Psalms for Families: Devotions for All Ages, Psalm 23
Psalms for Families, by Robert J. Keeley and Laura Keeley, is a devotional book for the entire family designed to help parents explore the riches of the book of Psalms with their children and teens. These devotionals will help parents learn more about the psalms as they teach their children about praise, prayer, and lament. This book contains four devotionals on each of our selected psalms as well as notes for adults that provide additional information and background.
A psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Your presence in our lives gives us great comfort. We remember that we are always in your care. When we are afraid, we know that you are there. Your goodness and your love are with us as long as we live. Thank you for the blessing of knowing that you care for us and that we will live with you forever. Amen.
Devotional 1: Picture This!
Read Psalm 23 together.
Psalm 23 is probably the best-known of all the psalms. Did you recognize the words? Why do you think it is so well-known?
Psalm 23 might be so well-known because it offers us comfort and talks about how God protects us. In Psalm 23, God is compared to a shepherd who is taking care of his sheep. Because God is such a good shepherd for us, we don’t need anything else. The shepherd provides everything we need: food, water, protection, and shelter.
This psalm also lets us know that God is with us as long as we live. He was with us yesterday. He is with us today. He will be with us tomorrow. It makes us feel good to know that God is always with us. This psalm reminds us of that life-long comfort.
Hearing Psalm 23 also puts several pictures into our minds: a shepherd, green pastures, still waters, paths, the valley of death, a rod and a staff, a table, and the house of the Lord.
Enter the Psalm: Take a moment to go through this list of pictures that you just read. Take turns describing what you see in your mind when you hear words like “shepherd” or “green pastures.” Keep going until everyone has had a turn to speak or until you talk about all the pictures.
Devotional 2: Shepherds
In the city where we live, lots of people work in the automotive industry making parts for cars and trucks. People in our community make visors, seats, mirrors, ceiling panels, and lights. One member of our church even researches how much noise a person hears in a car and figures out how to make cars quieter.
Some people in your community may do the same kind of work, or maybe they’re farmers, chemists, builders, or other things. When the Bible was written, many people were shepherds. We even know who some of them were. Jacob took care of his father-in-law’s sheep. Joseph’s brothers were tending the sheep when Jacob sent Joseph out to find them. Moses was tending sheep when God called to him from the burning bush. David was a shepherd, and he came in from the field to be anointed by Samuel.
Now read Psalm 23 again.
The people of Israel understood the life of a shepherd. Sheep provided them with wool for clothes and meat to eat. Making the connection between God and a shepherd was easy for them because they knew what shepherds were like. We don’t really know what shepherds are like though, do we? Learning more about shepherds help us understand what David meant when he wrote “The Lord is my shepherd.”
A shepherd doesn’t just watch sheep, he cares for his sheep. He takes them to where food and water are, and he shelters them from storms. Because sheep do not have claws or teeth to protect themselves, he protects them from other animals that want to eat them. Because the shepherd is there, the sheep are protected, comforted, and fed. Without a shepherd, the sheep would not last long in the wilderness. That’s a pretty good picture of how God cares for us, isn’t it?
Enter the Psalm: Some animals won’t go anywhere unless you drive them—that means you have to get behind the herd and force it to go in a certain direction. Sheep aren’t like that. Sheep need to be led. So when the psalmist uses the image of a shepherd for the Lord, he’s saying that God leads us rather than forces us. What do you think it means that God leads us rather than forces us to do things? Can you think of any examples of what that looks like?
Devotional 3: Valleys
Read Psalm 23:4.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid.
You are with me.
Your shepherd's rod and staff
comfort me. (NIrV)
Valleys can be beautiful. Have you ever been on a vacation to a place that has beautiful valleys? We have. In Great Smokey Mountain National Park we saw some wonderful mountains and valleys. We took pictures, but the pictures are never as beautiful as the real thing—at least ours aren’t.
When we think about valleys we mostly think about nice scenery, because that is all we have experienced. For sheep, though, valleys are more than just pretty pictures. They can be dangerous places. Animals that attack sheep might be lurking behind rocks or in caves in the walls of the valley. When it rains a lot, valleys can fill up with water quickly—that’s called a “flash flood”—and the sheep could be in danger if they’re in the valley when that happens. For sheep and shepherds, valleys can be places of death.
Even though we’re not sheep or shepherds, we know what it can feel like to be in a dangerous valley. We know what it’s like when we are sick or when a friend or relative dies. We know what it means to feel like the whole world is against us. Even though there are probably no predators waiting to attack us from behind rocks, we know what it means to be scared. So we also know what it means to be comforted. Notice that this psalm does not say that we will never be in danger or never be scared. It says that God is with us when we are.
Enter the Psalm: Talk together about some of the “valleys” in your life. Use a time of silence to thank God for being with us in these valleys and then ask God to comfort us in those times. Pray especially for people who are in a valley right now. Remember that God is with us when we are scared.
Devotional 4: Our Shepherd Knows Us
Read Psalm 23.
Psalm 23 is not the only passage in the Bible that compares the Lord to a shepherd. Jesus also said that he was a shepherd—the Good Shepherd. In John 10:11-13 we read,
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
Jesus explains more about what it means to be a good shepherd in this passage. The shepherd isn’t just some hired hand; he knows his sheep and his sheep know him. The sheep know his voice and follow where he leads.
When we say, “The Lord is my shepherd” we are also saying that we are God’s sheep. The Good Shepherd knows his sheep by name, cares for them, lays down his life for them, and gives them eternal life. He knows when we are joyful and he knows when we are sad. He knows when we’re having a good day and when we’re not. He also knows that sometimes we need to be quiet, so, like a shepherd, he leads us to places where we can just be still and pay attention to him. God knows us and he knows what we need. He will always be with us, caring for us and leading us.
Enter the Psalm: Jesus knows us and cares for us. He asks us to care for each other too. Take out your church directory or some other list or schedule that has your name and other names on it. (It could be a soccer schedule, a class list, or something else.) Find your own name. Look at all the other names. Do you know all those people? Pick out five names and write these names on a slip of paper and put them on your refrigerator. Use this list as a reminder to pray for these people this week when you are having quiet time with God.
More—The Lord Is My Shepherd (Notes for Adults)
Psalm 23 is one of the most beloved passages in the Bible, and rightly so. Many Christians memorize this psalm. Just saying the first line reminds us of the entire psalm. But many of us focus on the word “shepherd” when we read the first line. For the people of Israel, the image of the shepherd was also widely used to describe their kings. Therefore, when the writer begins “The Lord is my shepherd,” he may be putting emphasis on the word “my,” stating that even though there are many shepherd-kings in the region, the Lord is his shepherd.
Other parts of this psalm also reflect kingly things. Verses 5 and 6, for example, evoke images of a king receiving an honored guest, someone with whom he is making a covenant. They share a meal, there is anointing, and the guest’s cup is full to overflowing.
One of the poetic devices sometimes used in the psalms is putting the most important line in the exact middle of the psalm. The middle of Psalm 23 is the phrase, “You are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23 is clearly meant to be what it has been for generations: a psalm of comfort.