Have you ever really read Psalm 23?  I know, I know, if you’ve been a Christian for more than a couple of years, you’ve probably not only read it but memorized it, heard sermons on it, and found comfort in it during a hard time in your life.  But when last did you really read it – word by word, phrase by phrase, turning over each jewel in your mind so that you see it gleam and shine like a precious diamond?  Sometimes Bible passages can become so familiar that we miss their magnificence as we skim straight by, and it takes a special effort to slow down and appreciate.

Sheep Nepal Flickr

This week I was twice generously given the opportunity for a slowed-down, savouring-the-words-and-meaning rendition of the 23rd psalm.  And I say “given” intentionally, because I’m sure it was God’s way of encouraging me.

First up was at an intimate wedding ceremony—just 15 of us, gathered on a rooftop high on a mountain, with a green and verdant valley (like the green pastures in the psalm) spread out below.  The guitars strummed a chord and the singers plunged into “Paramprabhu mero gothalo hun.”  Now we all know that music is a powerful medium for conveying a message and fixing it in the memory.  And this is perhaps even more true when the lyrics are in your second language!  As I sang along, I was thinking much more carefully about the words than if they’d been in English.  “The Lord my shepherd is, the Lord my shepherd is, to me nothing at all (emphatically) can I be lacking/wanting.  He does not allow my step to slip; pleasant, restful water beside he leads.  He to my head with oil anoints; my bowl having been filled, runs over.”  With a couple of unfamiliar words, and some “backwards” grammar (from my English viewpoint), I found myself able to appreciate the meaning in new ways.

The following day, we had a meeting with our mentor, aired a bunch of concerns, received loads of valuable advice, and then he prayed for us—coincidentally (!) from Psalm 23.  It’s wonderful being prayed for, but to have Scripture prayed with and for us was much more rich and meaningful.  When we pray Scripture, we are asking God to do what is in keeping with his character, and what he delights to do!  We can be sure he will answer our prayers for rest in green pastures, for leading and guiding in the paths he wants us to travel, for his refreshment for our souls.  We know for certain that we can go through dark valleys without fear of evil, because he will answer our prayer to be with us.

Now, you may not have the opportunity to sing Scripture in a second language, and you might not meet someone today who will have the kindness and good sense to pray Scripture for you.  But that needn’t stop you from saturating yourself in a Bible passage and being refreshed.  Find a quiet moment with your Bible, read a short passage (why not take Psalm 23?), and slow right down to reflect on the meaning of each phrase.

The Lord is my shepherd.  Who are we talking about?  The Lord.  What is he?  A shepherd.  What does that mean?  Well, what does a shepherd do?  Cares for the sheep, feeds them, protects them, works hard to keep them in good health.  Consider the other pictures the Bible gives of a shepherd, and of Jesus the good shepherd (John 10).  Who does the Lord do all this for?  His sheep—which includes you if you trust in him.

You can go through the whole psalm this way (it might take a while, so you could take a verse a day and think about the psalm for a whole week).  And then you can pray the psalm (or at least the bit you’ve meditated on)—for yourself, your family, friends—anyone at all.  Why not go out on a limb, and pray it WITH them?  You’ve no idea how much of an encouragement that could be!

Photo: Jeffrey Allen, flickr