Psalm 23: Miss (In)Dependence

When you think of the word “dependence,” what comes to mind? For many, “dependence” has become a nasty term—one that describes limitations and weaknesses. Women are encouraged to depend on no one but themselves, and our society champions those who seemingly pull from their own strengths, talents, and grit to live their “best lives,” full of glamour and praise. A dependent woman is one living in bondage of someone or something and is in desperate need of liberation.

Ironically, the Psalmist David, one of the most powerful, influential leaders of his day, had a different opinion about dependence.

In Psalm 23, he wrote:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (23:1).

David describes his relationship with the Lord as one of complete dependence. Having been a shepherd in his youth, David was familiar with the constant care required to keep his flock fed, watered, safe, and prosperous. By comparing this  relationship between God and man to that of a Shepherd caring for his sheep, David is communicating an overlooked truth: Mankind is totally dependent on God.

There are some areas in which I quickly recognize my need for God—such as forgiveness, salvation, and sanctification—but there are also many areas in my life where I am less willing to trust God’s guidance. How many times have I said, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” without ever intending to actually follow where He leads?

In reading Psalm 23, I found that David is showing that the full, abundant life of a believer is found in submission to the Shepherd’s leading, and not through self-betterment or achievement.

This idea of thriving in dependence is completely counter-cultural and requires some reflection and evaluation.

  1. Recognize your need.

The first step to living a fully dependent life on God is recognizing your need for Him. Throughout David’s life, he was constantly aware of just how much he depended on God. As a young man before a mighty giant, he boldly declared that it was not strength nor skill that would give way to victory that day, but in the name of the “Lord of Hosts” (1 Samuel 17:45). As God’s anointed, fleeing from the wrath of Saul, he called out to God for protection (Psalm 59). As a king who had committed murder and adultery, he lamented before God for forgiveness and restoration (Psalm 51). And finally, as God’s covenant was revealed to him, establishing his throne forever, David praised God and humbly cried out “Who am I, Lord God, and what is my family that you have brought me this far?” (1 Chronicles 17:16). Never once did David take the glory for himself. In victory and defeat, fear and celebration, sin and restoration—David was consistently recognizing his need for God.

  1. Embrace your weakness.

One of the most troubling phrases in Scripture for the goal-smashing, overachieving “Miss Independent” is Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:10: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” I do not know about you, but when I was setting my goals for this New Year, “become weaker” was not on the list. Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John remind us that “apart from me [Jesus] you can do nothing” (John 15:5). It is difficult to understand this paradox in Scripture that weakness gives way to strength. For many of us weakness and failure are our greatest fears. We will do anything to show the world how well we have kept everything together, displaying on our social media channels the happy, independent woman that everyone longs to be, while inside we evaluate and analyze every flaw and imperfection.  If you live in fear of showing weakness, then you will never be able to embrace the full, abundant life in Christ. You must be able to embrace the fact that you are just a simple sheep in desperate need of a Shepherd and offer up the glory and praise that belongs only to our faithful, loving God.

  1. Thrive (in)dependence.

Just because we are weak does not give us the right to mope and sulk through life. Psalm 23 does not just leave us as pathetic, dependent creatures. As you read further, you will find that the Good Shepherd gently and relentlessly guides His sheep. He leads them to abundant pastures, still waters, through righteousness, and even through difficult valleys of death. The sheep have nothing to fear. The Shepherd is always with them and comforts them. We can thrive in dependence because we can trust the One who is guiding us.

Are you anxious, tired, worn-out, or worried? Surely these aren’t the “peaceful streams” of the Lord’s leading. Perhaps you are pushing so hard to show your independence and strength that you are not able to thrive in dependence of the Good Shepherd.  Consider making the change from “Miss Independent” to “Miss (In)Dependence.” You may just find that living your “best life” requires Someone leading you other than yourself.