“The Lord is not my shepherd, and I want: The anti-psalm as a spiritual exercise”

“Many times, I’ve found myself reading a chapter of the Bible only to realize that its meaning has been worn to a nub.”
(Photo by: Felix Mittermeier)
“Many times, I’ve found myself reading a chapter of the Bible only to realize that its meaning has been worn to a nub.” (Photo by: Felix Mittermeier)

The Bible can sometimes be like people. We live with them so closely that we forget who they are. Many times, I’ve found myself reading a chapter of the Bible only to realize that its meaning has been worn to a nub. I’ve crashed my way through certain passages so many times looking for hope that I don’t notice the hope anymore. It’s still there, but I’m not. I flip through the Bible and find I’m miles away, walking down some other street, thinking a thousand other thoughts eight steps removed from the passage I’m reading. 

And I wonder what’s wrong. 

Maybe you’ve felt the same way, thumbing through your Bible every morning looking for something new in pages that feel so old and so familiar, so impossibly inapplicable. Take Psalm 23, for example: 

“The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters; He restores my soul … ” The syllables roll over you like water over stones. The meaning slips by unnoticed, regular and familiar.  

I felt this way about Psalm 23 for a while until I read a chapter from the late Christian counselor David Powlison’s book “Seeing with New Eyes.” He encouraged rewriting the psalms as “anti-psalms.” This exercise lends to a deeper knowledge of the original psalm by contemplating its opposite.

The following is the anti-psalm I wrote of Psalm 23:  

The Lord is not my Shepherd; and I want. But I never feel like I have enough. I constantly need more. And it makes me mad when I can’t have it. 

I won’t let anyone tell me what will satisfy me. How should they know? Sometimes I wonder why I’m so broken when I do everything to make sure I am well cared for. Even though I know it’s not working, I won’t let anyone tell me I am doing something wrong. I go where I want to go because I know what I need better than anyone. 

Well, I guess I’ll admit it sometimes leads me into tight circumstances. Sometimes it’s like death has his hand on my shoulder. It’s one thing I am afraid of, death. When he comes near, I’m terrified. It makes me realize I’m alone. And we all know which one of us has the upper hand. 

But even when death isn’t nearby, other people are, and they are always against me. I can’t stand them not liking me. And when they are around I can’t stop to rest. I am always nervous, and I always feel half empty no matter how much I try to find fulfillment. 

It’s like I’m always chased by bad things. Sadness is my constant companion.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever feel secure. Or if I’ll ever get to settle down. Maybe not until the grave. Yes, now that I think of it, that’s where I’ll finally feel safe.” 

After doing this exercise with Psalm 23, I realized how little the principles I live by reflect the spirit of the Psalms. Often, they are exactly the opposite. Filled with fear and confusion, desperation and turmoil — the last thing in my mind as I tumble through life is, “I shall not want.” I do want! How could I not?

Like a mirror, the anti-psalm revealed parts of me that were incongruent with the Word. And the revelation had its effect. I threw myself back upon the original psalm.  Next to the familiar sin of my own heart, the psalm suddenly felt tangible, vibrant and unfamiliar. It could hold my weight when I reached out to it for help. 

I believe each passage in the Bible is similarly tangible. As it says in Hebrews 4:12, “The Word is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword.” But sometimes we have to intentionally interact with it until what sounds so familiar to our ears finds a lasting home in our hearts. 

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