How Psalm 23 Overwhelms Every Loss

How Psalm 23 Overwhelms Every Loss

I memorized Psalm 23 as a child. I also remember a period of time in South Africa when Kim and I taught Psalm 23 to our children. Morning after morning they would attempt to repeat the psalm. It was work, but they did it. Memorization can be a brutal process. But dividends are worth the investment.

“This psalm dries more crying eyes, raises more drooping hands, and strengthens more weakened knees than any man or angel.” Tim Challies, Seasons of Sorrow

Psalm 45:1 states, “My heart overflows with a good theme; I address my verses to the King; My tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” Psalm 23 is filled and overflowing with good themes. My pen is the tongue of this ready writer.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Psalm 23:1

In the midst of pain, the truth remains that the Lord is a shepherd. I’ve heard more sermons than I can count about the helplessness of sheep. I understand now more than ever. In any and every circumstance, you don’t have to want for anything. You have a shepherd. You have no lack. As Jamie Dew says in his book, Let This Mind Be in You, “…because David had God, he had everything that he both needed and wanted. He was satisfied.” But the most potent aspect to this psalm is the LORD is our shepherd. The great I AM is our shepherd. The all-sufficient one is who we press into and rest upon.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” Psalm 23:2

In the brown wasteland called loss, he gives green pastures. Rest and reflection are gifts that lead to healing, and he provides the protective grace of green pastures. In the rapids of grief, he provides calm waters.

“He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” Psalm 23:3

In the brokenness of life, he brings restoration. He reminds you that in your horrible and tragic micro story, you are a part of a macro story of redemption. Through the darkness of life and loss, he leads us on the righteous path. You can bank on it because it’s not for your sake. He leads you for his name’s sake.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4

While reading about grief, I learned that grief often presents as fear. I found it to be true. You fear an unknown future. Worse, you fear a known future. You know your loved one is gone—this valley of death—and you know your life is forever altered. And yet, as you walk through this valley of death marked by dark shadows, you learn that you don’t have to fear evil. Not because of your own bravery. Because he is constantly fulfilling an age-old promise. He is Immanuel, God with us. We don’t fear because he is with us. A shepherd’s rod was emblematic of his knowledge of each of his sheep. His staff symbolized his care, protection, and guidance. His rod and staff communicate and deliver comfort, symbolizing his presence. He is with us.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5

Loss is ground zero for war with the enemy of our souls. Loss is a skirmish with evil. The shadow of death is the very essence of our broken world. And at ground zero God prepares a table for a feast. He anoints our head with oil—a sign of his blessing and peace—which is a salve or balm for our souls. In the shadow of death our cups overflow with the story of redemption. Ignoring sight at that moment and reaching for faith, we come to recognize we are blessed beyond measure!

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalms 23:6

The pit of despair is a good place to remember the story of redemption. Our stories of loss are told as sub-stories to his grand story. His story reminds us that our stories, regardless of the pain, are marked with goodness and mercy through all of our days—the good days and the bad days. No matter what valley we dwell in today, we will dwell in the Lord’s house forever.

“He shepherds you from eternally undiminishing fulness, and he is never the poorer for it.” David Gibson, The LORD of Psalm 23: Jesus Our Shepherd, Companion, and Host

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11

“With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.” Psalm‬ ‭78:72

“…two thousand years ago, in the Lord Jesus Christ, the shepherd King became the Lamb slain.” Matt Smethurst, Before You Share Your Faith

“…the Lord my Shepherd leads me, wheresoe’er He will; In the fresh green pastures feeds me, by the waters still.” Gerhardt Ter Steegen, Hymns of Ter Steegen and Others


  1. Becky

    So true. I’ve found myself going to Psalm 23 in my mind more often than ever in this valley of grief. It is very soothing.

    • D. Ray Davis

      Amen, Becky. I am so glad you are responding to the Word you have hidden in your heart. The Spirit reminds us and draws us to what we know to give us a biblical perspective. Amanda and I are praying for you…

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