Although I generally keep my faith fairly low key on this particular blog (as it’s main purpose is not to talk about faith but instead about mental health issues) today I wanted to share something that has been on my heart.
As a Christian who suffers from Mental health issues, including depression and suicidal ideation, I am very much aware of what these things can do to you.
They can make you feel so worthless and remove the site of any hope, as well as potentially leading you to urges to self-harm and indeed thoughts of ending it all etc. they can undermine your faith and indeed your self-worth.
Psalm 23 has always been important to me and has been on my heart for a while now. It can also, I believe speak directly into many of those self-harm, suicidal ideation and lack of self-worth issues that I talked about.
So today I thought I would look at Psalm 23 and take a look at it specifically in respect of those issues and the comfort and assurances and encouragements that it can offer…
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
I wonder if you have ever considered the role of the Shepherd? What he does? What kind of person he is? What he offers or provides for the sheep?
Historically the shepherding was usually done by the young son of the father – sound familiar in a Christian context? He tended the sheep, looked after them. He knows the sheep, recognizes them, knows their characteristics, natures, personalities. Knows which ones need a lot of looking after and which ones need a lot of watching lol.
He provides belonging and indeed security, protection, nutrition, guidance.
Does he keep them from death entirely? No of course not death – at least death on this earth – comes to us all, but he protects and keeps them until the time is right for them. Doing all he can to keep them from wandering into places where untimely death is a very real threat.
How often does that suicidal ideation bring us to those dangerous places where an untimely death is possible? This is not his desire for us and he will do all he can to lead us away from there. (As we will see) But we do need to listen to his voice and trust in him – something that can be so very hard at times I know.
We are part of his flock, his sheep and they are his and he cares for them and provides for them. So in truth (despite thoughts top the contrary) I am his, we are his, and he cares for us and provides for us and no matter what the depression says, no matter what the poor self-image or the damaging voices or thoughts of worthlessness may say the fact is that is true and the fact it that we belong and he desires for us to belong.
Does not this psalm talk and indeed the very first verse speak of that, establish that? “The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.”
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
The shepherd wants us to lie down in green pastures green pastures are a sign of provision, safety and security. Soft grass to lay on and to graze on. Not rocky roads, not bramble-filled hedge rows.
The key words here for me are ‘lie down’. I have no doubt, from my understanding of the Bible and indeed from my own personal experience of life that there will indeed be rocky roads and bramble-filled hedge rows along our journey, but does he want for us to remain on them? To rest of them? No not at all. It is in green pastures where he wants for us to lay down. And check out this next bit if you are unsure.
he leads me beside quiet waters,
“Quiet waters” are a representation of peace and tranquility and again of provision – for do we all not need to drink? Where is it safest to drink? In a noisy rapid moving stream or in the quiet stiller waters?
And again check out the key words in this sentence – He “leads me”. The expression is not ‘sends me’ or ‘drives me’ but ‘leads me’. There is no separation here. We have not been sent off alone but instead he is taking us with him, we are together.
3 he refreshes my soul.
Some have described the soul as being the essence of who we are – mind (reasoning, intellect, information, memory etc), will and emotions. So bearing this in mind, check out that word – “refreshes“‘.
In the original Hebrew the word used here is ‘שׁוּב’ or ‘shûb’ and it means to refresh or to restore. Ever wondered why that word is there?
All too often, in my opinion, we have soft-sold Christianity and faith, giving the impression that in Christ we should have no difficulties or trials or illnesses or hurts. This is simply not true in my opinion and the fact is that we will have trials and difficulties and illnesses and hurts and we will get tired and weak.
“He refreshes (or restores) my soul“. Why? Because my soul, your soul, is no doubt going to encounter difficult times and suffer weakness and tiredness along the way and so those damaging, harmful doubting voices which base their condemnations or sew those seeds of doubt on our weaknesses and tiredness have no power and no truth because we all get that way and God knows we will and His word not only acknowledges it but makes provision for it.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Again the key word here is “guides” and again the picture is not one being ‘sent’ but one being ‘led’. It is in fact in the Hebrew the word ‘נחה’ or ‘nâchâh’ and that means to ‘bring’ to ‘guide’ to ‘lead’.
And why? Because of anything we have earned? No not at all but for HIS name sake not our. Thus we cannot say or think that we are ‘unworthy of’ or ‘unacceptable for’ this as it is because of him and not because of us that he does this.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, (Or 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.
There is potential imminent danger and sadness here isn’t there? The “darkest valley” or “the valley of the shadow of death“. How many of us have known those dark valleys? How many of us who suffer from suicidal ideation have had that shadow of death fall upon us?
And yet even in these potentially dangerous and dark times there is a promise of hope and security here. “I will fear no evil“ Why? Because “You are with me” and “Your rod and your staff they comfort me“.
Yes there is certainly hope and security to be taken from those words. And again we need to recognize that the presence of “dark valleys” and “shadows of death” are acknowledged as being something that we will experience.
The rod and the staff offer authority, protection and security and are integral tools for the shepherd and we understand and recognize this and we know their need and place in our lives. The rod protecting us from the prowling wolves and the staff guiding us and directing us and also being used to pluck us from the mire.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
And not only does the shepherd keep us from that danger and from that untimely death but he prepares “a table before me“. He feeds us and provides us all that we need for life.
And what is more he does it “in the presence of my enemies“. We don’t have to wait until everything is safe and sound before he provides for our future. He does it throughout it all. So secure, so powerful is his authority and are his abilities that he can do this even whilst danger is around us. And again there is that recognition that danger is around us.
You anoint my head with oil;
‘anointing with oil‘ in the bible has a number of uses, healing, protection, a sign of importance or worth. Oil in those days was by no means cheap. If you are having your head anointed with oil it is a sign of your being worth something, being valued.
When those poor or harmful self-image or self-worth doubts come this is an excellent thing to remember. “You anoint my head with oil.” We are worth something! We are valued!
my cup overflows.
I love this simple statement. “my cup overflows“ Not only do you provide what I need but even more than that. And I like that statement for another reason…
Many years ago I was at some celebration or another and an expensive bottle of champagne was opened and shared around. It was poured into the first glass with great pleasure and happiness and with too much enthusiasm. So naturally it fizzed up and overflowed out of the glass.
Not wishing for any of the valuable drink to be wasted others placed their glasses underneath in order to catch as much of the overflow as possible.
How much more valuable is his provision for us? When it overflows, are we to waste it or to share it with others? I think the answer is pretty obvious here – we are to share it with others.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
“Surely“ it is a statement not a question. Take a look at the whole sentence, there is no question mark here. Positively, certainly, your goodness and love with follow me…
Goodness and love cannot follow someone unless goodness and love is what they have with them and what they have shown and shared. The legacy we leave to our children is built of what we have shown to or shared with our children.
And we are not only talking about the legacy we leave behind after our life on earth is over. Not at all. Take a look at the rest of this line will follow me “all the days of my life“.
This is a constant thing a here and now thing.
If “surely“, or positively or certainly, “goodness” and “love” are that which is to follow us then “surely“, positively and certainly, “goodness” and “love” is what we need to be sharing and leaving behind us not only when we die but after each conversation, each encounter with someone, each interaction.
Now obviously none of us are perfect and we are going to mess up every now and again and indeed fail in this, but it is good target to have is it not?
And surely that “goodness” and “love” is made possible because of all the thing that the Lord has and is and will do for us. For it comes first from him, then to us and then through us to others – my cup overflows.
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
And here is that glorious promise! “and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever“.
The shepherd will, if we; listen to him, stay close to him, rely on him, and trust in him, even and especially in those times of darkest trouble bring us through it all and will do so until our time is right and even beyond it so that through him we can secure that glorious prize – the one intended for us all. eternal life with him.
So there you have it. Why psalm 23 is such an important psalm to me and why I think it can bring such comfort in times of darkness and when the depression and the urges to self-harm or when the suicidal ideation hit.