Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Psalm 23 - Part 4 - The Valley of the Shadow of Death

Often, I don't sleep very well.  I have a hard time getting to sleep, and I regularly wake up in the middle of the night and then have a hard time getting back to sleep.  One of the things I've found recently that helps me get back to sleep is to meditate on different excerpts from the Bible.  I've been rather fixated on the 23rd Psalm for a while (and my success rate of falling asleep after thinking about it has been pretty good), so I thought I'd do a series of posts on my thoughts on it.  This is part 4 of my 'meditations' on Psalm 23.  

Though I Walk Through the Valley...

...of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.  The previous verse says that my Shepherd leads me on paths of righteousness, and that God's reputation (His namesake) is involved in me staying on those paths.  What if His path leads unpleasant places?  Actually, its not really an 'if'.  David didn't say 'If I walk through the valley...' or 'Though I might walk through the valley...'  Jesus said 'In this world you will have tribulation...'   I shouldn't be shocked when bad things happen.  

We face all kinds of 'death' in our lives.  A literal, physical death of a life is the immediate picture that this verse has conjured up for me.  However, recently I've realized that I face many other more common metaphorical 'deaths' that have a significant impact on my life:  Death of a dream or hope, death of a job or career, death of a relationship, etc.

Even though being on God's path isn't a guarantee of an easy, happy-go-lucky life, David says 'I will fear no evil.'  Jesus similarly responds, 'Be of good cheer, I've overcome the world.'  

Similarly, while I'm heading this direction, its in a walk.  I'm not cowering, sneaking, hesitating, or running (all things I might be doing if I was afraid).  To me, walking in this context alludes to being secure and relaxed.  Further to this thought....

Your Rod and Staff..

I wondered for a long time why David would say 'Your rod and staff comfort me.'  A rod doesn't seem like a formidable tool or weapon to me, unless its in the hand of a karate master.  I couldn't see a shepherd using a rod quite like that.

Some time passed, and I was considering how David would have meditated on the Bible.  Psalm 119 gives a detailed picture of how David did this.  Likely he found a lot of parallels to himself as almost all the patriarchs in the book of Genesis were shepherds of some sort.  In Exodus, Moses was a shepherd for 40 years.  He also had a shepherd's staff - one that God continually used to do some pretty amazing things.  Then in the book of Judges, we see God appear in front of Gideon with a staff.  And that staff seems to have special qualities too - throws fire, etc.

I'm sure David made some kind of connection with God's staff and the power of God.  And therein lies, at least in part, the answer to my question of how David could find comfort in God's rod and staff.

...Comfort Me

Finding comfort in an unsafe place.  

a safe, comforting hand to hold
We have a large outlet mall near our house.  It is a 2 kilometre walk around the inside circumference of the building.  Some time ago, I was there with my kids on a busy weekend and noticed a young boy about 5 years old who was clearly lost.  He was calling for his mommy and daddy and not getting an answer.  You could hear the emotion start to well up in his voice as his calls became louder and more concerned.  I was about to turn and help him when a uniformed security guard showed up.  He spoke quietly to the boy and offered the boy his hand.  The young fellow immediately calmed down and put his hand in the guard's and they walked off together to the mall's office to find the boy's parents.  This scene really moved me.  It spoke to me of being afraid, but then finding comfort in an authority figure who was bigger than me, protective, in control, and knew where to go and what to do.  Similar to the Good Shepherd.

Even now as a grown up, I often find I need someone in my life I can lean on who is bigger than me, knows all my foibles and concerns, and has everything control even when I don't feel like it.  If I can remember that and centre myself on that thought and in His presence, I find the comfort and protection I need.

Other posts in this series:

Monday, September 6, 2021

Being Thankful

 Growing up in church, memorizing memory verses was the 'currency' in Sunday School.  If one memorized enough memory verses you got a prize and a small bit of notoriety.  Similarly in Bible Camp in the summer, if enough people in your cabin memorized a verse it helped you all in the quest to become the winning cabin for the week.

God's Word is powerful and alive, and having it memorized has helped me many times in my life.  'Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee.'  Many of the verses I memorized were from the King James Version.  God has used those memorized verses to help me avoid sin, be less anxious, give me guidance and direction, and even help me grow in how to talk and commune with Him.

Something interesting happened recently.  I discovered I'd been 'missing' a piece of a verse I regularly go over in my mind.  I often return to Philippians 4:6-7 during my week, quoting it in my head or when I'm praying in the morning.  But in the last couple weeks I realized I had been remembering/quoting it wrong - for years!   All that time I had been recalling it in my mind and in my prayers as 'Be anxious for nothing, but in everything through prayer and supplication make your requests known to God.  And the God of peace that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.'  I had been missing a couple of important words:  'with thanksgiving.'

The inclusion of this small phrase in that verse has been rather revolutionary for me.  When I'm thankful, my perspective changes.  My eyes are opened to more of what God is giving me, doing for me, and His involvement in my life.  When I consider my life with a thankful heart, my anxiety decreases, my attitude changes, I complain less in my mind, I enjoy life more, and I become more God focused.  

Being thankful changes my perspective
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Its funny how you can hear talks and read books that encourage you to be thankful, and think to yourself 'Yup, I do that.'  But being intentionally thankful and go looking for things to be thankful about is, I'm finding, something different.  Its changing my outlook and life and my attitude towards God.

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