Before we dive into Part 2, allow me to thank everyone who takes the time to read/comment on the thoughts I share. It warms my heart that you would choose to spend some of your precious time with me. As always, your thoughts and constructive criticism are welcome. I only want to honor God in this venue; any suggestions you might have to help me do so will be greatly appreciated.
In Part 1 of this series we looked at the first three verses of the 23rd Psalm. In them we discovered God describing His caring relationship toward us as a shepherd tending to his flock. This truly is awe inspiring when we consider it is the Creator of everything who extends to each of us individually His care, guidance and protection.
This time let’s consider verse 4 (if you have a bible nearby it may be helpful to re-read all six verses of the psalm first). There is a big change when we reach verse 4. David, the author, is no longer talking about the Great Shepherd, he is talking to Him!
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. (Psalm 23:4 NIV)
Verse 4 begins with the recognition of the darkness that often engulfs us in this life. The shadow can refer to physical death and the sadness it brings, or any other challenge in our life that wants to turn our attention away from God. Grief can certainly be a culprit, just as disappointment and discouragement can be as well.
One of the important things to remember, especially when sadness and loss want to overwhelm you is that Lord, as your personal Good Shepherd, never leaves you. The times in my life when I couldn’t/wouldn’t sense His presence was because I allowed circumstances to interfere with my awareness of Him. One of the many awesome characteristics of our Shepherd is His omnipresence, He is always everywhere all the time. I can’t explain it, I just know it to be true through faith.
Much as the psalmist now recognizes the personal presence of the Lord, we must too. Acknowledging His presence doesn’t mean we simply bury our heads in the sand with regard to our pain. To the contrary, being aware of the loving guidance of our Shepherd ought to encourage us to open our hearts to Him. Verse 4 states that I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Here is another key point for us: We are to walk through this valley. In other words, keep moving! Don’t get stagnant and wallow in a pool of self-pity. Yes, the loss and pain you feel hurts. Let it hurt, but don’t allow yourself to get comfortable in your pain.
We need to then find the way that works best for us to deal with our hurt or loss. The best example of how to do this can be found in what David wrote next; I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Fearing no evil tells us to have complete trust in God, that His very presence as our Shepherd is the balm we need for our wounds. His rod and His staff comfort us as well. These are the tools the shepherd used to protect his flock from danger. The rod was a club used to beat back predators. The staff was used to guide the sheep along the right path and was also used at days end to count each sheep as it passed into the pen.
For us to know this level of godly care, we must allow the imagery of the shepherd protecting and caring for his flock to bring us comfort. Our Great Shepherd knows exactly how to guide us so that we can live in His peace. He can care for every wound we might receive as we occasionally veer off the path He makes for us. It is this level of personal care that only God could extend to each of us.
If you are aware of your personal Shepherd’s presence today, I rejoice with you! If, however, you are not in that place, I gently remind you of how the Lord feels about the sheep that have wondered: He leaves the ninety-nine in safety to go retrieve the one missing. Why? Because it’s personal; to Him as well as us.