A spiritual check-up

Test yourself against the lessons from Psalm 23

-Irene Howat-

The 23rd psalm is the best known of all the psalms and it may well be among the most familiar passages of Scripture. We turn to it when we need comfort, assurance, a warm hug. But it can also be used by Christians as a check-up of their spiritual health.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall lack nothing.”

Although this psalm is sung widely by those who would not profess a personal faith in God, it is clear from its very first sentence that only those who believe can appropriate the words to themselves. So the first item on our health checklist is this – Is the Lord my Shepherd? Have I come to Him in repentance and faith and accepted His free gift of salvation?

“He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul?”

The psalmist is aware of what is going on around him. He engages his God-
given senses. Looking around, he sees the green pastures (actual and figurative). When he listens he hears no sound for the waters are still. Examining his thinking, David knows intellectually that his soul is restored and he feels it in his heart. Are we sensitive (do we use our senses?) to God’s provision, refreshment, and restoration? And do we thank Him for these blessings?

“He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

By and large David’s life was one of following God’s guidance. When he did not, he paid for it sorely. We do well to follow his example in seeking guidance and we certainly can’t take it for granted. While God’s guides us for our good, note that it is also for a greater good, it is for the glory of His name. Do we pray for guidance and seek it in the Bible? And does that show on our faces as we reflect something of the glory of Jesus?

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil …”

David knew many valleys that must have cast shadows over him, especially during the years when King Saul trailed him like a demented terrier. When death casts its long shadow over us do we look to God to deal with our fears? Notice that David doesn’t say that the evil goes away, it’s the fear that God deals with and, unless He comes soon, we will all have to walk through that dark valley. But we need not be fearful.

“… for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

The fear David felt was real but so was the presence of God, and it was His presence that relieved the king’s fear. It  is interesting that the psalmist saw God’s rod and staff as comforts They were, in the same way that parental rules are a comfort to a teenager. They assure him of boundaries but he often doesn’t like them. David had learned to be comforted by God’s disciplining hand. Have we?

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”

Here we have a picture of God Himself being our host and catering for our needs despite an enemy presence. If fact, it could be seen as a victory feast as Christ has already won the war, although His enemies have still to discover they are defeated foes.

Believers are foreigners in the world and still engaged in the battle, though the victory is secure. Foreigners are not always welcome. They can feel threatening. Part of the reason that militant secularists are so against Christians is that we present a threat, and as long as we base our speech, lives and works on the Bible we will continue to do so. Had I read the last few sentences 10 years ago I would have thought it was over-reactive. But times have changed and I am now convinced that those who warned us then were not extremists but prophets, men and women who read the times correctly in the light of God’s Word. Does this thought depress and frighten us? Or are we aware of our total security in Jesus and total provision by Him, and that nothing can wrench us out of God’s hand?

“You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

Is David thinking back over the years to Samuel pouring the oil of consecration over his head? That was a long time before he wrote this psalm and much had happened for good and ill. But he sums it all up in the recognition that his cup overflows. There are those for whom a half-full cup is half empty. David was not one of them. His experience of God’s goodness was not merely adequate; he knew that it had overflowed into each and every corner of his need. Consecration, his and ours, does not promise an easy life but it is the recipe for a blessed life. Do we look back with gratitude or complaints?

Oil is also a symbol of joy. Such was David’s joy that on at least one occasion his wife was embarrassed by him. Are we joyful Christians?

“Surely goodness and love (mercy) will follow me all the days of my life …”

The late Rev. Douglas MacMillan of the Free Church of Scotland used to  talk of goodness and mercy as being like two sheepdogs coming up behind us, running from side to side to keep us moving forward and sometimes nipping us on the heels to set us in the right direction. Sometimes God uses our fellow believers to fill the role of sheepdogs. Are we amenable to correction and guidance by those who are further along their Christian pilgrimage than we are, and sometimes by those who are newly on the road but whose zeal and vision put us to shame?

“… and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

From sitting at a table hosted by the Lord, we now move to think of eternal residence in His heavenly home. David here is looking forward, and we can do that too. But do we? Are we too caught up with cares and concerns to look forward to that great day when we will see Jesus face-to-face?

When we are buying a new house we pour over the estate agent’s schedule, noting every little detail in anticipation of making that house our home. Do we allow  ourselves the enjoyment of reading what the Bible has to say about heaven and try to imagine ourselves at home there?

“After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language … And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Revelation 7:1-9).

John’s vision was of heaven after the Lord’s coming in glory. That means that when John saw all those who will then be in heaven, he saw us, for we were there.

Later in his vision John tells us, “God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (21:3-4).

What is there not to enjoy about that as we look forward in sure and certain hope?


Scottish author Irene Howat’s books include Pain, my Companion and the Ten Boys and Ten Girls series.

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