[Exclusive] Building a House of Prayer, Shepherd Prayer

Building a House of Prayer

Eighteen Prayer Models for Approaching God’s Throne

Author | Dr. Joshua Young-Gi Hong

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“The spiritual life of a Christian cannot transcend the level of his or her prayer.”—Jim Graham

 

The Shepherd Prayer is our devotional prayer to God while meditating on Psalm 23. It also is a prayer of thanksgiving and praise to the Lord for His grace and pastoral care. Psalm 23 likens the relationship between the Lord and the faithful to that of a shepherd and his sheep. It makes the point that Christians should obey the Lord and enjoy His blessing.

Jean Edwards explains the background behind Psalm 23 in “The Story of Three Kings.” The shepherd had plenty of leisure because his sheep would graze on the grassy plain of a hill for several days. The shepherd could play the harp and sing. Often, when he got bored, he would throw a stone to a distant tree. This shepherd was good at singing and stone-throwing; and he loved God. In the night when his sheep were sleeping, the shepherd sang an old hymn to remember the faith of the ancestors. He would shed tears while singing and praise the Lord with all his heart.

His journey with the sheep continued to a deeper mountain while he sang songs of praise until it reached the ears of God. Then, one day while singing a hymn with all his might, he came across a big bear. He confronted this bear without hesitance, for he knew that he and the bear had the same target—a sheep grazing on the green pasture. The shepherd and bear confronted each other, circling around. After a while, the bear and the shepherd moved simultaneously. The bear dashed toward the shepherd, and the shepherd released the stone from his hand. The stone flew through the air and struck the bear.

Later, the shepherd embraced the little sheep and said, “I am your shepherd, and God is my shepherd.” The young man sang the following song, thinking of the incident all throughout the night. He sang the words of Psalm 23:

The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through 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.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

 

David’s confession of faith, as sung by him in Psalm 23, did not come out in a time of peace. David made this confession of faith in God’s sovereignty and grace in desolation. The prayer of David should be our confession of faith. Through this Shepherd Prayer, we will realize that God is the true shepherd of our life.

 

The Holy Place of Prayer

Personally, I like Psalm 23 a lot. When I read or recite this psalm, I feel a peace of mind and joy that does not doubt God. The Shepherd Prayer is the prayer of meditating on the meaning of Psalm 23. The effectiveness of the prayer may vary depending on the effectiveness of the meditation.

 

The Holy Place of Prayer 1

Confess the Lord Is Your Shepherd and You Are His Sheep

We have to begin the prayer with a confession that “the LORD is my shepherd.” Why did Psalm 23 make an analogy of the relationship between God and His believers to that of a shepherd and sheep? (See Isaiah 40:11 & Jeremiah 31:10.) It was to teach that a sheep cannot live by itself without a shepherd. Sheep have the following characteristics. They do not have a sense of direction and are easily preyed upon. Thus, they will not survive if a shepherd does not protect them. A full-grown unsheared sheep lying on its back with its belly facing up cannot stand up on its feet from that position. Unless assisted by the shepherd, it will die. A sheep is easily scared. Thus, it will not lie on its side if it senses danger. Sheep are also stubborn. Because of these characteristics, a shepherd is a sheep’s way to life. If it does not follow its shepherd, it will face death. Therefore, you must pray like this. “Oh, Lord, I am like a sheep. Although as in Isaiah fifty-three, six, I have gone my way like a sheep, I thank you for saving me and loving me.”

Then, we have to pray to make sure that we are listening to the voice of the Lord. Raymond Edmon once said, “Sheep follow the signs of a true shepherd. Sheep that follow the signs of a false shepherd fall ill.”

If we are truly sheep of the Lord, we will hear the voice of the Lord. If our soul does not listen to the voice of the Lord, our life will soon be barren and dry out. We must make a habit of conversing with the Lord to listen to the Lord’s voice. A long history of church attendance or service to the church does not mean our spirit is mature. We have to have frequent encounters with the Lord to be closer to the Lord and to know the meaning of the voice of the Lord. Thus, we have to pray so that we can be sheep that listen to the Lord’s voice.

Also, we have to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to our Lord for being our shepherd. The shepherds in biblical times had to endure tiresome work. They did not enjoy a single day of rest. They moved around all the time to feed and water the sheep. They had to be in the front to protect the sheep from any danger. At night, they would sleep at the threshold of the gate at the fence to keep the sheep safe. The feeding areas of the sheep were narrow plains at a high mountain. Thus, the shepherd could not take a long rest nor sleep for a long time because he had to watch over his flock.

As shepherd of our life, God does not take rest from protecting us and showing us His sacrificial love. “Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture” (Psalm 100:3). Thus, we must offer unto Him a prayer of thanksgiving for being our shepherd.

 

The Holy Place of Prayer 2

Confess a Life of Abundance that Is Not in Want

We have to remember our identity as the Lord’s sheep and praise Him for the life of abundance given us by the Lord, our shepherd. A shepherd takes care of each and every sheep like his own children.

During the old days of pasturage, each sheep meant wealth. So, the shepherd took care of each sheep with great care. A shepherd managed the daily lives of the sheep. David, because he knew this fact very well, sang a song of confession, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.”

There are two meanings in “I shall not be in want.” The first is that I do not lack anything when I do God’s will in my life. The second is that I will live a satisfying life of trusting in the Lord, our shepherd, in all kinds of hardships. “Not in want” is a confession of faith that cannot be said without a firm conviction in the Lord’s being our shepherd.

The Lord makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside quiet waters. Here, “green pastures” refers to a place of abundance where the sheep can graze and rest fully in the midst of rough mountains. On this abundant green pasture, a sheep grows to about ninety-nine pounds. The secret to healthy, rapid growth of sheep is rest and diet. They need to lie down quietly and regurgitate the food that they have grazed in abundance. “Quiet waters” refers to a quiet stream, which is fit for the sheep to drink from. The sheep are afraid of a stream with rapid currents and will not drink from it. Most areas of Palestine are desert because the climate is so dry that rain is quickly absorbed into the ground that they do not gather on the ground. Moreover, the average annual rainfall is only about twenty-three inches. Here, “quiet waters” is like an oasis in the desert. In the Palestine area, wells are scarce and located far from each other.

“Green pastures” and “quiet waters” are the source of life for those who live in the spiritual desert. The thirsty spirit of our soul can only be satisfied when we go forward to Christ. The Lord said, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). People pursue knowledge, arts, wealth, and fame in order to gratify their spiritual thirst. However, they will soon face an inner conflict that comes from the emptiness in their heart. Jeremiah clearly pointed to this fact—“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jeremiah 2:13). This points out our spiritual thirst and despondency. There is no one but Jesus, our shepherd, who provides us with true food and water.

A time for a prayer: “Lord, I shall not be in want. The Lord is the true hope in my life. Thank you, Lord, for solving my problem of thirst in my life.”

 

The Holy Place of Prayer 3

Pray for Regeneration and Comfort of the Soul

Next, we have to pray for spiritual power. When our relationship with God is severed, the most conspicuous thing is the loneliness of our spirit. Our spirit is fearful. However, when we long for the Lord, the Lord will regenerate our spirit. A proof of the regeneration of our soul is the desire to live for the Lord. The Lord leads us to righteousness for the sake of His name. A Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard, said, “Life can only be understood backwards.”

David looked back on his life and understood clearly that God had led him throughout his life. This leading was done not for the sake of David’s name but for the sake of God’s name.

The Lord has told us to pray in the name of God and to earnestly seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness before asking for our needs. John the Baptist’s confession—“He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30)— must also be our confession. Thus, let’s pray like this: “Lord, the motto of my life is “Not I but Christ.” Please allow me the strength and joy to live for the Lord again by regenerating my spirit.”

When we have a conviction that the Lord leads us and we live for the name of the Lord, we are not afraid even in the valley of the shadow of death. The valley of Jordan in Palestine has many rough and dark paths. So, it is very dangerous for a sheep to graze there without a shepherd. David implies that the life of the people who walk in their own path of life without the guidance of God is in great danger, like walking through a valley of death. David appreciates the fact that God has never left him alone during all kinds of hardships and that He has shown His grace by protecting him in many dangers. The rod and staff of our Lord and shepherd protect us from dangers. A staff is used mostly to lead the sheep. A rod is used to fend off wild animals that attack the sheep.

Thus, we have to pray for the regeneration and comfort of our spirit. Give thanks to the guidance of our Lord. And then read Psalm 121, which praises the Lord’s protection very well:

 

I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD watches over you—the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

 

The Holiest Place of Prayer 4

Praise the Cup Overflowing with God’s Grace

If you have prayed as written in this book so far, you must have felt wonderful grace and blessing from God. David, who experienced this grace now confesses, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” “A table before me in the presence of my enemies” refers to a feast to celebrate a victory in front of enemies, who have been taken as prisoners of war. David makes this confession, thinking of God, who defeated all David’s enemies.

To the Hebrews, having dinner together at the same table signifies a close friendship between the guests. “Anoint my head” signifies that David remembers the good will of God. When a feast was held in Palestine to honor a guest, there was a custom of applying fragrant oil on the guest (Psalm 133:2).

The host’s anointing the guest was an act of great hospitality and a great honor. “My cup overflows!” When the feast begins, the host pours a wine to the guests’ cups to the rim. This is the sign of hospitality from the host. Here, the overflowing cup refers to the abundant grace of God.

Thus, we have to offer a thanksgiving prayer for the Lord’s grace. God’s grace is filled more and more until it overflows as we thank His grace more and more. We cannot count all the graces and blessings from God. We cannot live even for a second without permission from God. We will realize that our cup overflows just by thanking Him for the blessing we already have received. When we meditate on it and pray for it, we will confess that “my cup overflows.”

 

The Holy Place of Prayer 5

Enjoy the Delight that Comes from Spiritual Communion with the Lord

Next, we have to pray for continual spiritual communion with the Lord. The good will and hospitality given by the Lord are not temporary but eternal. Thus, David makes this confession: “Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life.” There is nothing in the world that will separate us from the “goodness and love” of God. Lastly, David makes a confession that he “will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Here, the house of the Lord points to the Temple of Jerusalem at first, but it refers to all places where God is present at large. David, who experienced the goodness and love of God, knew deeply in his heart that the only true happiness and hope are attained when being with God.

Spiritual life is not merely an unlimited lifespan but an eternal life in the Lord. This is not just a place we must reach in the future. Rather, it is a state we must be aware of through our one and only God and his Son Christ Jesus (John 17:3).

A true religion brings awareness of the living God in people’s lives. God is always present with the people who rely on Him entirely and have a close fellowship with Him.

A time for a prayer: “Lord, please let me dwell in the house of the Lord always. Please hold me by the power of the Holy Spirit and let me have close fellowship with you at all times. I confess you are truly the shepherd of my life.”

Lastly, please read the following poem by William Barkeley, who sings the love of our Lord, our shepherd:

People of the Word, why are you scattered like frightened sheep?
Foolish souls, why have you left the true and deep love to wander about?
Where else can you find such gentle and friendly shepherd?
Like our Savior, who calls us to gather us under His feet,
His love is so deep and wide Our heart cannot measure it all.
I can only be amazed by His eternal friendship in heart.

 

Checkpoint of Prayer

The Shepherd Prayer deals mainly with two subjects—thanksgiving and praise. It is a prayer to express thanks for the grace, guidance, protection, and blessing from our Lord, the good shepherd. Thus, we have to meditate on God’s grace deeply in our hearts and pray. Let us remember God’s grace, which helped us in the past and gives us the power to deal with and overcome hardships of the present.

Before giving the Shepherd Prayer, read Psalm 23 more than five times repeatedly. It is more effective to read it several times before starting to pray.

 

Sweet Rain of Grace

If you offer the Shepherd Prayer, you will feel God’s grace anew. Additionally, you will deeply realize that the abundance, blessing, and sovereignty of our lives are totally dependent on God. The Shepherd Prayer teaches us the importance of obedience to God. Andrew Murray said that “at the same time, when a Christian believes in the Lord, he or she is enrolled in a school of obedience.” Obedience is not an option; it is our duty.

The following are the reasons for obedience to God. First, obedience develops our relationship with God. Obedience is a means to express our love for God and a way to amplify our love. Second, obedience makes us mature spiritually. When we are young, we have to follow specific directions from our parents and teachers for what we do. Then, later on as we mature, we know what to do without having someone telling us what to do. Third, obedience to God allows us happiness.

“The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today” (Deuteronomy 6:24). When we obey God in joy and delight, we will receive the best from God. Deuteronomy 10:12-13 says: “And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?” The Shepherd Prayer is a prayer, which leads us to realize the significance and meaning of obedience deeply in our heart.

 

Praying Time

The Shepherd Prayer can be carried out effectively in thirty minutes. It is also an effective practice to set the first day of each month as the day to offer a Shepherd Prayer. It will be very meaningful to start a new month with our resolution to follow the Lord, our Shepherd, in complete obedience.

 

Closed Prayer Room

  1. The Shepherd Prayer is our devotional prayer for complete obedience to God while meditating on Psalm 23.
  2. Example of a Scripture Prayer: “Lord, you are my shepherd. I cannot live without you. Because of you, I shall not be in want.”
  3. My Shepherd Prayer:
  4. The Order of a Scripture Prayer
    Praise (Hymn or Chorus).
    Confession of Thanksgiving
    Reading the Psalm 23
    Carrying out the Shepherd Prayer
  5. Self-illumination
    Have I memorized Psalm 23 and recited it?
    Have I meditated on God’s grace given to me already?
    Do I have a conviction in my heart that I cannot live without God, as sheep cannot live without the shepherd?
    What are the areas in my life in which I have not obeyed God?

 

One Last Word on Shepherd Prayer

We will realize that only the Lord is our true shepherd in our life through the Shepherd Prayer.

 

To be Continued…

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