The Twenty-third Psalm for Parents
1. I can’t imagine any task in life that is more obviously a partnership with God than the wonderful work of parenting.
a. Parents are cared for and provided for by God with any good gift they have, but they care for and provide for little ones who are totally dependent on them.
b. Parents are responsible for nurturing and training their children, while they themselves are being disciplined for their good by a Father who loves them.
c. Parents are persons for whose heart God has always sought who are appealing to their children something like this: “My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways” (Prov. 23:26).
2. We may, then, take our most helpful model of how to go about the task of parenting from the manner in which God tends to his own children.
a. The blessed, practical work God has entrusted to parents is more like what he does in shepherding his people than anything else.
b. What this will mean in a child’s life may be gathered from the wonderful Shepherd Song, Psalm 23.
c. Let’s consider, a phrase at a time, the light this might shed on a parent’s task.
1. “The LORD is my shepherd” (v. 1a)
a. A shepherd is an authority who is kind, and who will lay down his life for his sheep, but who is not another sheep.
i. He is authoritative rather than authoritarian because, while he assumes responsibility for those in his care, he exercises it with consideration for their well-being.
ii. His sheep hear his voice and follow his lead because of their unique relationship to him.
b. A school administrator said: “Kids need parents at home, not buddies.”
c. This is where children get their sense of identity and the self-esteem they need.
i. They need to know their parents are in charge, paying attention to what is going on in their lives, and on their side.
ii. Imagine what it meant to one of God’s people to be able to say, “Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture” (Ps. 100:3).
2. “I shall not want” (v. 1b)
a. This means “I won’t lack anything I really need.”
i. The tone in the life of the person who says this is not, “I am deficient.”
ii. Instead, there is a general sense of fulfillment.
b. Trust in the shepherd’s care is the reason: he is watching out for the best interest of his own, keenly aware of their condition, and wisely providing for what he knows they will need.
c. Parents have to think of providing their children with that kind of sense of security, well-being, and wholeness.
i. You know that they will have to grow in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man, as Jesus did (Lk. 2:52).
ii. Pay attention to all their needs as they develop–physical, intellectual, social and spiritual–and provide balanced care.
3. “He makes me lie down in green pastures” (v. 2a)
a. But how do you “make” a sheep (or a child either, for that matter) lie down satisfied?
i. Phillip Keller, in his A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, says that it is nearly impossible for sheep to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met: there must be a definite sense of freedom from things they fear, and from tension with others of their kind, and from pests that aggravate them, and from nagging hunger. (P. 35)
ii. A shepherd makes a sheep lie down by tending to fear, tension, aggravations, and hunger.
iii. Ps. 4:8 – “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”
b. Parents will do well to think of “causing” their children to be in settings that are safe, as free from strife as possible, secure from frustration, and satisfying.
i. Notice the proactive nature of this work.
ii. Parents think of what will be best in the long run, of what will be best for their children rather than merely for themselves.
iii. Their influence is such that they eventually “make” their kids do what is best in their own lives.
4. “He leads me beside still waters.” (v. 2b)
a. The ESV alternate translation is “beside waters of rest.”
i. These would therefore have been “quiet waters,” places of peace and refreshment.
ii. Sheep, like people, need enough to refresh but not so much as to overwhelm.
b. Isa. 49:10 – “They shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for he who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.”
c. Wise parents will lead their children beside such places in life.
i. Keep your children from being over-loaded: don’t let them be over-obligated, over-stimulated, or over-matched.
ii. Make them familiar with calmness; let them see that not all of life is noise and activity, frenzy and concern.
5. “He restores my soul” (v. 3a)
a. A literal meaning might be “he causes life to return to me.”
i. A sheepman who finds a sheep down gets the animal up, steadies him between his knees, and rubs the life back into his legs so it can go on.
ii. God deals with his children like that: he gives them reassurance when they are uncertain, strength when they are worn out, and patience when the going is not easy.
b. Parents have to be soul-restorers, too.
i. A parent needs to know his child well enough to be aware of what is going on in his spirit.
ii. Morale is watched. Body language is read. Spirit is handled thoughtfully and gently (cf. 1 Thes. 2:7).
iii. A call alongside, or a word of encouragement, or a charge to do better is offered just according to the need of the child’s soul (1 Thes. 2:12).
6. “He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (v. 3b)
a. This is leading “in right paths.”
i. The shepherd’s name is at stake; he leads in paths he knows to be right for the sheep
ii. Ps. 5:8–“Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me.”
b. It is the place of parents to provide basic moral direction for their children.
i. This implies providing an example, offering instruction, and being a mentor.
ii. I asked a group of young adults what their parents did to get them headed in the right direction. Half of the entire group cited their parents’ example of church attendance every service. One added that they emphasized right and wrong by making it clear the family name was important.
7. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (v. 4a)
a. The shepherd relieved his flock’s fear, not by keeping them from “the valley of deep darkness,” but by staying with them through it.
i. He couldn’t get them to green pastures and still waters without passing through some of these valleys, but he could stay at their side.
ii. Isa. 43:2, 4–“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you....Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you...”
b. You can’t keep your children from ever having to deal with tough circumstances; you can make sure they don’t have to deal with them alone.
i. Parents don’t lead by being over-protective.
ii. Be there. Don’t intrude. Don’t make it about you. But be the presence in their lives that they can count on.
8. “Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (v. 4b)
a. Each of these terms adds something crucial to the picture.
i. “Comfort” doesn’t mean they make it easy; it means they strengthen him to make it through.
ii. The “rod” is the tough love that protects and disciplines.
iii. The “staff” is the tender love that guides and rescues.
b. Children are “comforted” when they can depend on that kind of balance.
i. “It’s OK to say no.”
ii. A parent must require obedience as one who truly loves, and provide the necessary training in respecting that kind of authority (cf. Heb. 12:9-11).
9. “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” (v. 5)
a. Some think the figure of host at a banquet is introduced here, but the illustration may still be the way a shepherd inspects a field beforehand and then watches over his flock while they graze.
i. Either way, the point is that his sheep have favored care which no enemy can prevent.
ii. Ps. 31:19, 20
iii. What this means is that the singer has received from his Shepherd the ability to cope with life and its demands.
b. Give your children your understanding about the nature of the struggle they are having, individual attention and approval, and honor–and do it right in front of everybody!
10. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
a. Maybe this thought is drawn from the way a flock that had been out mountain pastures was brought back to the home place at the end of the season, with a couple of well-trained sheep dogs bringing them along.
b. What a precious image this is to every parent!
i. You can’t go with your children everywhere they will go in their lives.
ii. You can, however, help them identify their great goal and purpose in life: to dwell in the house of the LORD “for length of days.”
iii. And you can send your two dependable friends, “goodness” and “steadfast love,” to come along behind them wherever they go.
1. The Twenty-third Psalm offers us who are parents a wonderful model of our task, but it does something more: it reminds us that we, of course, are not God, and that our intense longing for our children to lack nothing is only a shadow of his interest in us.
2. This lovely little song puts us in a position to appreciate the abundant life he wants us to have, and to recognize the absolute necessity of actually submitting to his care.