My Reflections on the Psalms
by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts
Copyright © 2006 by Mark D. Roberts
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The Most Beloved Psalm
Part 1 of series: My Reflections on the Psalms
Posted for Wednesday, January 24, 2006
Note: I'm not finished with my series on The Bible, the Qur'an, Bart Ehrman, and the Words of God. But Tuesday are often long days for me, beginning early and ending late. So I didn't have the energy to write put up the next installment in the last series. I'll get back to it tomorrow, I believe.
This is the first post in a new series. This series, unlike most I've written, will not be written and put up day after day, with occasional breaks. Rather, I expect that this series on the Psalms will come in bits and pieces over the next months.
I've called this series My Reflections on the Psalms. Yes, I have intentionally borrowed most of this title from C.S. Lewis, whose book Reflections on the Psalms is one of the classics. If you haven't read this book, I heartily recommend it. Like Lewis, and influenced by him in many ways, I want to add my own reflections on the Psalms, beginning with today's post.
You may know that I've made the Psalms a major feature of my writing ministry recently, having written a book on praying the Psalms called No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer. I've also recently started a new devotional website, The Daily Psalm. This website goes through the Psalms more or less in order, one a day. I add to the biblical text a short prayer of mine based on the psalm of the day, as well as a brief postscript. My point is to help you use the Psalms as a guide to your own daily prayer, so that you might grow deeper in God.
|Today's psalm at The Daily Psalm is Psalm 23. This psalm is the most beloved Psalm, at least within the Protestant Christian tradition with which I'm familiar. (I'd love it if my Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish readers would let me know which Psalms feature centrally in the piety of their traditions.) Surely a few other psalms approach the popularity of "The Twenty-third Psalm," like Psalm 100 ("Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth") and Psalm 121 ("I life up my eyes to the hills"). And the Isaac Watts's musical version of Psalm 98 is one of our most familiar and beloved Christmas carols ("Joy to the world, the Lord is come.") But no other Psalm is loved to the extent that Psalm 23 is loved.
The heading of The Daily Psalm.
I wonder why?
Before I try to answer this question, let me first print the text of Psalm 23:
A Psalm of David.
1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 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.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 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.
So why is the psalm so loved?
For one thing, this psalm is short, comprising only six verses. Psalm 119 has some great ideas and images, but 176 verses can be overwhelming. The brevity of the 23rd Psalm makes it available to most people.
The shortness of this psalm, combined with its elegant poetry, also makes it easy to memorize. It was one of the first passages of Scripture I ever memorized as a boy, and I expect it is one of the most commonly memorized texts in the Bible. The fact that we can take Psalm 23 with us in our minds makes it feel like a familiar friend.
But the shortness, poetry, and memorizability of Psalm 23 don’t begin to explain its popularity. This has to do with the power of its thoughts and images. The 23rd Psalm expresses our deepest faith in God. It gives word to the longing of our hearts to know God intimately and personally.
"The Lord is my shepherd."
Which of us doesn't want God to care for us as our good shepherd?
"He makes me lie down in green pastures."
When we're all so busy and stressed, when life is filled with challenges that can seem overwhelming, don't you year to lie down in God's place of rest?
"He restores my soul."
Perhaps more than almost anything else in life, this is what I need on a regular basis. I can easily spend myself to the point of exhaustion. I need the Lord to renew my inner being.
"Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me."
What could be more comforting and reassuring than this? When we're facing hard times, the greatest thought of all is that of God's presence with us.
"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life."
This is a confident affirmation and also a prayer for blessing. It expresses confidence in the goodness of God and His faithfulness to us.
I have experienced the power of Psalm 23 in my own life and in my ministry. I frequently conclude a memorial service by reading this psalm. I know that can sound too predictable. But I've found that the truths of the 23rd Psalm penetrate the hearts even of those who don't believe in God. The simple, straightforward faith of this psalm is a channel of God's grace in a truly miraculous way. And I mean this literally. That's why, I believe, Psalm 23 is the most beloved psalm.