Declarations of a Sheep (Psalm 23)

This past month has been a difficult season for many of my friends. Our hearts are overwhelmed with grief of the loss of people we love dearly. Intellectually we know that they are in a better place for themselves, and that we will get to see them again, but we are bent low because we must go on without them now. Grief has worn out our bodies, scraped our emotions raw, and left our spirits overwhelmed and undone.

Even 3,000 years since it was written, Psalm 23 is still the inspirational reading people go to most often for comfort during bereavement. What makes this scripture so loved and revered? Perhaps it’s because our desperate and broken spirit when looking for comfort identifies with the spirit that welled up within David when he wrote it. Its deep truths feed our hungry and hurting souls in search of healing.

David, the man after God’s own heart, wrote this when he was a desperate man being hunted down by the king’s men, hiding in desolate places, his body bruised and broken, physically and emotionally abandoned and betrayed, and unsure if he would survive.

To declare something is more than just talking. A declaration is making a public statement asserting your conviction of the truth of those words with the commitment to honor and live by those words. In David’s desperation, he declared these statements of the 23rd psalm as a reminder to his soul of who he was and his relationship with God, and what that meant in regard to his present circumstances.

In your time of deep sorrows and tribulations, read this Shepherd’s Psalm and make each statement a declaration over your life, claiming the healing power of these truths.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd. David begins with this declaration; he affirms to himself that he has the ultimate shepherd and calls him by name. David had been a shepherd. He knew from experience what it means to be a shepherd and how desperately sheep need a good shepherd. Sheep are vulnerable to predators because they are awkward and can’t run fast, and they aren’t wise enough to see the dangers around them. They require aid when they are injured, and even help in the birthing process. They lack the skill to find proper nourishment on their own, and they’ll stray if they are not carefully watched. Likewise, they are notorious for blindly following other sheep, even when that leads to their own destruction.

Sound familiar? David, and later Jesus, both use the analogy of people to sheep because we need protection and provision. We struggle to find our way, we are easily distracted from what is beneficial to us and seek out what is harmful. We often need physical and emotional healing. On our own we lack wisdom and are easily led astray by other people with enticing words or exciting ideas. Sometimes we give in to despair because we have lost our way, feeling as though we are drowning in grief or hopelessness. We need to be fed what will strengthen and sustain us spiritually as well as physically.

Jesus calls himself The Good Shepherd, and I’m so thankful that I realize I need a shepherd and that my shepherd is Jesus.

I shall not want. In King James English, this means that all my needs are being met.  I have everything that I need physically, emotionally, and spiritually. When you are emotionally in a painful place, God does not leave you alone to bear your grief, but gives you strength and companionship. He provides everything you need to survive and thrive.

This also speaks to our future by helping us to not get caught up in “wanting something more” that society pushes.

As a declaration, “I shall not want” is a powerful statement of satisfaction and contentment, regardless of our circumstance.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. The word maketh is intentionally used rather than invite or allow. Sometimes God has to make us rest, make us slow down, hold still, be silent. Otherwise we would be running off, going our own way, looking for and indulging in things that are harmful to us. We don’t always choose what is best for ourselves, but our Good Shepherd always and only chooses what is best for us, and that is what carries us through our hard times.

The word David used for “lie down” refers to being in the position of relaxation and security without fear of starvation or predators. God provides all the proper nourishment we need. Only healthy lush green pastures will do for his sheep. He provides what makes us strong and healthy, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. He won’t leave us weak and vulnerable to face the predators of fear, anxiety, and hopelessness. And if we do lose our way he will do whatever it takes to bring us back into the security of his care.

Throughout the Bible “pastures” represents “home”. God does not desire that we just come visit him occasionally when times get tough. He wants to be our home. When we lie down and rest in him, we are home!

He leadeth me beside still waters. The word used for still means “quiet restful condition or place”. Some translations use the phrase “quiet waters”. This evokes feelings of calmness, peace, serenity. No stress or drama exists in these places. Spending time in a serene place helps to restore both body and spirit.

Still waters run deep. God wants us to keep going deeper with him. He’s not like swift water rushing by, but remains with you so that you can experience and understand the depths of his love and the secrets of his kingdom. It is in our difficult times when we stop and spend time with The Good Shepherd, with our hearts laid open before him, that we gain the most wisdom.

Notice that he does not say water, but waters. He will take you to many places of still waters during your lifetime. Places and circumstances will change, but God will remain unchanged as you build a trusting relationship with him that cannot be shaken. Your emotions may try to make you believe that your heart cannot be mended, but God will mend it while holding you in his shepherd’s loving and healing hands.

Willingness to stop and rest beside still waters, even when you want to push through to leave pain behind, is declaring that you accept God’s will for your life, including his timing.

He restoreth my soul.  While it’s true that this is a declaration of your soul’s eternal restoration and salvation, in times of hardship and grief, it is an affirmation that you trust God to restore everything about you now– body, soul, and spirit- back to health, vitality, purpose, and peace.

He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  More so than at any other time, when we are hurting we can find it difficult to make good decisions. Declaring this statement over your life assures you that depending on his leading, listening to his voice and reading his Word, will guide you to decisions and paths that are wholesome and full of integrity. They will heal and improve your life, and you will bring glory to God, even in the midst of heartaches and storms.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,  for thou art with me. If you are in a place of desperation or grief, this may be the most important statement to you right now. Declare this verse over your life to affirm, remind, bolster, encourage, and strengthen your courage to walk this difficult path you are on. You have nothing to fear. No evil can get to you because God is with you. As one beautiful poem says, God is carrying you through it, and the footsteps that are left are his, not yours.

In times of sorrow and stress, we are vulnerable to the lies of the enemy who tells us we are facing this alone. Abandoned. Orphaned. Cut off. Those are all lies! YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.”

Fear? No!  Alone? No!  God is always with you!  This is God’s promise to you!

Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.  The rod shepherds carry is a weapon to fight off predators to protect their sheep.  It would take thousands of words to describe all the ways God protects his own. Psalm 91:14, “Because she loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue her; I will protect her, for she acknowledges my name.” (When I read verses about God’s relationship to me, I read it with feminine pronouns, changing he to she, etc.) If you need to know you are protected, start by reading and meditating on the whole Psalm 91.

The staff is a walking stick used as a prod to guide the sheep. If you are one who sometimes lags behind and doesn’t want to step out in faith, or the opposite, one who impatiently runs ahead, don’t be surprised when you feel a poke once in a while. Our good shepherd does what he needs to do to keep us safely in his flock.

Declaring this verse over your life is accepting his authority. To me, nothing is more comforting than to know someone much more wise and powerful than me has everything under control.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. I love this line! This is an awesome statement because it is saying, not only will you survive the hard times – circumstances or people – but you will thrive. God will throw you a “banquet” – a spiritual feast, victory, blessing- to celebrate and honor you in the face of your enemy! Take that, guy-from-the-pit!

Thou anointest my head with oil.  In the Jewish tradition, only kings and priests were anointed with oil. It was to signify that they were sanctified- set apart to be used by God, and people were dependent on those leaders to be told how to live. Since David had not yet been crowned king, I believe David states this because his heart was so devoted to God that he felt God’s spiritual anointing on his life. A thousand years later when Jesus brought us the gift of salvation, he said all Believers are a “royal priesthood”. (I Peter 2:9)

Declaring this over your life is recognizing your honored status as a child of God and the priestly power that comes with that. It’s impossible to consciously be aware of this and be downcast. In moments where fear or grief threatens to overtake you, lift up your head and claim your anointing.

My cup runneth over. This refers to the abundant life Jesus spoke about. You are God’s daughter, his beloved, the apple of his eye. You have all that you need: provisions, protection, peace, and so much more! He even gives you the desires of your heart. And all that abundance results in joy. If you are like me, you can’t declare this over your life without feeling immense joy and gratefulness.

Believe it, declare it, and give thanks for it, especially when your emotions get in the way and it doesn’t feel true.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me, all the days of my life. None of us deserve the goodness God imparts to us. It is only in his mercy that we are able to receive all the abundance and goodness he showers on our lives. No matter where life takes us, no matter how low and dark the valleys, this is our spiritual birthright: to have both goodness and mercy follow us wherever we go. Even in the midst of grief.

And no matter how we mess up- yes, sometimes it’s my doing, not something bad that happened to me- God has promised me that his mercy will follow me all the days of my life. This includes forgiveness of all my sins, bad attitudes, and stupid choices. Past, present, and future!

I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  This verse isn’t just for our loved ones who have passed from this life to the next, and is our future hope. This is meant to begin now! We “abide” in the house of the Lord now, meaning we keep our minds focused on heaven and submit to God’s will. We embrace and live by God’s rules. We are filled with Holy Spirit to carry heaven with us wherever we go, being the voice, hands, and feet of Jesus as we love and serve others.

And because there is no pain in heaven, as we bring ourselves into conscious awareness that we are filled with the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, and that we carry a part of heaven within us, we are no longer paralyzed by our pain.

Hallelujah!

~ Whether you are grieving today, or going through other difficult circumstances, may the reading of His Word bring you comfort today.~

Psalm 23

You, Lord, are my shepherd. I have everything that I need. You make me lie down in green pastures. You lead me beside still waters. You restore my soul.  You lead me in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake.  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. I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.