At any point in life we or those we care about get ill, encounter an accident, are in great need. Wendi and I have a number of friends we’re praying for now who are in distress. There are several physical illness issues, mental illness concerns and more. Wendi is heading toward a hip replacement. We are aging and many of our friends are.
We just heard of a friend’s suicide, his Christian parents are in understandable (but not understandable unless one has experienced it) pain and grief. And on it goes.
While the following Psalm and my comments do not entirely fit the above scenario, elements of them certainly do. We all experience “valleys” and sometimes due to our sinful choices, others interaction with us, both, and at times even by God working maturity in us- and “all chastening for the present time seems grievious”. Some brilliant person taught us “Things grow in the valley”. Yes.
What an amazing psalmist, what an incredible lyric- thanks to God and King David!
This short psalm of six amazing verses holds so very much truth and life.
Years ago I was asked in an interview who my fave bluesman was. With no hesitation I heard my mouth say “David!” The interviewer asked “David who?” to which I replied, “King David, Book of Psalms dude, longtime king of Israel”. And we both laughed. Then I repeated my standard line about David, Asaph and his sons, and so on, writing all those laments because they lived in the real world with real issues.
It has been an established, fruitful tool for many recovery groups to ask members to memorize the 23rd Psalm. For a great many reasons, this bit of writing has become one of the famous portions of scripture. What some perhaps miss, and far beyond the beauty of the prose are practical and deeply spiritual truths which David himself clearly considered.
Remember, this is the “man after God’s heart” who also was a powerful warrior, yet also an adulterer and murderer. He suffered under a horrid, demonized, perhaps bi-polar king (Saul) and worse- sky-high family issues that in some cases never resolved in his lifetime.
Some Bibles will place this heading before verse 1, and it tells us a lot in itself:
The Lord, the psalmist’s Shepherd.
A Psalm of David.
GK- Indeed, above all else David knew God as God, and in fact, as LORD. Not merely best Friend, Companion, Deliverer, etc., though He was clearly all these to David. King David was indeed a brilliant writer of a great portion of the hymnal of Israel (The Book of Psalms) and was reportedly skilled in music on several levels, with instruments and so forth. Yet his song writing (though we only have his lyrics to account for) was a gift, a deeply honest, confessional, doubt-and-faith-complaint-and-praise offering that his nation and plenty of other nations (in time) became blessed with.
We also must remember he had himself been a shepherd, a strong, able man who took his work seriously and protected the sheep with his own life in a land of varied, dangerous animals. Thus he learned to fight with whatever was available, sling (remember Goliath?), bow, sword and so forth. He not only intimately understood music, lyrics, composition and worship, not only the daily and nightly work of a caring shepherd but also a military life. Certainly all this granted him an understanding of the God who Creates (music), the LORD as a warrior (military leader), but also as a caring Shepherd and indeed, LORD. David learned early his best Friend was God.
1. The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
GK- IS the Lord your (and my) Lord? Really. Really? Then what He considers our actual needs shall indeed be met. This doesn’t mean we’ll never want X, Y or Z, rather that “He knows our needs before we ask Him” as Jesus said… and “You are of more value than many sparrows”… and “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom”. Satisfaction comes of -this- relationship with the psalmist’s (here, David’s) Shepherd, the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, the Lord of Hosts, the Father Who sent His Son (Jesus) Who sent His Spirit. THAT is how satisfaction is found, and in HIM is WHERE it’s found. David knew His God and walked with Him. Imperfectly, but consciously and devotedly. His “I shall not want” is more than words…
2. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters.
GK- Ever felt like you were -made- to lie down… to stop, to consider, to just quit for a bit and take inventory? Does it ever seem like God allows illness or extreme tiredness, or allows some sort of “rug” to be “pulled out from under you” just to get your attention, to help you find a place of submission but also contentment in -HIM- alone? When we learn we can’t depend on anyone or anything like we can (and must!) on Him, we’re really beginning to find that deep rest of soul that only such a situation and relationship can bring us! Green- that is, fruitful pastures, places where healthy stuff sprouts up, a lush place of sweet, fulfilling sustenance. And then “leads”… not “jerks”, “forces” or “kicks” me beside still, quiet waters. Think about this: no food nor water, no life, you die, kaput! So the Lord is coaxing us, writing on our wall, via His Word and prayer, through any number of voices (real or “voices” as a figure of speech) He guides us to a place where He meets our needs- and we recognize it’s Him doing the cooking, the serving, bringing us a place of safety and rest.
3. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
GK- So many worry that God (if there is one…) is all about wreckage, hyper-rude control and scorched-earth. Not the true God, not the Lord of David and the Bible! He is all about restoration, about bringing health, life and energy to the broken, the rusted, the trashed. And it’s -soul- restoring. Jesus said “What does it profit a person to gain the world but lose one’s soul?” When one’s deepest self is riddled with sin, darkness, despair, anger and bitterness how can one go on as though such is life?!! But the Lord restores and in fact He does it in part by guiding us “in the paths of righteousness”. Hmmm. Right-living, not only thinking, speaking and writing, but in terms of choices, decisions, behavior, character, loving God and one’s neighbor as Jesus loved/loves! Those paths are “do as Jesus does” and in fact, it’s all about Him, not David nor you nor I! Note: “For HIS name’s sake” (caps. my emphasis). It’s about honoring God, the Lord Jesus, not making a name for ourselves whether at school, in the workplace, in our local church or artists guild. The honor is about him. It’s all about God’s glory… or it isn’t.
4. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
GK- “Even though”… there are plenty of those in our lifetime, no? Such is life in a fallen world among fallen (including me) people. Though Christ-followers seek Him, actively (!) listen, study His Word and must be about applying it in daily thought, word and action, we all fail. So there are times our own choices, others’ choices, natural disasters and what I would say those events God either allows or at times, orchestrates for His own purposes- in which we are going into a sort of personal (or shared) “land of darkness”. These facts in no way prevent the God of the universe going though such a place with us. “I will never leave you nor forsake you”, “God is a VERY PRESENT (my accent here) help in trouble”, on and on the Book speaks comfort to His people.
Recently I heard a commentator say that “shadow” is of course, not substance… and that it may well be God via David is telling us we at times walk through a shadow rather than actual valley of death. While I think there is merit to that point, it’s also clear most folks die- from illness, accidents (car wrecks, drowning, etc.) and on it goes. Volumes of world and church history, the lions and gulags and classics such as Foxes Book of Martyrs makes it clear that good and godly Christians do indeed die and even do so with great suffering on way to heaven.
John Wimber and others have been used of God to bring miracles of healing yet themselves died of cancer or other painful ailments. John himself often said “Some I pray for are healed, some die. God alone knows the details, there is still mystery this side of heaven”. Truth.
David claims he will “fear no evil”- not that evil doesn’t exist, happen or come upon and even walk along with him, rather that he lives in faith with the Father and trusts in God’s power and ability to carry him -through- such darkened valley experiences. How? Because “You are WITH me”, Emmanuel, God WITH us! You can walk (or crawl) though such tough experiences in life with your swollen eyes on God… or not, but you will still end up experiencing pain in this life.There are indeed times of full and amazing deliverance… but to expect or demand God do your bidding as you see fit puts you in God’s place… and such an attitude is not only unbelief, it’s folly and will not serve you nor build your relationship with Him. But the comfort comes in what many will consider at least 50% strange:
“Your rod and your staff, they comfort me”. Hmmm?
You can find plenty of commentary on what a shepherd’s rod and staff were used for, but in the end one was to help him fight off wolves, the other was to snatch up a wayward lamb and if needed, even to break it’s leg to then be carried by that shepherd. A broken leg is better that to wander off only to be attacked and eaten by wolves. Hebrews 12 sings in my ears as I consider the chastening of the Lord, the need for faith and closeness even when it hurts. There are far worse hurts- and those with zero true comfort attached!
5. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows.
GK- While there are many believers who bank (literally) not only on God’s provision but a sort of prosperity mentality (get what you want by faith and using Jesus name to cash in on whatever it may be you want), yet the Bible DOES proclaim His blessing on those who seek and obey Him, especially in the midst of the storm. It is then when we experience the power, blessing, closeness and provision of God toward us. Yes, even prosperity in a right and non-self-centered way! God protects and even serves us that which we need right in front of the eyes and noses of those proclaiming to be our enemies, in their very presence. The “anointing” comes from God’s Own hands, bringing healing, health and provision to the extent we have to share with others. There is a strong witness given when one’s “cup overflows” and we willingly, lovingly pass that cup to those around us. The “enemies” think they are God, and do not trust in, serve, follow nor surrender their lives to Him. This spiritual dryness and even death is a massive contrast with what David is able to witness even coming through valleys full of enemies! His life is about the glory of God, not his own glory nor personal fulfillment.
6. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
GK- “Surely”… something beyond hope… faith, hope and love, certainly so. David is saying “This God I serve blesses me… and I will bless those coming after me due to His blessing.” Goodness (the character, the very nature of God) and lovingkindness (or “mercy”) “will FOLLOW me”. I don’t know that many consider the fact that these things do not run to catch up and jump into us, rather they are characteristics and virtues God the Holy Spirit works in our lives (indeed, sometimes if not mostly via “valley experiences”) and throughout our lives we leave something other than a trail of tears. Rather, that bit of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians chapter five) including God’s goodness and mercy flows though us and reaches out to positively affect others. Note: “ALL the days of my life”. This is a consistent walk we are called to, and consistently growing fruit of God’s grace is very much part of our legacy.
Finally, David is assured of eternal life, is he not? After all this, “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”.
Not merely visit, show up for an hour or so each week, not at all in distance from God, but rather “dwell”… a priest who lives in the house of His Lord. “Forever” is indeed a long time. Where will you spend “forever”? Is it “forever” you wish to know, be loved, love and serve the true God?
Jesus tells us “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to God the Father except through me”. (John 14.6)
Perhaps it will take a valley… or several of them. Perhaps as a Christian who has not matured very far (spiritually speaking) you will have to learn obedience though things you suffer. Perhaps not. But the God who is love is with you and waiting for an eternal relationship with you. Is the LORD truly your Shepherd?