters. He refreshes my soul.” I suspect that even many nonbelievers find solace in these words. Isaiah warns us “We all like sheep have gone astray.” (Isaiah 53:6) We all need someone to lead us to safety and green pastures.

Who, or what, is leading you these days? An examination of our lives might suggest we are led primarily by television or movies, books and magazines, an addiction to Facebook, email, Twitter, or any number of Internet fascinations, friends, political parties, vain philosophies, career ambitions, technology, education, or finances.

If your conscience convicts you to pause at one of these ‘false leaders,’ it would be good to take a time out and talk with God. Ask him to be your shepherd today and in your life. Doesn’t resting in green pastures and sitting beside calm waters sound just like what you need today?

Starved for solitude

“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.” CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory

My first thought in reading this quote is just the opposite; how much we need each other. I found this to be so true in the first nine months of leukemia treatment. Suddenly pulled from my normal routine of vibrant interactions with dozens of people daily, I found months of relative solitude to be a rather ‘painful’ experience. In fact, Lewis does address this earlier in his message. “We are forbidden to neglect the assembling of ourselves together. We are members of one another.” The Christian experience, without the building of true community is an oxymoron. We are meant for one another.

But what is it about our soul that leaves it starved also for solitude and meditation? We live in a world that makes constant demands for our attention. A steady flow of never-ending electronic beeps calls us to tasks, appointments, and endless access to news, social information, and status updates.

God designed us not only for activity, but also for stillness. “He MAKES me lie down in green pastures.” (Psalm 23) He prompts us: “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) “Meditate on (His Word) day and night so that you may be careful to do everything in it…to be prosperous and successful.” (Joshua 1:8-9) The psalmist writes, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

Probably, the busier we are in our current season of life, the more we need to take time to find an oasis throughout the day where we can find restoration and peace. Reformer Martin Luther commented, “Work, work, from morning until late at night. In fact, I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer!”

Imagine going for days without any food or water. Soon you will discover the depleting effects from lack of nourishment: weakness, lack of productivity, confusion, irritability. The more you work, without replenishing your resources, the less you will accomplish. The less you accomplish, the more you will be tempted to work harder and longer. But it will not satisfy. The vicious downward spiral always works against us.

Meditation and prayer nourishes our soul. They lift us out of the depths of despair, refresh our perspective, and lead us on the path to wisdom and understanding, to peace, and renewed strength. God describes it like lifting us as on the wings of eagles! (Psalm 91)

The truth is we need both the solitude of meditation and the true friendship and community with others. We cheat ourselves when we neglect one or the other. I hope you will intentionally pursue both of these today. It is the path of experiencing God’s best for you.

THROUGH the Valley

Have you ever been in a difficult and seemingly “dead-end” situation where you can’t back up and retrace your steps to safer ground and you can’t get OUT of the situation? Where the only path is ahead through unknown and feared territory? This journey through Leukemia has been like that; when you wonder if the side effects of the chemo will ever stop appearing and tearing apart your body.

One of the most beloved of Psalms has encouraging news for those who can say, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Psalm 23: “Yeah!! Though I walk THROUGH the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil.” The promise isn’t just that God will be with us IN the valley. He will walk with us THROUGH the valley. There IS safer and more joyous land ahead and we will get there…either in this life or the next. This pain is not the end of the path. There is peace and hope and joy ahead. And in the meantime, He will never forsake us or abandon us. Our God is a mighty God.

May you enjoy the faith of the pastor who rose to the pulpit and gave his nine word sermon:

“The Lord is my shepherd…and that is enough.”

Whose Shepherd Is He?

The 23rd Psalm is perhaps the most widely read psalm in the world. You most often hear it at funerals because of the peace and promise offered to believers. I wonder how often we neglect to remember that all of God’s Word is intended to be read and meditated upon, to guide and fill our daily lives, to center us on who God is and who we are in His sight. (HE LOVES YOU so much!)

Roy Lessin offers a simple way to personalize Psalm 23. As you read it out aloud, put your name in the 17 blanks to remind you how much God cares about YOU!

Psalm 23 – A psalm of David.

The LORD is ————————shepherd.

————————shall not want.

He makes ———————— to lie down in green pastures:

He leads ———————— beside the still waters.

He restores ————————soul:

He leads ———————— in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Yea, though ———————— walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

————————will fear no evil:

For You are with ————————;

Your rod and Your staff they comfort————————.

You prepare a table before ———————— in the presence of —————–enemies:

You anoint ———————— head with oil;

————————cup runs over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow ————————

All the days of ————————life:

And ———————— will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

Problem Or Opportunity?

Trouble surrounds us, danger lurks at every junction of our lives, and bad things readily happen to all kinds of people. Chronic pain (physical, emotional, and spiritual) continually gnaws at our souls and makes us anxious. Disappointment visits even solid relationships, and paths that appeared straight and comfortable take a sudden and violent turn. Some problems are simply beyond our control.

But we are encouraged. Why? Because there is opportunity to to walk THROUGH the problem. You will not be in this situation forever. I believe God will bring me THROUGH this cancer. It may take a number of months or a couple of years or maybe a lifetime. But it won’t last forever. Whatever problem burdens you won’t stay the same forever. One opportunity of an unsolvable problem is the perspective of hope.

And we are encouraged because we are not alone! If God has provided you with friends, family, or mentors to walk with you through life’s most challenging problems, be thankful. But unlike all others, Jesus is a friend who will never leave you even if it seems He abandoned you. He alone has the power to walk with you through the darkest valleys of your life. His power, His grace, His perspective, His comfort, His strength, His comfort, His peace, love, joy, and hope. . . These are available to anyone who simply believes in Him and submits their life to Him. Of course He is a gentleman and will not force Himself upon us. We can choose to live in the problem or try to solve it by our own efforts, or we can rely on His power and mercy to sustain us through the problem.

Can’t see the opportunity in your problem? There is someone who can help.

“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.” Psalm 23:4