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 the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil;
For Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
Thou anointest 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.
One of the places I run to in Scripture when I need encouragement is the 23rd Psalm. In a mere six verses, it paints such vivid images in my mind. When I read about the “green pastures” and the “still waters” I see a beautiful natural setting. I imagine sitting in the grass overlooking a gentle stream on a warm spring day. Hopefully we’ve all experienced one of those moments of perfection in nature. I have experienced them. I don’t experience them often unfortunately. And this verse reminds me that the Lord is the author not only of creation but of perfection itself. When I want one of those perfect moments, I can find them in nature, but I can find them any time, in prayer.
“He restores my soul” makes me think of the scenes in movies where people who are parched with thirst kneel down by a river, cup their hands, and drink the water, and throw some over the heads and their thirst is quenched. There are so many ways in which the Lord can restore our souls. However, we take part in the process. Like the scene I described from the movie, He provides the water, but we have to bend down and drink of it.
“The path of righteousness” reminds me of two roads—the simple dirt road and the interstate. Most of us have traveled both. Which is better? It depends on what your goal is. Quick and efficient travels favor the interstate. Solitude and reflection lead to the dirt path on which we can walk. The path to righteousness requires both. Sometimes it requires something that is direct and efficient. Sometimes it requires something more contemplative. We have to learn to walk both paths. The Lord, through the church, gives us a path to both.
“The valley of the shadow of death” makes me think of an apocalyptic scene in a movie. Gone are the tranquil waters described above. They are replaced with rivers of lava. Darkness replaces the light. An overall feeling of foreboding has erased the beauty. And yet with the Lord, even in a scene like this one can take comfort. We’ve all been in this valley. It might be an illness, a sense of loneliness, an intimidating situation, or a person who makes us feel uncomfortable. Whenever your life looks like an apocalyptic scene instead of a tranquil river, you have to remember that the Lord is still walking with us, comforting us.
Who would want to have a meal in the presence of enemies? Yet even in this instance, when the whole world seems against us, the Lord anoints us, and our cup overflows. The anointing with oil was the way that kings were chosen. The Lord has chosen each of us to be His children. He has “anointed” us with His “goodness and mercy”. The “house of the Lord” refers to both the Church and the Kingdom of God. We find restoration for our souls and the path to righteousness through the Church. We prepare to live forever in God’s Kingdom through the Church. And those who have the Lord as their shepherd, leading in the green pastures and in the valleys of life, will one day inherit a place in the house of the Lord in heaven. The 23rd Psalm is really a Psalm of encouragement, a go-to treasure from Scripture that I use both beside the still waters and dark valleys of life. I encourage you to do the same.
Lord, thank You for the beautiful images that are painted for us through Scripture. Thank You for the comfort of the pastures and the beauty of the waters. Thank You for always restoring my soul when it is troubled. Please be with me in the valleys of life. Help me not to fear evil. Give me courage during difficult times. Help me stand strong in the face of enemies. Please comfort me when life is hard. And please send Your goodness and mercy on me all the days of my life, so that one day, I may dwell in Your heavenly Kingdom forever. Amen.
Pray the 23rd Psalm today!
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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