One of the truths we teach our young disciples is that nothing can separate us from the love of God. But what does that look like in practice? Children often mistakenly believe that God will remove all challenges from our lives. However, we know that human beings experience difficulties. God doesn’t prevent hard things from happening, but God is with us through them, helping to make us whole again. Psalm 23 shines light on this truth. In this lesson, children will explore the first six verses of Psalm 23 to discover how God walks alongside us through life’s challenges.
Begin your time with the children by asking them to describe a hard time they have experienced. Encourage the group to listen to each person without judgment, as we may not all define a “hard time” the same way. After the children have shared, ask them what or who helped them through this hard time. What gave them comfort? What made them feel better? Share that the care and love that they experienced reflects the love that God has for us. Throughout our lives, God is with us in good and bad times.
Exploring the passage
Prepare to read aloud Psalm 23:1-6. Tell the children that the psalms are songs or poems that the ancient Israelites would have known well and would have sung often. They served as prayers that praised God or asked for God’s help. The Bible gathers these together in one book and numbers them, so they are easy for us to read. However, they were not all written by the same person nor were they all intended to be used in the same way. The psalm we are reading today was written by King David. Encourage the children to listen for what the psalm tells us about how God cares for us during difficult times.
Read aloud Psalm 23:1-6. Because some of the images in this psalm may be unfamiliar to children or may be difficult for them to interpret, you may want to use a child-friendly version of the text. Growing in God’s Love: A Story Bible has a wonderful, simplified version (“I Love You, God!”). There is also a great children’s book version by Tim Ladwig which uses the original text alongside lovely illustrations that help connect the psalm’s themes to children’s lives.
After reading the psalm aloud, ask the children to recount the ways that God comforts and cares for us during hard times. Encourage them to share each of the ideas in the psalm even if they aren’t sure exactly what it means. List each of their responses on a sheet of chart paper or a whiteboard. Then have the children wonder what each of the lines in the poem tells us about God. For instance, what does “he leads me beside still waters” say about God? What does it mean that God “leads me in right paths”? Walk through each of the lines and allow the children to wonder through each line.
Then focus in on the verses that address the particularly challenging aspects of life. First, look at verse 4. Ask the children what the “dark valleys” are in our lives. Note that these are the most difficult times in our lives, ones that hurt the most and are the hardest to deal with. Next, examine verse 5. Have the children wonder what “a table before me/in the presence of my enemies” means. Then dig into the deeper meaning of this line. It tells us that God cares for us amid our enemies but doesn’t remove our enemies. God is trying to help connect people who don’t normally connect with one another. God is not only healing us individually but also healing our community.
Relating the passage to our lives
Finally, help the children connect the message in the psalm to their own lives. Note that this psalm reminds us that God is and always will be by our side during hard times. This is a message that is very comforting to people going through difficulties. Together with the children, brainstorm a list of people who are experiencing challenges in their lives. Encourage them to think of people in the congregation as well as those in the larger community.
Next, gather materials to create care cards for these people. If you have blank greeting cards and envelopes, you can use these. If not, you can use blank copy paper to make the cards. You’ll also need crayons, markers, and whatever other art materials you have for the children to decorate cards.
Distribute blank cards or blank copy paper to the children. Ask them to create cards that share the message of Psalm 23. They may quote verses from it or they may use images or words that convey the message of God’s love and care. After they have created the cards, have them write personal messages in each card. Make plans to get the cards to the individuals either through the mail or by personal delivery. Alternately, if you have a board of deacons, you may have the children make the cards and then give the cards to the deacons to use as needed.