By Hal Green
Psalm 23 is the most popular of all 150 psalms. It touches most every spiritual base. In tough times like these, it says just what we need to hear. It is personal, faith building and assuring. It is one of the psalms attributed to King David, who was himself a shepherd of the sheep. To read and pray these words, we have to accept the fact that we are, after all, sheep. Like sheep, we cannot see very far ahead of us; like sheep, we can get lost and at times need help to get back where we need and want to be. Like sheep, we require protection from all manner of evil.
As you pray this Scripture, ask the four basic questions:
1. What does the passage say? (Reading)
2. What does the passage say to me? (Meditating)
3. What do I want to say to God? (Praying)
4. What does God want to say to me? (Contemplating)
“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 darkest valley, 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 my whole life long” (Psalm 23 NRSV).
The work of the shepherd is threefold. The shepherd guides, nourishes and protects his sheep. As Psalm 23 attests, the Lord gives us rest, restores us, keeps us on the right path — because of who God is — grants us peace and confidence in the face of death and opposition, loves us overmuch, and will be with us unto eternal life. Jesus Christ, who is our Good Shepherd, gives us all of the above. He said:
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me …. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (John 10:11, 14, 27-30 NRSV).
Note that the first sentence can be a breath prayer. Breathe in “The LORD is my Shepherd;” and breathe out, “I shall not want.”
(Hal Green, Ph.D., has taught and written about prayer extensively. A former religion professor and Methodist pastor, he joined the Catholic Church in 2011, and is a member of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine. A podcast version is available at drhalgreen.com)