(a five minute read)
Last week I posed The Question, centered around the truths in Psalm 22. Here is The Answer.
‘The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.’ 1
King David declares this truth at the opening of his best-known and perhaps most beloved psalm. If Psalm 22 is to be the question, then Psalm 23 is the answer. It was David’s answer to the trials of life when they threatened to overthrow his surrender to his Creator. It is my answer as well.
This verse actually contains two truths; both transcend space and time. God is the one to follow because He will always look out for me. He gives me everything I need. And, when I follow Him without question, like the dumb little lamb that I am, my success is assured, even into eternity.
As one who has raised sheep I can tell you that the brighter ones – the ones who get their own dim ideas – are the ones that don’t prosper. They have ideas, but no understanding. They work their way out of the paddock for greener grass but find themselves in a road in front of a car. They browse their way into bramble to be captured by their fleece until their struggle sees them die from exhaustion. They put themselves unwittingly into harm’s way without fail.
The healthy ones stay with their shepherd.
‘He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.’ 2
The key to this success is surrender. After I get that working relationship with Christ and transition into Spirit Life, I don’t choose to lie down in green pastures. I surrender to His will that I must. He determines where I am to settle in and graze and He chooses the menu. He knows what will best nourish me, body, mind and spirit.
Still waters are essential for sheep. Sheep won’t drink from rapidly moving water. It spooks them, in part because it is noisy. As passive prey animals, they need to use their acute hearing to be on guard while at the watering hole. Still waters are important for us as human sheep as well. God knows we need time to rest and reflect, so we can come to Him in contemplation.
‘He restores my soul.’ 3
God created us and when we wander from Him, He restores us. When I sin, I must repent. The Hebrew word for this is shuwb, which means to turn back. It is the same word that is translated as ‘restore’. When I perform an act of shuwb (repentance) after I fall short, God responds with His form of shuwb (restoration).
‘He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.’ 4
Once again, I am reminded to live in a state of surrender. He leads; I follow. Because He is holy, the pathways can only be righteous, and those who tread them are in right standing with their Maker. But this is God’s creation not mine, and He is at the center, not I. Thus, He doesn’t do this for my sake primarily, and yet in doing it for me, He is glorified. The word ‘name’ here is shem, which means ‘reputation’ or ‘fame’.
This is an important part of the Christian journey, walking after Him in ways that bring Him honor and glory.
‘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.’ 5
We all walk through this valley all our lives because we are mortal. Life is a narrow valley and there is no escape. Death waits at the end for us all. The walls are too steep for us to climb out. There is only one way through, and that is to move forward.
As I move forward through time, I fear no evil. No distress, misery, injury, hurt, calamity, catastrophe or adversity stops God’s victory through Christ. Any and all of these evils are temporary.
I am made secure in this by God’s rod – His authority. I have the authority of the believer. God originally gave all authority in the world to Adam. He sinned and gave it all over to the devil. Christ won it back – eternally, and brought us back into right standing with God the Father. And then He returned this authority to us.
We use God’s authority to undo the evils of this broken world until the Father deems our work is complete and Christ comes again to judge. As we do so, we have His staff to comfort us.
In the ancient world, a man’s staff was often carved to commemorate significant times of his life. It became his testimony. I am comforted by God’s staff – His testimony – because it is a reminder of His goodness toward me and all the good things He has done for me, the miracles He has performed in my life. If He has done these things once, He will do them again because He does not change.
‘You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.’ 6
Even as the devil and his evil servants try to harass me, God not only protects me, but lays out an abundant feast for me to enjoy. I’m not saying here that life is a bed of roses. On the contrary, my Christian life has been challenging and often frightening. Being a Christian is simple, but it is often difficult, sometimes very much so.
For example, I spent more than half of 2019 being treated for cancer, including surgery, 15 infusions of chemotherapy and 32 rounds of radiotherapy. I have written about that elsewhere, but suffice it to say that while this was simple to walk through, it wasn’t easy.
Was there pain? Yes. Were there unanswered questions? Yes, and there still are. Was there uncertainty? Of course! The important point is that the God I know was there throughout it all, providing encouragement in ways large and small, surrounding me with love and comfort.
He is the answer to every desperate question.
So, through it all, no matter how bad it may seem from the outside, I remain an honored guest at the banquet table. No evil can steal the bread of eternal life on the plate before me. This is a perfect image of the wedding feast that is promised when Christ comes back for his bride – the church.
Until then, ‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.’ 7
His mercy gave me faith. My faith now demands that I praise Him in good times and in bad. He responds always with goodness – meaning His determination of what is good for me. I don’t always agree with His choices, but am experienced enough to know that they always bring better results than mine.
‘And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’ 8
To which I can only say, ‘Amen, and amen.’
1. Psalm 23:1
2. Psalm 23:2
3. Psalm 23:3a
4. Psalm 23:3b
5. Psalm 23:4
6. Psalm 23:5
7. Psalm 23:6a
8: Psalm 23:6b