Praying the Psalms: Psalm 23

Is there a more comforting image of God than as a shepherd? God is a tender shepherd who loves his sheep. The sheep trust him and the shepherd loves his flock. He cares for us, leads us, protects us, and loves us. Psalm 23 is one of the best known passages of Scripture. It is quoted and memorized by many, and most people are familiar with it. Yet, because we are so familiar with the psalm, we become numb to its potent reminder of God’s love and affection for his sheep. Psalm 23 is a psalm of trust, whispered by generations in the anxious dark night of the soul. Though calamity surrounds, God’s faithful sheep preach this psalm to their own hearts as a always needed reminder that “The Lord is my shepherd”. Let’s take a look at the beautiful psalm with fresh eyes. Praying the Psalms


v 1-3 - David is a sheep. As the psalm writer, he recognizes that the Lord is his personal shepherd. He is foolish, weak, and frail as a man. To call yourself a sheep is almost to call yourself an ignoramus. Sheep are not very smart. They stray away. They are stubborn. They are clueless. Yet, David has enough self awareness about his own heart, that he is prone to wander in to the dangerous thicket of sin. He needs a loving shepherd who can guide him and protect him. The Lord is his shepherd.

The Lord is the good shepherd, because he provides for the sheep. David does not want for anything. The shepherd makes sure his sheep are provided for and taken out to the safe and nutritious green pastures. God leads his sheep to a place of safety and of rest. He does restore our souls.

As we think about the work of Christ, our good shepherd he too restores our soul. He leads us down the narrow path of righteousness that leads to life. He guides us and shows us the way. He leads us the the fountain of everlasting waters. He takes to the comforting green grass into his presence where their is peace and enteral joy. We have a good shepherd who cares for the sheep, and his name is Jesus Christ.

v. 4 - As a sheep, not every day is spent in a beautiful green pasture on a gorgeous cool afternoon with rays of sunshine sparkling over your reflective fleece. Bad days come, even for little lambs. Everyone has moments where we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death. These moments of loss, grief, pain, and sadness distress the heart of even the most trusting sheep. Yet, the distress of the valley dissipates when we remind ourselves one the goodness of the shepherd.

David says that even though he walks through those valleys, he does so without fear. No matter what is lurking in the darkness behind the cleft, the Shepherd is with him. The Shepherd carries a rod and a staff to both protect and guide the sheep to safety. No matter what carnivorous wolves salivating in the darkness, the shepherd will protect his sheep from the blood lust of their enemies. He will make sure that his sheep pass through the valley safely and without harm. This is why David says that the shepherd’s rod and staff are a comfort to him. He knows that God is not an impotent God, unaware and caught of guard by the darkness. Rather, he is the courageous shepherd who is ready to defend at any moment.

What comfort for us as the people of God! God is not only all loving and all knowing, but he is all powerful. What voracious enemy threatens you when God is your shepherd? Who will be able to overcome the strength of the Almighty? God is the protector of his sheep. He does not disappoint, therefore the sheep can have utmost trust in their shepherd as one who is more than able to defend them from harm.

v. 5-6 - The image then shifts from one of shepherding to feasting. God is the host who prepares a table for his guests. He does this in the presence of the enemies. Though they swarm, God lavishes his protective love on his children.  To prepare a meal and eat a meal with another was a sign of intimacy, affection, honor, and love. God lavishes all of those on us as he prepares that table. He pours out the anointing oil on our head and he fills our cup till it overflows. The imagery of all this is clear; God lavishes his children with blessing, kindness, and love. It does not matter what enemies there may be, he delights in his sheep and he cares for them.

Because of God’s extravagant care, protection, and love for his sheep as the good shepherd, David knows that goodness and mercy will follow him all of his life. If God is for him, who can be against him? As we are recipients of God’s divine love we leave a trail of evidence of God’s goodness and mercy, no matter how long or dark the valleys may be. He is a God who brings us into his presence and we dwell with him for ever.

What a beautiful image of comfort and what an expression of trust! Yet, how much greater does the beauty of Psalm 23 increase as we dwell on the good shepherd Jesus Christ who lays down his life for the sheep? Jesus leads our soul by giving up his life for our good. God anoints our head with the lavish, priceless blood of his own son. He lavishes us with every spiritual blessing as our cup overflows into an ever growing ocean of divine grace.

Jesus stands in the upper room as his enemies surrounded him. He prepares a table for his disciples and says eat and drink the body and blood of the son. As Jesus set down his goblet of wine, he goes into the garden prepared to have the cup of God’s wrath poured out on him. The overflow of blessings we receive from God is only possible because the overflow of divine judgement was poured on Jesus. Judgement and wrath followed Jesus at the end of his life, so that you could have goodness and mercy follow you into eternal life. It is through the death of the good shepherd that we are brought into the house of God. The good shepherd becomes the lamb who takes away the sin of the world.

By the blood of Christ, we are brought into the permeant rest of vibrant emerald pasture and running crystal waters. We are lead into the great wedding feast of the lamb as we eat at that divinely prepared table of unending nourishment and celebration. We will pass through the valley of darkness through the blood of the protective shepherd; on that day when the valley of death is behind us, our shepherd will lead us to the land of rest and there we shall dwell with our shepherd in ceaseless joy and an ever expanding satisfaction forever more.

Prayer Guide

  • What situation has you stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed? Share that with the Lord.
  • Praise God for the ways he cares for you as your good shepherd.
  • Ask the Lord to help you trust in him, knowing that he will never let you down.
  • Thank God for the good shepherd named Jesus who by his life and death brings you into enteral rest.

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 17

Have you ever been so frustrated and so hurt that all you can do is pray? Psalm 17 is a prayer of lament from King David. David is being attacked unjustly by another individual and he cries out to God in hope. How should Christians respond when we are unjustly criticized or accused of wrong doing? Well, as we look at psalm 17, David’s prayer will  help us learn to pray in such situations. Praying the Psalms


v. 1-2 - David begins crying out to God in prayer, seeking his attention. David is again expressing personal suffering unjustly, accused by his enemies.  So, he cries out to God, the great arbiter of justice, to hear his plea and case. David comes before God to plea his case, because he trusts in the judgement and justice of God. God is not fooled by the deceitful lies and subtle twisting of tongues that so often dominates the judicial courts of humanity. God has no concern for popular consensus or opinion, rather God is a God of truth. David, knowing that he has been unjustly accused has confidence to go to God, the just judge, to get the account straight.

v. 3-5 - David then begins to plead his innocence before God. He tells God that he has tried his heart. God knows everything there is to know about David. Whether by day or by night, God has visited him and knows it all. David challenges God to examine him and he will find innocence. Though David is accused by others, he seeks God to have the final word. David's mouth has not transgressed. He has avoided the ways of the violent. His steps have held firm on the narrow path and have not slipped.

Now David's plea for innocence does not mean that David considered himself sinless, but rather David sees himself as seeking to live righteously under the law of God. The stones that his enemies are throwing at him for sin are unjust. There are no evidence for their accusations. David pleads his case as he has been examined by God and found innocence. The accusations have nothing to do with David's own life or character, but only from the malice of the enemies.

v. 6-9 - David then turns in this next stanza to pray and call out to God. He asks for God to incline his ear and hear his words.  He knows that God is a fitting refuge for him. God is a safe place to lean on in times of tribulation. He requests that God would protect him from his enemies. David knows that God is a safe place because God has his eye on him. Indeed David is the apple of his eye. David can safely reside in the shadow of God's wings. There is no safer place to be than in the arms of the living God. From those enemies that seek David harm and who surround him, God is a refuge for him.

v. 10-12 - David then begins to ponder on the malicious aggression of his enemies.  They have no pity; they only seek to devour. They are predators on the prowl. They surround like a pack of wolves, bent on bringing their prey to the ground. They are like lions lurking in the shrubs waiting to pounce and tear a part David's flesh.

Sometimes as Christians we will have enemies just like the ones David had. There is a hatred and an intention to destroy at any cost. As the church becomes increasingly marginalized in our country, we too will feel the deadly blood-thirst of our enemies as they plot our destruction. Sometimes following Christ, means making enemies, not because you are seeking to make them, but rather because following God runs contrary to the ways of the world. Therefore, men and women of evil and blindness begin to gather, lurk, and tear apart the people of God.

[Tweet "As the church becomes marginalized in our country, we feel the deadly blood-thirst of our enemies."]

v. 13-14 - Here, God is summoned for action. "Arise, O Lord! Confront him, subdue him!" This man who has such vicious hatred for David is to be taken out. David is crying out for deliverance from this man. Then the Psalm moves to some profound reflections on the nature of the wicked and the hope of the righteous. Men, who are like David's accuser, find hope only in this life. Though wicked men among us might be financially prosperous and wield great worldly success, that is the extent of their hope. Their portion is only in this life. Though they may have children, their riches cannot go with them to the grave. Their abundance is passed down to their children.

One of the great questions is the prosperity of the wicked? Why are so many wicked people so visibly prosperous while so many good and righteous people are in poverty? Well, David begins to look at things from God's perspective. Though the wicked might enjoy 70 years of wealth, comfort, and power, what is 70 years compared to 100 billion years? Even 100 billion is but a scratch on the surface to the unfathomable idea of eternity. David begins to recognize that his hope is not in a comfortable life now, but his hope is in a life to come.

v. 15 - David's confidence is found in God himself. He concludes his lament by reflecting on his true treasure. Though the wicked might have wealth and power, David’s hope is in the righteousness of God. Isn't that our hope as well? We don't need riches and we don't need comfort and we don't need fame. We need the righteousness of Jesus. We need God. And by the grace of God, His son is sent to liberate us from the bondage of sin and gift us with his righteousness! Our hope is not in this world, but in God himself.

So as David falls into the deep sleep of death, when he wakes he will be satisfied with likeness of God. We have this hope too. No matter what enemies might attack us, those made righteous by Christ set their hope on the life to come. Our reward is not temporal treasures, but the eternal and satisfying treasure of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayer Guide

  • What enemies are attacking you? Call out to God for help.
  • Ask God to help trust him as you refuge.
  • Ask God for strength and protection from the lions.
  • Trust in God’s wisdom in confronting and subduing your enemies.
  • Regardless of what happens, ask God to help you to find hope in Christ, not in this world.

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 12

How do we pray when our leaders have forked tongues and a crooked smile? Politicians have a reputation for saying anything to get a vote. They make grandiose promises and they will tickle ears to appease a group only to say the opposite behind close doors. News anchors embellish and speak half truths when reporting a story. Business leaders cook the books or hide assets in illegal tax shelters. As we look at the world today, honesty seems to be missing and truth telling is absent. It is hard to know who is speaking truth and who is speaking lies. And so we come to that opening question, how do we pray when our leaders have forked tongues and a crooked smile? This is exactly the question David, the psalmist, seeks to answer in Psalm 12. Liars seem to be everywhere and his lament leads him to unshakeable trust in the truthful purity of the words of God.



v. 1–2 - The situation of David’s lament is laid out in these first two verses. The urgent plea is found in the first word, “Save.” The godly seem to be absent and gone. The ones who are faithful to God seem to have vanished among men. Everyone left utters lies with flapping lips and a deceitful heart. Everyone, particularly the nation’s leadership, seems to be intent on deceit. You can’t trust anyone and evil motivations seems to be hiding behind words of flattery. Truth telling and truth speaking is absent from the culture, and lies and deceit lurk publicly in the open square.

As we look at the world in which we live, it is amazing how humanity has not changed since David’s day. Through sound bites and new clips, tweets and status updates there are hay stacks of falsehood we must sort through to find the needle of truth. Everywhere around us their is falsehood. There are grand and extravagant promises made by a company if you would only buy their product. There are models that are “photshoped” to look a certain way. There are politicians that dodge questions to avoid speaking truthfully. The media spins every story they get to support their own agenda. Just as it was for David, falsehood surrounds us and the godly people who speak truth are absent.

v. 3–4 - David then begins to pray that God would remove the wicked people who are defined by their flattering lips. David prays that God would take these people and would remove the source of their great confidence——their deceitful tongues. There is a certain amount of arrogance that comes with being a perpetual liar. Their is a prideful self-confidence in their own ability to spin truth to their own advantage and to hide truth by covering it with lies. Those who practice such falsehood conclude, “Who is master over us?” Those who practice such habitual trickery and deception think they will never get caught. There is an idolatrous self-centeredness at the heart of every false word bent on its on self-preservation and self-exaltation. David’s prayer is that these liars would be exposed for who they are and that God would remove their very tongues if necessary.

v. 5–6 - The situation seems bleak. The poor are plundered and the needy groan. Yet, there is hope. David knows that the Lord will arise. He will take those oppressed by the lying snakes and bring them into his own safety. God is against the liars and will stand up against them in opposition. Though they seem like they have no master, the Lord will one day put them in their place. David recognizes that the Lord is the complete opposite from these forked tongue leaders.

David states that “the word of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times”. The Lord always speaks truth. He doesn’t not conceal truth in falsehood or disguise truth through vain flattery. His words are pure just like silver that has been purified through a furnace seven times. The word of the Lord is without blemish, spot, or corruption. Though we may live in the world’s web of lies, God’s word is reliably true. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). As a result we can trust that his word is true. This is why the Scriptures are reliable and true. If the Bible was given to us by God as he inspired human authors to write his word, we know that all of the Scriptures must be true. It is not corrupted silver where we have to refine through the furnace of hyper-criticalism to discern which part of the Bible is true and which is false. Rather, because God is truth and does not lie, his word cannot have falsehood in it. The reason the Bible is reliable in speaking truth is because God himself is truth. His word is pure.

This can provide great hope as we live in such a sly and fraudulent world. As we interact with our fellow men and women we wonder, who can we trust and who is reliable? Who will love me enough to speak truthfully and not flatter me for their own selfish gain? Whose word is reliable? The answer to these questions is God himself. David recognizes this. Though everyone around him has flattering lips, he trusts and places his hope in the Lord whose words are pure. As we look at the confusion today and the falsehood that surrounds us, we too can trust in the purity and truthfulness of the word of God.

Not only has God spoken his word, but he sent his word into the world. “The word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). Jesus Christ is the word of God made flesh. In Jesus is truth and in him is purity. Jesus’ coming is the arising of God from his throne and Jesus is the safety for the poor and needy. There is refuge and comfort in truth, and that truth is a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. Through the Gospel message of God’s redemption of sinners and through the atoning death of Jesus, those who are oppressed by liars can be protected in the safety of the gifted purity of Jesus.

v. 7–8 - The Psalm moves from lament to praise. David concludes that even though wicked may be on every side and though falsehood and vileness may be on the prowl against men, the Lord will keep us. He will guard us from the fork-tongue men and women all around us.

In JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, there is a deceitful man speaking lies to the Théodon of Rohan named Grima. The people called him Wormtongue. He whispered lies into the ear of the king. He was a master of deceit and used his flattering lips to manipulate Théodon, the ruler of the people of Rohan. The white wizard Gandalf who passed through from death to life in his fight against the Balrog comes before Wormtongue and says,

The wise speak only of what they know, Gríma son of Gálmód. A witless worm have you become. Therefore be silent, and keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a serving-man till the lightning falls.

As we think about Jesus, the author of truth, I’m sure Jesus will say something very similar to the legion of liars that lead our world today. These witless worms will be made silent. For the Lord Jesus Christ did not pass from death and life to listen to their crooked words. One day Christ will return and the lightening will fall and the forked tongues will be cut from the mouth’s of liars and truth will rule again.

Prayer Guide

  • Present your concerns to the Lord concerning liars who are in authority.
  • Ask the Lord to remove the corrupt from power and leadership.
  • Thank God for the reliability and purity of his word as truth.
  • Thank God for protecting the weak through Jesus, the word of God incarnate.
  • Ask God to help you trust in him and in his promised victory that will come when Christ returns.

Praying the Psalms: Psalm 11

The Psalms are not just songs, but prayers. By studying the Psalms we can learn how to better pray and engage in communion with God. Each Thursday I’ll be posting a commentary and prayer guide for the Psalms to help us learn and practice prayer. There are moments in our lives that feel like total chaos. The world seems to be spinning and we seem to be sinking in a whirlpool of hostility. It is in these moments, to which Psalm 11 speaks. This Psalm of David is a meditation in which David is preaching to his own soul in his moment of crises. David reminds himself that God is trustworthy and still on his throne though his life seems so out of control. There is great wisdom in learning to preach to ones wandering heart, and this psalm is an example of David reminding his own soul of God’s power and stability though David feels weak and unstable.


v 1–3 - The first stanza of the Psalm describes the perils of David’s crises. He begins in verse one telling himself to take refuge in the Lord. The idea of the Lord being a refuge is a reoccurring theme throughout the psalter. God is a safe house and a shelter in the chaos. He is a safe place and a protection. Though God is a refuge, it is easy for even the faithful to doubt in that divine protective shelter. Sometimes the wind whirls so powerfully, the hail so large, or the monsoon to thick, that we begin to doubt if God protection and refuge will really survive the destructive weather of chaos. David knows his own heart is prone to run away and flee rather than trust in God as shelter. He speaks to his own soul asking what’s the point in such hopelessness. Why flee like a bird to the mountain when the wicked are fitting an arrow directed towards the upright in heart? Though the very foundation of worldly security seem to be destroyed, it is not appropriate to hopelessly declare “What can the righteous do?”

Davids soul is doubting God’s ability to be his refuge. He is despondent heart and trusting in the Lord seems to impractical compared to the whirling tempest of evil that surrounds him. We too can be so very discouraged from taking refuge in God. As we witness the pandemonium and lawlessness that makes up our present age, it is easy for us to think that trusting in God will do us little good. When our souls feel to be in disarray, it is to easy to doubt God’s goodness or his power. Yet, it is in those moments that we need to speak truth to our broken hearts and encourage them with the truth. Though we may be paralyzed by the trouble of the moment we must turn our attention to the truth. This is exactly what David does.

v. 4–7 - This second stanza is David’s mini-sermon to his own heart, reminding himself of God’s character and power. Even though the wicked have David in their cross-hairs, “The LORD is in his holy temple”. God is in his throne and he is ruling and aware of all that is happening. His eyes see. Though God may feel distant or absent from our present trauma, he is very well aware. Yet, he is not only aware but he is on his throne in heaven ruling. God wields complete sovereignty over all that happens. Nothing happens without his ruling hand allowing it to happen. Whatever evil may befall in this life, nothing happens without his sovereign hand allowing it to happen. Though God does not perform evil, it is his sovereign wisdom that allows such things to happen, even to his saints.

Why does God permit such evil to happen, especially to his children? Well David reminds himself that often God permits trails in order to “test the children of man”. God in his goodness often tests the faithfulness of the righteous. This is why James could say, “Count it all, my brothers, when you meet trails of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (Jm 1:2–3). For the people of God is is a joyous thing to encounter such trails, because through this testing God is sanctifying us and conforming us ever to his image. David’s life is an example here in Psalm 11. This moment of crises, whatever it may be, is forcing him to trust the Lord as his refuge. This trial is growing him but making him more dependent on God. God allows evil things to befall his children, because those evil acts are used by God for his children’s good. The wonderfully wise providence of God uses what others meant for evil to shape his people for their good. We see a specific example of this in the life of Joseph in Genesis.

When it comes to the wicked, God hates the one who loves violence. Those who practice such evil, God is in direct opposition to them. Though God may use the evil of this world and use it for the good of his people, this does not mean that God is pleased by or condones the actions of the wicked. Rather, the sovereign Lord who sits on his throne will bring them to account for their actions. Those who viciously set their eyes on destroying the covenant people of God will face the stern and just anger of the one who sits on his throne in heaven. David understands this and affirms that God will one day rain coals on the wicked. “Fire and sulfur and scorching will shall be the portion of their cup”. This is a direct allusion to the terrible fate of Sodom and Gomorra in which God brought down his stern and ferocious wrath on those cities. In our present moments of crises we must remind ourselves that the wicked who seek our harm will one day receive their due. Though God may not execute his justice immediately in our present circumstances, one day the wicked will receive the portion of their cup.

The final verse affirms that the Lord is on the side of the righteous. He loves those who love him and obey him. Those who are pure in heart will see God. The upright will behold his face in glorious splendor. As we think about this Psalm in the context of the whole canon of Scripture, we are thankful that it is Jesus alone who purchases for us this privilege. God in his incredible mercy used the death of Christ to make us righteous. Though we are all sinners and though we deserve the fire of sulfur upon our heads, Jesus took our cup upon himself. God poured out the cup of his wrath upon his son Jesus on the cross. By grace, God overs us the righteousness of his son Jesus. As we trust in the crucified and resurrected Christ, we have the glorious promise that we too will one day see him face to face. Through Christ we know God and come into a relationship with God. This is the glorious good news of the Gospel.

The message of this psalm is clear enough. When our wandering hearts begin to doubt God’s goodness and power, we must remind ourselves that he is a trustworthy refuge. God is on his throne. He opposes the wicked and will protect the cause of the righteous. When our hearts in desperation say, “What can the righteous do?”, we know the answer. Take refuge in the Lord, because the Lord is in his holy temple.

Prayer Guide

  • What is your crises moment? Share that with the Lord
  • Confess thoughts that demonstrate a lack of trust in God
  • Praise the Lord that he is in control and able to use the evil against you for your good.
  • Thank the Lord that he is on the side of the righteous, and through Christ has made you righteous.
  • Ask God to help you trust in him as your refuge.

Panting for the Word of God

"I open my mouth and pant because I long for your commandments" - Psalm 119:131 I love that verse.  It is convicting every time I read it.  The imagery of that verse is just so powerful.  I imagine a guy who is wondering around in the dessert for hours and hours without a drop to drink.  His mouth is panting, longing, for just one drop of water to quench his dry and dusty throat.  Rather, instead of water the Psalmist is panting for the Word of God.  He desires God's word so much that he is literally longing for it.

In a day and age where Bibles are everywhere, on our shelves, in our cars, behind our pews, on our phones, I feel like we have lost the preciousness of God's word.  It is ironic, that in the day where the Bible is more readily available than ever, our desire for the scriptures seem to be non existent.  Most of us don't pant for the scriptures, we pant for entertainment, food, comfort, and sin.

May this verse convict us in such a way that beg for God to gives us a desire for His word like the image described.

The following is a powerful video of the Kimyal people receiving the Scriptures in their own language for the first time.  If you want to see what it looks like to pant for God's word this is it: