Psalm 23 is perhaps one of the most beloved passages in Scripture and thus, used by many as the most powerful morning prayer in the Bible. My friend Lois is here today as part of our morning prayer series to share how we can apply these Psalm 23 prayers to our days and lives. I know it will bless you!
In our modern world, we’re more accustomed to seeing sheep dotted on far countryside fields, or in children’s books. Is there anything we can learn from them that could possibly be relevant to our high-tech, 21st century lifestyle?
Sure, they’re cute. Especially little lambs. They look so gentle that we imagine being a shepherd must be so easy – like looking after snoozy little puppies that just want to be cuddled all the time.
But ask any shepherd and they’ll tell you – there’s nothing cozy about these critters…
THE TRUTH ABOUT SHEEP
Sheep are stubborn, dirty, fearful, needy, prone to parasites, proud, wanderers, vulnerable, self-willed, creatures of habit, tense, arrogant, domineering and discontent.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Small wonder the Lord refers to His followers as sheep.
We’re a lot like them, after all.
Proud and prone to sin that preys on us like ‘parasites’, arrogant and self-willed wanderers, fearful and needy creatures of habit. We are discontent and vulnerable, yet dirty and stubborn in our sinful hearts. We get sidetracked, distracted and lazy, allowing ourselves to veer off the right path and into unseen danger.
The good news, though?
We have a Shepherd.
Not a shepherd who’s in it for the money; not a shepherd who begrudgingly tends to us out of necessity or circumstance. We have a Shepherd who rejoices over us, who is fiercely protective of us. A Good Shepherd, willing to lay down His own life for His sheep.
All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. (Isaiah 53:6)
I sometimes wonder what was happening at the precise moment David’s heart poured forth the realization: “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
Was he flustering and fretting as he trekked to recover yet another wayward sheep?
Was he sitting peacefully, watching his flock contentedly graze and rest?
Whatever was going on around him, David realized what we all must realize – we are like helpless sheep, and we need a capable shepherd.
Left to ourselves? Game over. We’d be easy prey – silly, stubborn wanderers. We wouldn’t survive long at all.
But, thanks to the Good Shepherd, we don’t have to go it alone.
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE GOOD SHEPHERD
Jesus was described as a sheep, too, though not the same breed of filthy and folly-filled sheep that we are.
He was described as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (see John 1:29). A perfect Lamb, without spot or blemish.
Elsewhere, we are told of how, like a Lamb, he was led to the slaughter, silent before those seeking to butcher and berate Him (see Isaiah 53:7).
Then, after His glorious triumph over death and His ascension back to His Father, we encounter Him as “…a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders” (Revelation 5:6), and surrounded by many angels saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb…” (see Revelation 5:11-14).
Picture that for a moment. The Lamb of God, surrounded by the praise of which He alone is worthy. All eyes on Him. All voices pouring out praise to Him. All knees bowing to worship Him in adoration.
How does that relate to praying Psalm 23? Because the Lamb in Revelation is the Shepherd that David describes in his psalm.
When we take a closer look, Psalm 23 reveals six key lessons about the Lord – our Shepherd – and why we can have full confidence in His loving care.
The Most Powerful Morning Prayer: Prayer for Psalm 23
Below we will go verse by verse through Psalm 23 where I’ll share prayer points for Psalm 23. I hope these points help you as you learn to pray your own prayer based on Psalm 23.
Verse 1: PERFECT PROVIDER
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
In the Ancient Near East, ‘shepherd’ was a title given to appointed leaders and kings. Each of those descriptive definitions apply to the Lord – He is our Shepherd, our Leader and our King.
As a result of His attentive and irrevocable commitment to care for us, there is nothing else we could want or need. The root of the Hebrew word used for “want” means to lack, and thus, to fail. And the harmony of the Scripture assures us in Psalm 34:10, that “they who seek the Lord shall not be in want of any good thing”.
We can be confident in the perfect provision and trustworthy nature of the Lord, our Shepherd.
As we begin our journey in prayer through Psalm 23, take a moment to reflect on how good a Shepherd He is, and pour your heart out in gratitude and praise.
The Lord is My Shepherd Prayer:
Thank you, Lord, my Shepherd, for being my perfect Provider and attentive Carer. Help me never to doubt your love, care and presence, even when circumstances try to blind me to the knowledge or awareness of Your truth. Give me an unshakeable confidence in Your character and your care. Thank you, Lord, that I am never alone – that you are with me, watching over me, and that – in You – I have all that I could ever need. Thank You for laying down Your life to give me eternal life, with You. Help me to remember Your word and share it with others.
In Jesus’s Name, I ask. Amen.
Verse 2: REPLENISHING REST
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
Doesn’t this verse inspire you to slow down, close your eyes and just breathe, dwelling in the peaceful presence of the Lord? But I’m guessing your life feels like the complete opposite of that.
You’re hurried, busy, overwhelmed, overstretched – constantly rushing and bustling and striving to keep up with the mountain of commitments and obligations that keep launching themselves at you. Most days, you feel like you don’t even have time to pray, nevermind dwell. You spend the majority of your time feeling on edge and restless.
Did you know that sheep startle easily?
They will not lie down and rest unless they feel 100% safe. And even when they do rest, all it takes is a sudden noise or movement and they’re up and off, usually taking the rest of the flock with them in a kind of mob hysteria.
What a picture of our modern, stressed out lifestyle!
But our Good Shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures, and He leads us beside quiet waters. The meaning of the word for “leads” in the Hebrew carries with it the sense of protecting, sustaining and guiding. Not just someone walking ahead, unconcerned with those following behind, but a faithful and true Guardian, ever-ready to defend, and One in whose presence we can lie down and rest in tranquil safety.
Oh, Lord… Forgive my bustling and striving and stressing. Forgive me for neglecting to follow You into green pastures and beside still waters. Lead me, Lord, and help me to follow You. Help me to find rest in You and with You, full and replenishing rest for my mind, my soul, my body and my spirit. Thank You for the weekly Sabbath You have given for my rest and Your glory – help me to honor and keep it and draw me ever closer to You, my loving Leader. Thank You that no matter how crazy life is, I can be still in Your calm, inviting presence, and simply rest. Thank You, Lord, for Your goodness and grace, for Your protection and guidance.
In Jesus’s Name. Amen.
Verse 3: GUIDING GLORY
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
It’s no coincidence that straight after describing the replenishing rest in verse 2, David then declares: “He restores my soul”.
Rest in the Shepherd’s capable care leads to restoration – of hope, of spirit, of joy.
So vast is His love for us that He not only provides for us when we are helpless and protects us when we’re vulnerable, He also restores us when we are broken down and worn out. Time and again throughout Scripture, we see the Good Shepherd restoring people – their minds, their bodies, their faith, their hope, their joy.
As He guides His flock along paths of righteousness, it can be easy to miss the reason why – the purpose of His guidance, the reason He leads us along paths of righteousness…
It’s all “for His name’s sake”.
Don’t be mistaken, though – that doesn’t mean it’s an ego thing, or that you are expendable. You are a precious, honored and loved creation of the Living God, and He is the ultimate authority, King and majesty – in the whole universe. (A universe which He Himself made…)
He deserves ALL the honor and glory, for who He is, and for what He has done in taking fallen, disobedient creations of His and laying His own life down to redeem them.
Wrapped up in His majesty and mercy is your destiny and delight, and the more you look at His glorious face, the more wholeheartedly you will joyfully run behind Him as He guides you along those paths of righteousness, for His name’s sake.
Almighty God, creator of everything seen and unseen, thank You for Your unsearchable majesty and dazzling glory. Please restore my soul as I rest in You, and renew my mind in alignment with Your truth. Thank You for Your revitalising word and the care You lavish on me day after day. Oh, Lord, please help me to follow You with my whole heart, along the paths of righteousness, so that Your precious name can receive all the praise and glory it is due. Help me to shine brightly in this weary world, and bring glory to You in everything I do, think, say and permit.
In Jesus’s glorious name I ask. Amen.
Verse 4: VICTORIOUS VALLEY
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.
In the original Hebrew, the word that David uses for “evil” covers the full range of calamity and pain. Every synonym you can think of to describe affliction and wickedness is wrapped up in this word.
Do you fear those things? Does the cold grip of anxiety frogmarch you through your days? It’s understandable, if you think about how sick and twisted this world has become. Destruction and chaos could be only a flicker of a second away, plus violence and lack of self-control seem to be the hallmarks of our time.
But instead of thinking about how desperate and depraved this world is, let’s look at who is walking with us through the deep, shadowy valley. The Lord, our Good Shepherd, is with us.
We’ve already learned of His compassionate care and devoted diligence in looking after us as His sheep. Now, we find His comforting presence with us in the thick of every sorrow and distress we’ll ever have to navigate.
And He isn’t empty-handed.
In one of His strong, firm hands He holds a rod – a sign of His authority over all things, even death (see 2 Timothy 1:10). In the other, he grasps a staff – which, in its original language, represents absolute support of every kind.
Know this: no matter how dark the valley or how terrifying the shadow that is looming over you, your Shepherd is with you, and He is the source of all authority and all comfort. Trust Him.
Thank You, Lord, that every trial and grief I face is not something I have to face alone. Thank you that You are with me, and that You have all authority over every thing – even death. Thank you that You are the God of all comfort, as II Corinthians 1:3 says. Thank You for walking before me, guiding me through the valley. Thank You for Your unending protection and care. I know I am safe with You. Help me to trust You more and more, every day, every minute. And please illuminate my path with the hope that can only be found in Your presence.
In Jesus’s Name I pray, Amen.
Verse 5: FEARLESS FEAST
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
I’ve always loved the word ‘banquet’ – it paints such a rich and sumptuous picture of a vast table stretching out under delicious food and glistening wine. An inviting space to gather with friends and family, sharing stories and laughter.
The feast that God spreads out for David in verse 5 isn’t like that, though…
Yes, there’s a sumptuous banquet, prepared by God. The word translated ‘prepared’ carries with it a sense of order, of setting in a straight line.
But it’s not a safe or familiar place.
Instead of friendly faces surrounding David, the Lord beckons him to feast amidst his foes. The root of the word used for ‘enemies’ literally and figuratively means ‘to cramp, bind, narrow, oppress’.
This is not an atmosphere of friendly ease, but one of stifling threat.
Yet in the midst of oppression, the Lord provides nourishment in abundance, not only with the table of succulent sustenance, but also with the overflowing oil.
Each word connected with the oil signifies absolute abundance, a richness of blessing and provision that leaves the recipient saturated with satisfaction.
Here is a Shepherd who freely lavishes blessing and provision on His flock, no matter who is against them or how close a hostile presence lurks.
Like David, you can enjoy the banquet of the richness of God’s love, even when others are trying to oppress or come against you. Your Shepherd is with you. He has set out everything in order, and He will protect and provide for you. Come and feast!
Oh, Lord, I praise and thank You this day that You are for me, and you invite me to feast in Your presence. Thank You that no matter who is against me, they cannot harm me, for You protect and provide for me every single day, and You have poured out the oil of abundant blessings on me, so that my cup overflows with satisfaction, delight and praise for You. Thank You for the privileges and security You have anointed me with. Help me to remember and live out the truth of this verse every day.
In Jesus’s Name I ask, Amen.
Verse 6: DELIGHTFUL DESTINY
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Sometimes, a fresh grasp of the meaning of one word can change everything.
In this verse, it’s the word ‘follow’ – that humble little word tucked in behind the two power words of ‘goodness’ and ‘lovingkindness’ (or ‘mercy’ as some other translations have it).
‘Follow’ sounds like quite a passive word… someone else leads, and you follow along. It’s easy to read this verse and think “Oh, that’s nice… everywhere I go, goodness and mercy will be drifting along behind me”. Nope! That’s not it…
In the Hebrew, the word used for ‘follow’ is ‘radaph’, which literally means: ‘pursue, chase, hunt, run after’. What a difference from the passive understanding we have of the word ‘follow’!
Instead of us leading the way, goodness and mercy are taking the initiative and pursuing us, hunting us, never leaving us alone – stopping at nothing to catch us!
And that word ‘all’? It means… ‘all’.
Every single day of your life. Every good day, every bad day, every day where things are calm and easy, and every day where things are chaotic and overwhelmingly difficult.
Goodness and mercy will not rest in their pursuit of you, each and every day. Because Your Shepherd doesn’t rest in His care and love for you.
He laid His life down for you and bought you with His own blood (see Ephesians 1:7), He now lives forever to make intercession for you (see Hebrews 7:25), He has promised never to leave you or forsake you (see Hebrews 13:5) and He – in His unalterable authority – has poured out such security, such blessing, such abundance of provision, love, protection and support during your sojourn here on this earth.
And it doesn’t end there.
Once He has helped you navigate the treacherous terrain of this earthly station, He will jubilantly welcome you home, to dwell in His house and presence, forever.
Oh, friend – stop for a moment and consider the weight of glory here… Goodness and mercy will literally pursue and chase you, never leaving you alone, all the days of your life, and into eternity, where you will see the beautiful face of your loving Shepherd – the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
Oh, precious Lord… how loving, how kind, how good and how trustworthy a shepherd You truly are. Thank You that Your love and care for me is eternal and unconditional, and that one day, I will see You face to face – my Good Shepherd! Thank You that You will guide and help me here on earth, and pursue me with goodness and mercy every day of my life. And thank You, Lord, that then, You’ll lead me home for good, with no more dark valleys or wayward wandering, but an unending life of peace and joy in pastures more lovely than any I could dream or think or imagine! May Your name be glorified and praised, in everything I am and do.
In Jesus’s Name I ask and pray, Amen.
“So we Your people and the sheep of Your pasture will give thanks to You forever; to all generations we will tell of Your praise.” (Psalm 79:13)
What riches there are in this Psalm and the rest of Scripture still to be mined and discovered. What a Good and gracious Shepherd we really do have. This is definitely fodder for powerful morning prayer, yes?
It is my deepest desire that as you read, study and pray through this well-loved Psalm, its truth and magnitude will be refreshed in your heart and mind, and you will experience the faith, confidence and delight to boldly declare, “The Lord is my Shepherd!”
Lois is a forgiven child of God, a wife, mama, writer, navigator of chronic illness and an incessant fact-checker. She writes at WhereTruthLives.com to equip and encourage women to impact the world by living out the truth of God’s Word in every area of life.
To help you continue meditating deeply on the Word, she’s prepared some free printable Bible verse cards, all themed around sheep, flocks and our Good Shepherd. Then, spend time reflecting on each verse and pouring back your thoughts and realizations to God in prayer.