Since we live in Alaska, we know what darkness feels like. We actually get to deal with darkness for months and months out of the year. Because of this, I always carry a flashlight with me. Before I got my flashlight, I figured I would only use it a few times a week. After I got it, I found that I use it many times a day. I was astonished! I think the reason was because the light gave me peace. It helped me see what was in my way, illuminating not only the things that would cause me to stumble, but also showing the right path to the thing that I was searching for. It became indispensable to me.
Have you ever been in a dark place, not physically but emotionally? It’s sometimes described as feeling that “the walls are closing in on me.” It is during those times when it seems like the shadows of darkness are the most overwhelming. In Psalm 23 verse 4, David wrote about the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I think that’s descriptive enough, but Gerald Wilson in the NIV Application Commentary says that the meaning is better understood as “the shadowiest of all shadows.” And in Young’s literal translation of the Bible, he calls it the valley of “death-shade.” To me, that pictures a bleak predicament that seems to have no chance of escape.
Thankfully, David doesn’t end his poem there. He states that even in those blacker-than-black times, those times where death is bearing down on us, we don’t have to fear evil. Not because evil doesn’t exist or because we have the strength to make it, but because the Good Shepherd is with us. The Good Shepherd is the one that gives peace and causes us to not stumble because He has already gone over every single path that He will lead us on and expertly knows the right way. The Good Shepherd is also the Light of the world. He not only leads the way, but He lights the way too! What He asks us to do is to trust Him and believe that He will take care of us. When we do that, we can agree with David by saying, “I will fear no evil, because You are with me."
Pastor Robert Morgan writes in his book The Lord is My Shepherd that “now more than ever, we Christians need the peace and power of Psalm 23. Many of us are far too busy. The stresses of life are wearing us down, little by little, and the noise around us can be an unending cacophony of confusion. Our lives – with all our electronic tethers, emotional entanglements, and financial pressures – are more demanding than ever. We are simply not resting, not managing our clocks and calendars as we'd like, and as a result, we are often anxious and angry, even when we don't realize it. We are pulled in so many directions, as if we were twistable toys in the hands of a toddler.”
Do you feel the same? I sure do. Tomorrow morning we will be looking at the phrase “I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.” My hope is that God will use our time together to help us see how as the Shepherd He is at work in our lives, continually providing and restoring us.
Psalm 23 is one of the most well known chapters in the Bible. Yet, even so, do we really understand what it means? A fresh look at this very familiar passage might be just what we need to hear as a church. Author Harold Kushner in The Lord is My Shepherd summarizes Psalm 23 like this, "In just a few lines, it conveys the distilled wisdom of generations, offering us a way of seeing the world that renders it less frightening, teaching us to deal with the loss of people we love and with conflict with people who don't like us or who treat us badly. It shows us how to recognize the presence of God at times and in places where we might think God was absent or when we might be so distracted by our own concerns that we would overlook God’s presence. It has the power to teach us to think differently and, as a result, to act differently."
For about 6 months, I was struggling with hearing from God as to what He was leading us to learn about Him this summer. After praying and seeking counsel, God helped me realize He was guiding to Psalm 23, a chapter I was continually drawn to during this time of seeking. Now that several weeks have passed since this decision, He has confirmed it over and over again. My prayer is that God will use this summer’s messages to encourage and restore you as we look at how our Good Shepherd cares for us.
We take turns writing when God gives us an idea. The author will be noted.