12 Steps to Spiritual Formation in the 23rd Psalm

The Martin Institute Part 9 of 12

Dallas Willard often said that he would not trust any program of spiritual formation that did not show significant resemblance to the 12 Steps of AA. And he gave many talks about the 23rd Psalm. One of these talks evolved into the book, Life Without Lack, which was an exposition of the 23rd Psalm.

Slowly read the paraphrased and more explicitly Christian version of each step of the 12-Steps of AA, and the corresponding verse(s) from the 23rd Psalm. Allow a little time after each reading to allow the words to sink in more deeply.

Note: If you would like to do this reading while music is playing in the background, depending on your musical tastes, we recommend either, Restore my Soul, by Sherri Youngward, or Shepherd Me Oh God, by Marty Haugen. After completing the exercise you may also want to take a few minutes to breathe the phrase. “Shepherd me, Oh God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.”

12 StepsPsalm 23
Step 1

I admit that I am powerless over sin and that my life has become unmanageable.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
Step 2

I believe that God—through his actions and those of his son Jesus and the Holy Spirit—can restore me to sanity.
He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.1 He restores my soul.
Step 3

I will turn my will and my entire life over to the care of God.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.23:32
Step 4

I will make a searching and fearless inventory of my life to discover all the ways I have engaged in self-worship (by being in control instead of living surrendered to the will of God).

Step 5

I will admit to God, to myself, and to another human being the exact nature of my wrongs.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,3

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Step 6

I am entirely ready to have God remove all the defects in my character and replace them—through his presence—with the thoughts, emotions, will, behavior, and relationship patterns of Christ.
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Step 7

I humbly ask God to help me become willing to deny myself—and the desire to live life on my terms—and to remove my shortcomings.


Step 8

I will make a list of all the people I have harmed and become willing to make amends.


Step 9

I will make direct amends to all I have injured.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
Step 10

I will continue to take personal inventory, and when I wrong someone, I will promptly admit it.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Step 11

I will, through prayer, meditation, and the practice of other Christian disciplines, attempt to improve my conscious contact with God.
Surely4 goodness and mercy5 shall follow me all the days of my life,
Step 12

Having experienced some measure of authentic transformation as a result of surrendering all aspects of myself to the power and presence of Christ, I will carry this message to others and continue to practice these principles in all my affairs.
and I shall dwell6 in the house of the Lord forever.7
Listen to all parts in this Developing a Rule of Life series