By Jennifer Slattery, Crosswalk.com
Through prayer, our hearts connect with God our Father, our Shepherd, in a profoundly deep way. His Spirit gains greater influence within us, revealing the roots of our fears. From this intimate knowledge, He speaks precisely what we need to hear when we need to hear it. There’s additional power in praying Scripture. When we proclaim His words, we actively fight the darkness within and without, nourish and strengthen our souls, reinforce truth-filled thinking, and immerse ourselves more fully in His presence. This is, in part, what it means to abide with Christ, trading our weakness for His strength and our anxieties for His peace.
Although all Scripture has the capacity to protect and fortify our souls, the tender words in Psalm 23 can quiet some of our loudest and most pervasive fears by reminding us of God’s ever-present, faithful, and protective care. We indeed are the sheep of His pasture, fully dependent on the One who sees us, knows us, walks beside us, and will never leave.
Here is a guide you can use to verbalize, meditate on, and pray through the promises preserved in this passage.
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1. The Lord is my Shepherd; I have all that I need. (Psalm 23:1)
David, the author of Psalm 23, paints an analogy from his personal experience as a shepherd watching over his father’s sheep. These helpless creatures were completely dependent on their shepherd. They had no way of protecting themselves and didn’t know where to find food and water. They were also oblivious to potential dangers they’d face. But their shepherd knew everything they’d need and encounter and took full responsibility for their well-being. Jesus, who referred to Himself as our Good Shepherd, does the same for us.
Prayer prompt: Lord Jesus, thank You for all the ways You love and watch over me. Throughout Scripture, You have promised to provide what I need when I need it. My circumstances, problems, and challenges don’t surprise or hinder You. When Your children wandered through the desert, You rained manna from heaven (Exodus 16:4-18). So, too, you can bring abundance to my barren places. You, who through a meager supply of flour and oil, sustained a destitute widow during a drought, can multiply my resources as well (1 Kings 17:7-16).
Whenever I feel anxious, remind me of Your compassion for the crowd that gathered around You in Mark 8. You saw their hunger and were moved to action, satiating the people using seven bread loaves and a few small fish (Mark 8:1-8). Similarly, You see my need and Your empathy moves You to action.
2. He lets me rest in green meadows; He leads me beside peaceful streams. (Psalm 23:2)
A well-cared for sheep doesn’t exhaust himself on endless striving or fretting over what’s ahead. He can rest knowing he has no reason to fear. He is surrounded by lush pastures, with a refreshing stream but a few paces away. This verse speaks of abundance, peace, and pleasure––of pausing to enjoy all of the blessings, others in their haste, might miss.
Prayer Prompt: Lord, give me that same restful spirit. Calm my anxieties when they arise. Slow my pulse and my breathing and alert me to all the blessings You provide each day. Remind me to cast my concerns onto You so that I can remain fully present in each moment. (1 Peter 5:7) Help me to enjoy every blessing You have provided, seeing each as a radiant display of Your love.
3. He renews my strength. (Psalm 23:3a)
Some translations say, “He refreshes” or “restores my soul.” According to 19th century theologian Albert Barnes, a more literal translation could read, “He causes my life to return.” I’m envisioning those pictures we often see of Jesus carrying a weakened and perhaps injured lamb upon His shoulders. This image may have come from Isaiah 40:11, which tells us that God “tends His flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart; He gently leads those that have young” (NIV).
Prayer Prompt: Lord, when I’m distracted or have strayed, gather me close to Your side. When the journey feels long, the road steep, and my legs threaten to give way, scoop me up into Your strong arms and carry me until I’m able to stand once again. Then, once I’ve regained my footing, remain beside me as my comfort, support, and friend.
When I’m weary or sad, You alone revive me. You comfort me when I’m brokenhearted, soothe me when I’m afraid, and lend me Your perfect strength during my moments of greatest weakness.
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4. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His name. (Psalm 23:3b)
A shepherdless sheep has little hope for survival. He’s apt to wander into deep, dark valleys and off cliffs. Left alone, he can easily travel far from his watering holes, from the flock, and from his loving shepherd. But the most faithful and attentive shepherds don’t leave their sheep unattended. They are always watching over them, nudging them right, prodding them left, ensuring they stay on the right, the good and life-giving, path.
Prayer Prompt: Lord, in John 10:27, You gave me such a comforting promise. As Your child, Your sheep, I will hear and recognize Your voice. Scripture says, whether I turn left or right, I will hear Your voice behind me, telling me precisely where to go. I don’t have to worry about missing or failing to understand Your guidance, for Your ability to lead me is even greater than my ability to hear. As I grow closer to You and learn to rest in Your presence, Your Spirit influences me, giving me the desire to fulfill Your good and perfect purpose.
Lord, I don’t know what awaits me, but You do. You know every challenge and setback I’ll face and every opportunity I’ll encounter. Lead me according to Your perfect will, and help me trust You with every step.
5. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me. Your rod and Your staff protect and comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
According to Jewish tradition, one particularly deep and dark valley exists in the Judean desert. In Bible times, it was one of the main routes to Jerusalem. It’s likely David had this oft-traversed location in mind when he wrote Psalm 23, perhaps reflecting upon the time he used it to flee from Absalom. This, then, would’ve been a dark and frightening place for him, figuratively and literally. But even there, he had no reason to fear, because he knew all-powerful Creator God, the Lord of heaven’s armies, stayed close beside Him.
Prayer prompt: Lord, when I’m walking through life’s deep, dark valleys, turn my eyes from the shadows and place them firmly on You. Whether I feel Your presence or not, I know You remain with me. You have promised never to leave or forsake me. You are my strong tower, in whom I find refuge. You are the light that shines within me and before me, illuminating the path ahead. You surround me in Your love, today and forevermore. When I feel alone, remind me of these truths. Help me find courage, not in my strength or wisdom or perception but in You.
7. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. (Psalm 23:5a)
Beginning in verse 5, David shifts from his shepherd-sheep analogy to that of a banquet, where he is presumably seated, elevated, within view of his enemies. Scholars believe he likely wrote this somewhere toward the end of his life, once he was securely established on the throne. After having spent nearly a decade fleeing from the previous king, a man named Saul, David’s raised position must have felt exceptionally satisfying. What’s more, he hadn’t sought vengeance for his unjust treatment nor did he force himself onto the throne. He knew he’d been placed there by God alone.
Prayer prompt: Lord, when enemies come against me, remind me of how David clung to You during his enemy-period and how You and You alone secured his victory. David was able to stand firm, in faith, because He knew You would perfect all that concerned him and bring your every promise to pass. I know this as well. I know your plans for me, which You formed before I took my first breath, are good. I know You will use all things, even the hard and painful, to prepare me for my destiny. When insecurities rise up within, counter every lie with truth. Help me surrender to your training and stretching process, knowing the results will be eternally beautiful, because You, my King, are beautiful.
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8. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. (Psalm 23:5b)
Perhaps David wrote this passage while sitting at his royal table, wine goblet in hand. The man who’d once hid in caves and lived as a fugitive in foreign lands now lived with opulence. God had lavished him with wealth and safety on every side. Indeed, his cup, or his lot, overflowed. But this divine care, expressed with such gratitude, wasn’t new. To the contrary. God walked with David across the Palestinian hills, strengthened him as he fled from his pursuer, and taught him to rest through it all. This same God continued to provide for David to the end of his days. He was God’s chosen, loved, and well-cared for child.
Prayer prompt: Lord, I’m Your child as well, and while I might not sit in a king’s palace or in a banquet hall, my cup still overflows. You have given me a place to sleep each night and friends to pray and share my struggles with. But even more importantly, Father, God, You’ve given me Your precious Son and unhindered access to Yourself. Nothing and no one could ever snatch me from You or separate me from Your love. Lord, May Your presence be my greatest treasure, and my time with you that which I guard above all.
9. Surely goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life. (Ps. 23:6)
Here, and in numerous other places throughout the Old Testament, Scripture speaks of God’s checed, translated as unfailing love in Psalm 23:5. In Scripture, this word has been translated numerous ways, as there isn’t an equivalent in English. God’s checed is his faithful, merciful, compassionate, loyal, steadfast, covenantal love toward His people. Perhaps the best definition can be found in Numbers 14:18-19, which states, “The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in checed and forgiving sin and rebellion.”
Slow to anger. Abounding in merciful, compassionate, eternal and faithful love. Forgiving our sin and rebellion. Jesus is God’s checed love revealed, and though we don’t deserve it, His love pursues us, for while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Prayer prompt: Lord, show me Your powerful, strong, all-consuming, transforming love. When I feel unlovable, may Your mercy fall upon me, penetrating to the deepest parts of my soul. Thank You that Your love and mercy isn’t dependent on me. If it were I could never stand in Your presence. But through Christ, You’ve invited me close, adopted me into Your family, as Your beloved child. Adored, forgiven, and held. When I am afraid, feel unsettled, or insufficient, bolster my heart with Your loving kindness and give me fresh vision to view myself and my circumstances through the lens of Your grace.
Because You are my shepherd, my King, my Savior, and my Dad. I have all that I need and can rest in Your goodness and grace. I needn’t fear when others come against me, darkness befalls, or storms swirl all about, for You are greater than all. You, Lord Jesus, have overcome. Because I belong to You, I will overcome as well. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither present nor future nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39, NIV).
Upon that love I stand.
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Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who hosts the Faith Over Fear podcast. She’s addressed women’s groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Building a Family and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com.
As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she’s passionate about helping women experience Christ’s freedom in all areas of their lives. Visit her online to learn more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HERE and make sure to connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.
This article is part of our larger Prayer resource meant to inspire and encourage your prayer life when you face uncertain times. Remember, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and God knows your heart even if you can't find the words to pray.
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