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Psalm 23
The Lord is my Shepherd
The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want

Psalm 23 

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The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want 

Psalm 23 is probably one of the best known passages in the Bible, but sometimes we can become so familiar with the words that we may forget the meaning behind them.  

So often the words can come across as just another platitude to make us feel better, when in reality they not only bring comfort, but are also very challenging words.  

Words which challenge us to have complete confidence and total trust in God's ability to shepherd us. Words which challenge us to rely on God's promises to protect us and provide for our every need. Words which challenge us to give God full control of our lives. Words which challenge us to have a real personal relationship with God knowing that we belong to Him and are safe and secure in His care. 

Think about what the words of this Psalm mean to you. Do you just think it is a nice poem which somebody else has written or can you also call the words your own? Do you let the words penetrate deep into your heart recognising your need for a Good Shepherd in your life? Like the Psalmist, do you truly know the Lord as your Shepherd?  


There was once a competition for the best public reading of Psalm 23 and among the competitors were an actor and an elderly clergyman. The actor recited the Psalm powerfully and without a flaw. Eventually it was the minister's turn and, in a rather faltering voice, he began, 'The Lord is my Shepherd'. At the end of the competition the judges put their heads together and announced the prize went to the minister. 'I'm sorry you didn't win,' said the old man to the actor, 'I think you deserved to'. But the actor replied quietly, 'Not at all, there was one big difference, I know the Psalm, but you know the Shepherd.'  

Many people can recite this Psalm but the true meaning only comes alive when you know in your heart that the Lord is your Shepherd. The knowledge of that relationship not only comforts and strengthens us but also it challenges us to look into our hearts, to see the love the Good Shepherd has for us and to respond by faithfully following Him and committing our lives to Him.  

A few years ago I was given this bracelet by a church congregation that I did some work with and it was a very thoughtful gift as each colourful bead or charm represents the verses from Psalm 23 and as I wear this bracelet it reminds me that God is always with me; that He is my Shepherd; that I belong to Him forever and nothing can separate me from His love. Wearing the bracelet is also a way of proclaiming to others that the Lord is my Shepherd while also challenging me to hold true to that relationship. 


The Psalmist declares in verse 1 that, 'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.' It is a bold statement which speaks of a personal relationship with God.  

When we look at each word individually, it shows the power of this statement :  

In saying 'The' it makes it clear there is only one Lord - there is no one but Him.  

Saying 'Lord' acknowledges the Lord as creator and ruler of all.  

'Is' states that the relationship is present tense - not was or will be but is right now. 'Is' also makes clear the Psalmist's assurance - there are no ifs or maybes or hopes but rather the Lord is my Shepherd.  

'My' makes it personal - He doesn't say the Lord is the Shepherd or the Lord is our Shepherd but rather the Lord is my Shepherd.  

The word 'Shepherd' states the nature of the relationship but it goes beyond merely feeding, guarding and guiding the sheep. It implies rulership, a relationship of provision and authority to receiving and obeying. Even with this authority, a shepherd is the sheep's companion and true friend.  

'I' again emphasises the personal nature of the relationship.  

'Shall' means it is guaranteed both now and forever.  

'Not' says never will I have a need that is not taken care of as long as I accept the promise of the Lord.  

'Want' doesn't mean I can ask for anything I want and he will provide it like a genie granting every wish but rather it means that needs will be met.  

Only when you can say, 'The Lord is my Shepherd can you say 'I shall not want' - the second part of the statement is dependent on the first.  

So can you truly say that the Lord is your Shepherd and that you are His sheep? Maybe you are happy to call the Lord your Shepherd but are you happy to be known as a sheep?  

Sheep are not the brightest of creatures - they're stupid and stubborn - would we not rather be likened to a soaring eagle or a cunning tiger!? But the point is that no one cares for the sheep in the same way that a shepherd does and despite their stupidity, the shepherd still shows continual care for His sheep.  

A good Shepherd is all a sheep needs since a good shepherd, by his very nature will always provide and protect his sheep at all costs giving each one individual care. The good shepherd knows and understands his sheep but the sheep also need to know the shepherd and to listen to his voice - it is a relationship.  

We are His sheep, but, will you allow the Lord to be your Shepherd?  

The Psalmist says that when the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. We live in a consumer culture where most of society wants everything. So many people are trapped in a 'prison of want' - always wanting something better - a new car, a new job, a new house, a new relationship and they assume that getting that one thing will give them satisfaction and yet if they do get it, they end up just wanting more!  

It can be so easy to be seduced into thinking that happiness comes from getting everything you want instead of recognizing and wanting what you already have. So often we are more aware of what we don't have and can become consumed by what we lack instead of grateful for our many blessings - driven to get more instead of content to celebrate enough.  

True contentment isn't found in having an abundance of wealth but rather it is found in knowing you already have a wealth of abundance. A relationship with God brings true contentment - He is our satisfaction, in fact he exceeds whatever we may think we desire. As the Psalmist says, 'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.' 

In a sense this first verse summarises the whole Psalm, while the rest of the Psalm speaks of why this statement is true.  

In his book, 'I shall not want', Robert Ketchum tells the story of a Sunday School teacher who asked if any of the kids could quote the entire Psalm 23 :  

A four year old girl raised her hand and the teacher was a bit sceptical whether she could recite the whole Psalm. However, the little girl stood up, faced the class, bowed and said, 'The Lord is my Shepherd, that's all I want.' She then bowed and sat down again.  

The girl may have missed a few verses, but she really captured the Psalmist's heart of being utterly contented in the Shepherd's care and not desiring anything else but that. 

When you truly know the Lord as your Shepherd, you know you have a God who hears you, you have the power of love behind you, the Holy Spirit within you, all heaven ahead of you, you have grace for every sin, direction for every turn, a candle for every corner, and an anchor for every storm - you have everything you need.  

May we truly know the confidence and contentment which is found from a relationship with God and may we like the Psalmist be able to boldly say from deep within our hearts that, 'The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.  

Iona Pringle, 2013


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