Psalm 23

A Twelve-Week Meditation for Ordinary Time

This series was designed to be a flexible focal point during the summer months when family schedules were less predictable and many people, including our pastor, took vacation. By using Psalm 23, one of the most familiar passages in Scripture, as our summer theme, the worship team hoped people would feel a sense of continuity even if they had missed a service or a guest pastor was preaching. We sent an email each week inviting reflection on that week’s verse and providing prompts for additional engagement. Each children’s message was centered around the week’s verse, and we taught the congregation how to sign the psalm. Lorelai Reiffer, a talented young artist in our congregation, contributed artwork each week that we featured in our bulletin and on social media. Several other congregation members offered testimonies or reflections as the summer progressed. Psalm 23’s flexibility was proved as it coordinated well with two different sermon series and two services led by guest pastors over twelve weeks.

We chose to use the New King James Version’s rendering of the psalm for this series because we felt it was more poetic and would tap into more people’s early memories.

On the next pages you will find outlines for the first five services of the twelve-week series. A link to the remaining weeks can be found at


Week 1

God’s Work in Ordinary Time

“The Lord is my shepherd;

I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1).

After Pentecost, the long season of the church known as Ordinary Time begins. The mountaintop experiences of the liturgical calendar are past, and the church enters into the everyday to experience God’s sanctifying work amid the ordinary. Ordinary Time corresponds at least in part with summertime, a season in which school finishes, travel happens, graduations are celebrated, and transitions are anticipated. If this is a time of change in your daily schedule, celebrating Ordinary Time can offer stability and grounding. 

Ordinary Time is a good time to return to well-loved and well-known Scripture—passages so well ingrained in us that we don’t remember when we memorized them, as if we’ve always known them. Psalm 23 is one such passage, and its first verse is one of the best known verses in all of Scripture: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” 

What needs do you see met in your everyday life? Imagine your daily routine as a pasture you are being guided through. How does your shepherd care for you as you wake up? As you make coffee? Get the kids dressed? Get to work? Run errands? Make dinner? Get ready for bed? In the ordinary moments of your day, remember that God is your shepherd and that God takes care of you.

Sermon: Luke 15:1–10, “What’s So Great About a Shepherd?” 

Sermon notes by Rev. Chelsey Harmon are available from the Center for Excellence in Preaching (

Children’s Message

[Display or project a picture of a shepherd so that all the children can see it. If you choose, distribute small cards of the image and the blessing found below for the children to take home. You can also print more for congregants to pick up on their way out of the worship space.]

[Spend time wondering together using questions like these.]

Does any of you have a special name that only your family calls you? Or do you sometimes shorten your name a little and just use a part of it? Some people have lots of names. In the Bible, God has lots of names. Can you think of some of God’s names?

There is one name for God that we are going to be thinking about a lot this summer: shepherd. What does a shepherd do? I wonder why sometimes the Bible says that God is our shepherd? How is God like a shepherd? [Possible answers: he protects us; he watches over us; he helps us do the right thing.] Yes, and that’s why sometimes we call God our shepherd. This summer we are going to be thinking a lot about how God is our shepherd because we are going to be thinking about Psalm 23. 

The first verse of Psalm 23 says, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Another version of this verse says “ God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing” (Psalm 23:1, MSG). Of course we still need some things, like food and water, but the psalm writer is telling us that we can trust God always to be with us and care for us. Isn’t that incredible? God—the Creator of the whole universe!—loves and cares for each of us, and because God takes care of us we can trust God with everything.

When you pray to God you can call him God, Shepherd, or [one of the other names the children came up with]. Different names remind us of different things about God. When we pray to God and call him “Shepherd,” we are saying that God is someone we can trust. God is there for us, protects us, and is always with us even if we don’t see him. Let’s pray to our shepherd God now. 

[The children’s message can end here, or you can continue with the text below if you want to make use of the optional handout.]

Optional Handout

[Ahead of the service prepare a handout with a picture or line drawing of a Shepherd and the blessing found below. Make extra copies for older children and adults to pick up at the end of the service.]

As I was thinking about this name for God, I was reminded of a blessing sometimes given at the end of the worship service. I put it on these cards with a picture of a shepherd, and I’m going to give one to each of you so that you can read it or have a grown up read it to you every day this week. Listen to what it says:

God goes before you to lead you, 

God goes behind you to protect you, 

God goes beneath you to support you, 

God goes beside you to befriend you. 

Do not be afraid. 

May the blessing of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be upon you.

Do not be afraid. 

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord. Amen.

—Source unknown

I hope that you will take this home with you and remember that God is always with you. 

You don’t have to be afraid about the future because God’s already there. You don’t have to be sad about what happened in the past because God is in the past as well. You don’t have to worry about the present because God is with you today too. I hope that helps you as much as it helps me.

Song Suggestions

“The King of Love My Shepherd Is” Baker, LUYH 824, GtG 802, SSS 359

“He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” Anonymous, LUYH 26

Prompts for Reflection During the Week

Journaling: Make a list of all the ways a shepherd meets the needs of a sheep. Then extend the metaphor: what might God be doing in your life like a shepherd does in a sheep’s life? For example, a shepherd makes sure that a sheep receives food; in what ways does God make sure you are fed, both physically and spiritually? Faith Practice: Gratitude

Sensory: Using an old egg carton, start a sensory journey through the psalm. Each week, put something small into one of the egg holders that reminds you of that week’s verse. For example, perhaps this week you put a cotton ball in the first spot to give you a sensory memory for the idea of being a sheep in God’s flock. By the end of the twelve weeks you will have developed sensory memories associated with Psalm 23. This prompt will work well with young children who are just beginning to memorize Scripture, but it may also be a meaningful way for someone who has already memorized this psalm to experience it with more than just our eyes or our ears. Think of some creative ways to decorate your egg carton to reflect Psalm 23. 

Weekly Devotions: Spend time this week with the many different passages of Scripture that consider the metaphor of God as a shepherd, especially Isaiah 40, Ezekiel 34, Luke 15, and John 10. How do these passages shed light on the Psalm 23 meditation on God as our shepherd? Which passages use the metaphor to show God’s gentle and caring side? Which passages use the metaphor of shepherd to show God’s protective and defending side? Faith Practice: Engaging Scripture


Week 2

Green Pastures and Still waters

“He makes me to lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside the still waters” (Psalm 23:2).

What are the green pastures and still waters in your life that God has blessed you with? What blessings bring you peace and rest? Do you have a favorite corner of the couch that you curl up on? Is there a neighborhood coffee shop you feel at home in? Is there a friend who calms you down every time you are in their presence? Praise and thank God for these green pastures and quiet waters. If this verse doesn’t feel true for you this week—if life feels filled with deserts and rough seas—maybe spend some time remembering what God has done for you in the past and allow that to comfort you in the present moment. 

Sermon: Ephesians 1:3–14, “Blessings”

Sermon notes by Rev. Stan Mast are available from the Center for Excellence in Preaching (

Children’s Message

Last week we talked about God the shepherd, and we mentioned a few different ways God is like a shepherd: God corrects us when we sin, God guides us, and God is all around us when we need him or when we feel sad or lonely. This week we are focusing on a different way that God is like a shepherd. Today’s verse tells us that God “makes me to lie down in green pastures” and “leads me beside the still waters.” Green pastures are places where there is soft green grass and where the water is quiet. 

[Spend time wondering together, asking questions such as the following.]

I wonder what it would be like to lie down in a green pasture—to lie down on soft, green grass. Do you have any ideas about what that would be like? What about lying beside quiet waters? I wonder what that would be like. Have you ever lain down by a small stream? I wonder what quiet water sounds like. Would you like to go somewhere that had green grass and quiet waters?  Where are some places you don’t want to go? 

Today we are going to be talking about how God brings us to good places like green pastures and quiet waters—places that are safe and comforting. I wonder what some of the safe and comforting places in your life are. 

How might we thank God for the safe and comforting places in our life? I wonder what we could do right now in our time of worship to praise God for the good things God gives us. [If one of the children says “pray” or “sing a song,” use that to transition into the next part of the service.] 

Song Suggestions

“God Is So Good”  Makai, LUYH 777, GtG 658, SSS 461

“Ten Thousand Reasons” Redman, LUYH 559, SSS 440

“Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us” Thrupp, LUYH 330, GtG 187, SSS 538

Prompts for Reflection During the Week

Poem: Make an acrostic poem. Write a word or words from the verse vertically on a piece of paper and, for each letter, name a blessing that begins with that letter. Faith Practice: Celebrating

Artwork: Take a piece of paper and draw a stream down the center of it lengthwise. On one side of the stream write down ways God has blessed your body; on the other side of the stream write down ways that God has blessed your mind. In the stream itself write down ways that God has blessed your soul. You can make this more creative by using green and blue pencils or pens to write or by making the lists on green construction paper with a blue stream cut out and glued in the center. Faith Practice: Remembering

Activity: Find time this week to go for a walk with a notebook and pen near a stream or by a field. Find a place to sit. Breathe in while saying to yourself, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures.” Breathe out while saying to yourself, “He leads me beside the still waters.” Repeat for a few minutes, and then sit in stillness, inviting the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart. After listening, you can spend some time journaling, either recording what God says to you or writing a letter back to God after you’ve listened to him. Faith Practice: Listening


Week 3


“He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:3a). 

If something must be restored, it is in a state of imperfection. The table that needs restoration has been scratched and stained; the garden that needs restoration is overgrown with weeds. Your soul is precious to God and worth the time, effort, and sacrifice its restoration requires. What scratches and stains is God lovingly undoing? What weeds are God lovingly removing? 

Sermon: Luke 7:11–17, “Restored” 

Sermon notes by Rev. Scott Hoezee are available from the Center for Excellence in Preaching  (

Children’s Message

[Spend time wondering together, asking questions and reflecting on the idea of restoration.]

In Psalm 23 we are reminded of this promise: God restores my soul. I wonder what “restores” means. Do any of you have any ideas? 

Have you ever brought a broken toy to a bigger person and asked them to fix it, and they gave it back to you all fixed? They restored your toy; they made something broken perfect again. Restored is another way to say “fixed.” [If you have a broken toy that is fixable, show them how it is broken; after you fix it, talk about how it is restored.]

God promises that he will restore the whole world. When something is broken it doesn’t work right or maybe doesn’t look right. The Bible calls those problems “sin.” What are some things in the world that aren’t right, that are broken? I wonder what the world will look like when it is all fixed. 

God also promises that he will restore you and me. The Bible says that there are things in our lives that are not right, that are broken. The Bible calls those things “sins” too. I wonder what the world would look like if there wasn’t any sin in it, and people were filled with love for each other and creation. Would you like to live in a world like that? 

You know what’s awesome? God promises us that one day we will get to live in a world where nothing is broken, nothing ever breaks, and everyone is full of love. Isn’t that amazing? 

Song Suggestions

“God, Be Merciful to Me” LUYH 622, SSS 508

“Create in Me a Clean Heart, O God” Green

Prompts for Reflection During the Week

Artwork: Draw a picture of something that is beautiful or precious or deeply meaningful to you. Cover your picture with a piece of wax paper or parchment paper and secure it with a piece of tape so that you can lift the paper to reveal your original drawing beneath. On the top paper, trace or redraw the original image, but represent it as stained or broken or degraded in some way. If you want, write what in your soul is in most need of restoration on this top piece of paper (if you use wax paper, permanent markers may work best for this task, but be sure to let the ink dry so it doesn’t smear). Now, every time you lift the top paper you have an image of God’s restoring work. Allow this image to inspire you to be grateful for all that God has done in your life. Faith Practice: Gratitude

Activity: With family or friends, visit a park or trail and spend some time picking up trash (with all safety precautions observed). Think or talk about the ways our souls become littered and in need of God’s restoration work. By working to restore a small part of creation, you are joining in the work that God is doing, restoring the whole world. Faith Practice: Justice and Mercy

Journaling: In a journal entry, use your senses to explore the concept of restoration. What might restoration taste like? If you could touch restoration, what would it feel like? If you could hear it, what would it sound like? What does restoration look like? If it were a scent, what would it smell like? Faith Practice: Wonder


Week 4

The Way of Righteousness

“He leads me in the paths of righteousness

For His name’s sake” (Psalm 32:3b).

God leads us toward blessings, as we contemplated two weeks ago (green pastures, still waters), but God also leads us to live up to his moral and ethical standard: righteousness. What does it mean to walk in the way of righteousness? In the Bible, the idea of righteousness is almost always about being in right relationship with God and with our fellow humans. How is God helping you walk paths of right relationship this week? How is God helping you to be right with him? With your neighbor? 

Sermon: Isaiah 5:1–7, John 15:1–17, “Justice and Righteousness” 

Sermon notes by Rev. Stan Mast are available from the Center for Excellence in Preaching (

Children’s Message

[Spend time wondering together, asking questions and reflecting on being right with God. If you used a toy with the children’s message last week, use the same toy this week.] 

Last week we talked about how God restores us. He fixes the things in us that are broken. Imagine that I let you use my toy and you broke it. You brought the broken toy to me and told me you were sorry. What should I say to you if you really are sorry? Should I say “I forgive you”? I should, shouldn’t I? 

Well, the cool thing is that I know how to fix the toy, so I restore it, and then I let you play with it again. This time you play really rough with my toy. You stomp on it and break it again. If you were me, what would you do? Should I let you play with my toy again even though you keep breaking it? What if I could teach you how to play with my toy without breaking it? If you knew how to play with it gently, should I let you play with my toy again? Could I trust you to play nicely with it? 

I wonder how you think you would feel knowing that I had fixed the toy, taught you how to play with it, and then gave it to you to play with. I wonder how you would feel if I let you play with all my toys even though you had broken some before. If it were me, I think I’d be pretty thankful, and I’d think you were a really good friend to trust me like that. And if I wanted to keep being your friend I’d want to keep playing with your toys in the right way, wouldn’t I? 

Did you know that God has given us this whole world to play with and have fun in, and God gave us lots and lots of people to love and be friends with? Sometimes we break God’s world, though. We leave our garbage around, for example, or we aren’t always kind to other people. What do you think we should say to God when we realize that we aren’t playing with God’s world the way he wants us to? We should probably say we’re sorry, shouldn’t we? I wonder what you think God would say to us if we told him we were sorry. God would forgive us, wouldn’t he? 

But God doesn’t just forgive us for all the bad things we do. God also teaches us how we should behave. That’s what we mean when we say God “leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” God shows us how we should live in this world—how we are to love God, creation, and all the people on earth. Is this easy to do? No, of course not; that is why we need God, our good shepherd, leading us. Even when we are thankful that God has forgiven us, we still are going to mess up. But God says he will keep helping us learn and get better at living how he wants us to, one step at a time.  

Song Suggestions

“I Will Rise” Reeves, et al., LUYH 468

“The Lord, My Shepherd, Rules My Life” Idle, LUYH 732  

“Lift Up Your Hearts unto the Lord” LUYH 844, SSS 685

Prompts for Reflection

Activity with Scripture: Take a walk on a trail this week. As you walk, meditate on Psalm 23:3b or any of the following verses from Psalms that talk about the paths God leads us on and what helps us stay on them. Faith Practice: Engaging with Scripture

  • “You will show me the path of life;

    In Your presence is fullness of joy;

    At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” 

    (Psalm 16:11)
  • “You enlarged my path under me,

    So my feet did not slip.”

    (Psalm 18:36)
  • “All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth,

    To such as keep His covenant and His testimonies.” 

    (Psalm 25:10)
  • “Your word is a lamp to my feet

    And a light to my path.”

    (Psalm 119:105)

Artwork: Draw a path, either a bird’s-eye view or a path that recedes into the distance using a vanishing point. If this is the path of righteousness, what will you encounter along it? Wonder about what the journey into righteousness will look like. Draw or create a collage of things cut out from magazines of what you imagine you will find along the path of righteousness. They can be symbolic (a bird to represent the Holy Spirit, for example). Faith Practice: Wonder

Journaling: Journal a timeline of your life as a progression along the path of righteousness. What events in the past has God used to grow you in righteousness? What is happening right now that shows God is leading you in the path of righteousness? What do you hope will happen in the future? Faith Practice: Remembering


Week 5

The Shadow of Death

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”. (Psalm 23:4a) 

So far Psalm 23 has described us being led to green pastures, still waters, and paths of righteousness. Now the psalmist imagines a more sinister road: a shadowy valley where the threat of death lurks behind boulders. The sheep and shepherd walk a path that reminds the sheep how close life and death are. How does the shadow of death appear in your life? Are there broken relationships, physical ailments, withered hopes, or livelihood insecurities? The sheep in this verse remarkably faces the shadow of death and says, “I will fear no evil.” How does your shepherd give you the courage to look at the shadows around you and say the same?

Sermon: Psalm 23, “Everyone Needs a Shepherd” 

Sermon notes by Rev. Scott Hoezee are available from the Center for Excellence in Preaching (

Children’s Message

[Spend time wondering together, asking questions and reflecting.] 

Do you remember where God, our shepherd, leads us? “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in . . . [green pastures]; He leads me beside . . . [the still waters].” Do you remember wondering what it was like to lie down in green pastures and lie beside quiet waters? Then we talked about how God leads us on paths of righteousness. That just means that God teaches us how we are to treat the world around us and everything and everyone within it. But now the Bible teaches us that God leads us in scary places too. It says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (Psalm 23:4a).

I wonder what the valley of the shadow of death is like? It sounds like a scary place, doesn’t it? Are there places that scare you? The Bible is saying that even if we are in the scariest place ever we don’t need to be afraid. Why do you think that is? [Because God is with us.] We don’t have to fear because God is there! Next week we will think some more about how wonderful it is that God is always with us. 

Song Suggestions

“Don’t Be Afraid” Bell, LUYH 429, SSS 293

“Abide With Me” Lyte, LYUH 466, GtG 836, SSS 475

“Precious Lord, Take My Hand” Dorsey, LUYH 465, GtG 834, SSS 336

Prayer of Lament 

[The following prayer is interspersed with singing portions of “My Soul in Stillness Waits” Haugen, LUYH 63, GtG 89, SSS 75, RW 53:26.]

Throughout this prayer, after I pray the words “We wait and hope for you to banish these shadows,” we will sing together the chorus to “My Soul in Stillness Waits.” We will end the prayer with the first verse and chorus together. 

Even though we know we don’t need to fear the shadows of death, that doesn’t mean we have to ignore them or pretend they don’t exist. Let’s come to God this morning, lamenting the shadows and praying for the light. Please pray with me.

Creator God, out of the darkness you spoke, and there was light; you banished the first shadows with the power of your Word. But humanity rejected partnership with the Light in favor of the shadows. We see the way shadows now darken your good creation: polluted waters, decimated forests, species extinction, and unbalanced ecosystems. 

Lord, we lament these shadows, and we confess our part in them. Show us how to care for your creation so we can be bringers of light. We wait and hope for you to banish these shadows.

For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits; truly my hope is in you. 

God, ruler of all the world, we trust in your sovereignty over the nations, but we lament the shadows of death that loom large in wars, oppression, terrorism, and corruption across the world. We pray in faith and hope for an end to these shadows, and we beg that the light of truth, justice, and peace would shine among the nations of our world. We wait and hope for you to banish these shadows.

For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits; truly my hope is in you. 

King of kings and Lord of lords, we look closer to home and see shadows here too. We lament the shadow of partisanship that divides much of this nation and seems increasingly bitter. We pray for the men and women we elect to be guided by your light so they might promote the flourishing of all life. We wait and hope for you to banish these shadows.

For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits; truly my hope is in you. 

Holy Spirit, our guide and comforter, whose coming heralded the dawn of the church, be with your church now. The same shadow of partisanship that affects our government has crept into your church in North America, dividing communities. Shadows of abuse, theological disunity, and idolatry creep into our sanctuaries. We beg you to bring your church into the light so it can be the light it is meant to be to a shadowed and dying world. We wait and hope for you to banish these shadows.

For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits; truly my hope is in you. 

Father God, who cares for his children as only loving parents could, here in this space there are people walking through the valley of the shadow of death. Shadows of illness, broken relationships, bereavement, isolation, exhaustion, and despair threaten us. We lament these shadows in this room today. We pray against them and ask for your light. We wait and hope for you to banish these shadows.

For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits; truly my hope is in you. 

God of light, in whose light we see light, bring us to the end of the valley of the shadow of death and into the radiance of your glory. Amen.

For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits;

truly my hope is in you.

O Lord of Light, our only hope of glory,

your radiance shines in all who look to you. 

Come light the hearts of all in dark and shadow.

For you, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits;

truly my hope is in you.

−Bethany Beteman, 2022 © Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike.

Prompts for Reflection

Music: Listen to the hymn “Abide with Me,” which uses much of the same symbolism as Psalm 23:4. Each hymn verse goes deeper into the dark of night before the final verse, which brings us to the dawn. Reflect, journal, and pray about the ideas the hymn considers. What does it mean for God to abide with us? How does God’s presence help you deal with people letting  you down? With change? With pain? With sorrow? Spend time in prayer, in the abiding presence of God. Faith Practice: Prayer

Artwork/Activity: Make a memento mori (Latin for “remember you have to die”). Sometimes, when life is going great and we aren’t walking through any shadowed valleys, we have a hard time remembering that we are dependent on God for everything. The early Christian practice called memento mori, in which one meditated on death or kept a visual reminder of it, helped combat this forgetfulness. The point of the memento mori is not to become constantly focused on your own death or keep you from being happy with life. The point is to remember that God holds both your life and your death in his hand, and for that reason you don’t need to fear. Symbols for death included a skull, an hourglass, or wilted flowers. 

You can do some art journaling and choose one of these symbols to draw. Or you can buy or pick some flowers and hang them upside down to dry. Once they’ve dried you can put them in a vase without water somewhere you’ll regularly see them to remember we flourish like a flower of the field 

(Psalm 103:15). Faith Practice: Remembering

For weeks 6–12, see:

Dr. Bethany Besteman is the worship coordinator and church administrator at Silver Spring Christian Reformed Church in Maryland where she lives with her husband and son. She also works as the intake editor for Reformed Worship.

Kathryn Ritsema Roelofs is a commissioned pastor in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) and serves as a worship specialist with Thrive, a ministry of the CRC. She is also the managing director of the Worship for Workers project through Fuller Seminary. 

Reformed Worship 147 © March 2023, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.