It is 2020. Wow! We are 20 years past Y2k. Remember that? Y2K was marked by the fear that a widespread computer programming shortcut would basically cause our little planet to fall off of its axis.
Now, 20 years later, that fear seems silly, doesn't it? But, it didn't seem so silly then. We didn't know then what we know now. Fear rarely offers honest assessments of reality. It distorts it. We can't see the truth of our circumstances when fear is the lens through which we're viewing them. We need something or someone who sees a bigger picture to help us.
As I think on this new year, I think about the way that fear has had a hold on me more recently. I don't like being "in that place". I like to feel confident and secure, stable and peaceful. But, I'm also pondering the gentle promises of Psalm 23.
Whether or not you subscribe to the beliefs of the Bible, you are probably familiar with the passage. It begins, "The Lord is my Shepherd....". Within this Psalm, you will find much about who this God claims to be. Many who are unfamiliar (and some who are familiar) believe that the God of the Old Testament is angry and wrathful; short-tempered, and cruel. However, Psalm 23 provides a picture of goodness that is hard to ignore.
“The Lord is my shepherd.”
According to the Oxford dictionary, the verb tense of Shepherd includes the definition, "to guide or direct in a particular direction." (emphasis added)
Shepherding doesn't guide us into just any direction. Instead, it guides us into particular ones - ones that lead us to restful places.
More often than not, I think I'm headed in a pretty good direction...until I'm not, and I find myself looking around at the messes. Sometimes those messes are created at the hands of others. Sometimes they're formed through my own attempts to anxiously control my world or by attempting to be more likable, good, or acceptable . Either way, in those seasons, I find I've lost direction. Maybe that's not your experience. Maybe you always have a handle on where you are at on the roadmap of life. I won't judge you if you won't judge me! I must admit, though, sometimes I get lost.
The lost places usually feel dark, maddening, even infuriating, and often leave me believing that I'm the reason for it. This message that it's my (or their) fault reverberates along the cavernous, dark walls of the lost place. It's a cruel message.
As this message gains strength, I have to ask, "What way is right? What way is good? What way do I go in order to get out of this place?"
I need direction. I need help orienting.
That's why I love Psalm 23. This God knows the direction I need. Always. He knows the direction that will help me find a place of rest. There, I find messages of kindness and gentleness. He is never lost. He’s never anxiously biting His nails and wondering what to do.
"He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul;"
I am experiencing a season in my life where friendships and what I believe about them, are being defined with more clarity. It's been hard at times. Some moments I find myself wishing I lived all alone on a desert island. I have had to ask myself, "why do I want to run away?"
I have found that it's easy for me to fall into a pit of blame and shame as a result of hurt or a sense of injustice. To be sure, things have happened that are unjust. Regardless, however, of "whose fault it is," I am responsible for me - good places, lost places, and all - and when my soul is restored, I am rested and I am well.
“Even though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will not be afraid because you’re with me. Your shepherd’s rod with its crook is my safety.”
I don’t know if this is referring to an actual place or not, but regardless, the metaphor is clear and stunning. Even when death is breathing down my neck, I won’t be afraid. Why not? Why wouldn’t I be afraid? Referring back to the Shepherd who knows the way, I am assured that there is someone bigger than me who isn’t lost...even when I am. This verse says that he will rescue me. He will find me. He will save me.
I‘m acutely aware that his rescues aren’t always what I imagine they will be. Sometimes it takes me awhile to recognize them. But, when I do, I find myself caught up in the crook of the Shepherd’s rod and I am filled with relief. Not fear. Relief. The fear is tended to when I’m in his care. He’s bigger. He’s stronger. He’s better at directions....WAY better.
“You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessing.”
Yes, you read that right. When he finds us in the weeds and rescues us, he brings us home and makes a feast for us. He knows we’re hungry. There’s no yelling at us or fussing about what we should have known or done. When we’re tired, lost, lonely, and confused, he feeds us. He tends to our weary bodies with sustenance. But, don’t miss what happens next. He honors us. To honor means to give high respect and great esteem.
Additionally, anointing with oil was a sacred act of setting someone apart as particularly valuable - not because of anything the person did, but because of who she was. Loved. Honored.
“Surely your goodness and unfailing love will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.“
Two of the basic emotional needs of every human is to be unconditionally loved and to have a sense of belonging. God offers both - freely. Abundantly.
I don’t know if you believe in the God of this Psalm. However, my hope is that the restful message meets you where you’re at Today.