Back to devotions

The Lord is my shepherd, Part Two

Last month, we began looking at Psalm 23, King David’s much-loved psalm.

Inspired by Ashley LeRoy Wilkerson’s book Psalm 23: Lessons From the Desert, we began to explore the culture and context behind the psalm, recognising the significance of it being a song and how that alters the way we read it.

We also looked a little at David himself — the former shepherd boy — and considered the lens through which he saw the world.

Lastly, we visited the phrase ‘my shepherd’ and reflected on how it not only emphasises relationship but also God’s presence.

Today, we’re going to dig further into this precious song, drawing on an understanding of shepherding culture in light of the salvation offered through Jesus.

Quiet waters

I don’t know about you, but when I originally read about ‘quiet’ waters, I imagined a flowing creek at the bottom of a lush green bank — the air crisp and the water crystal clear.

However, it seems this wasn’t exactly what David had in mind. Remember, the terrain he traversed as a shepherd was largely Middle Eastern desert. And one of the biggest dangers in that region, surprisingly, comes from flash floods.

The rocky limestone mountains cannot absorb rainwater, so when the rains come — which apparently sound like an approaching train — sudden and violent floods occur, filling the canyons carved out by past floods.

These areas are called wadis. Anyone or anything standing in a wadi could be swept away by more than eight feet of water due to the floods referred to as ‘loud waters’.

Yet, when dry, these areas can be really attractive both to livestock and to people passing through as the wadi canyon becomes a bed of superfine sand where small pools of water sometimes collect.

Ashley suggests that this is the terrain referred to by Jesus in the parable about the foolish man who built his house on sand: ‘When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash’ (Matthew 7:27, NLT).

The shepherds understood this danger, so they went looking for ‘quiet waters’. Quiet waters in the Middle East were springs that were somewhat hidden and, though safe, were a little harder to find.

There are many things in our lives that appear to quench our thirst, but lead us into danger. Sometimes the quiet refreshing we need appears hidden and takes time to find, but it’s not only safe but restores the soul. We just need the good shepherd to guide us there.

Right paths

The narrow road we travel as believers is not always as straightforward as we’d like. Life brings its own twists and turns, which is probably the kind of imagery David had in mind when he wrote about ‘paths of righteousness’ (Psalm 23:3, ESV).

‘Right paths’ is another colloquial expression from shepherding culture, and refers to the narrow pathways you see zigzagging in straight lines across desert mountains.

The paths were so narrow that shepherds had to go ahead of the flock instead of beside them, calling out for their sheep to follow them.

The sheep know their shepherd’s voice — he is their focus (John 10:27). And it’s imperative that we know the voice of our good shepherd as well.

Listening vs merely hearing

Did you know that there’s a difference between listening and hearing? Although someone who’s concentrating on their mobile phone might hear what you say, it doesn’t necessarily register because they’re not listening.

Conversely, when you speak quietly to a friend — not wanting others to hear — the friend will both hear and understand what you’re talking about if he or she listens carefully enough.

It takes purpose and practice to hear and recognise the shepherd’s voice — even for his sheep. Yet sheep rely on their shepherd for everything, so he usually has their full attention.

So how might we listen better?

Ashley suggests three areas to consider:

1. Spend time with God. It sounds simple, but how often do we spend our prayer times listing our wants, feelings and issues rather than making space just to listen?

2. Understand the difference between the written (logos) and spoken (rhema) word. You might picture the written word as our map, with the spoken word as our satnav. We need both.

3. Repentance. Thinking in GPS terms, repentance could be considered our ‘re-routing’ after going off track. It’s about turning back to Jesus and seeking His face. Repentance is necessary to hear God clearly — try hearing someone when your attention is directed elsewhere!


• Much of the insight we’ve gained today reminds us of how necessary it is to focus our attention on the One who leads us beside ‘quiet waters’, ‘refreshes our soul’ and ‘guides us along the right paths’ (23:2-3). But, with all the distractions of life in the West, this isn’t always easy! Take a moment to ask the Holy Spirit to highlight any areas in your life where you may have stopped letting God take the lead. Repent and allow His Holy Spirit to re-route you.

• Carve out time each day to listen to the still small voice of God (1 Kings 19:12, NKJV). Write down anything you hear. Revisit what you’ve written after a month and be encouraged.

• Finally, share this devotion with a friend.