The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. 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. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Psalm 23 is one of the most familiar passages in the Bible, and its pastoral imagery shapes our expectations for the Christian life. Once God becomes our Shepherd, we are ready for a good, safe, cup-running-over, sleeping-by-the-stream kind of life.
But for most of us, the days when the Christian life feels like that are few and far between. Everything from work, to relationships, to our physical bodies, to the practice of our faith itself exists in a state of dysfunction and disappointment. And while advancements in learning, organization, technology, and financial planning might give a small measure of distraction or relief, nothing we have or do can restore our souls to the way of life we expected our Shepherd to give us.
How do we make sense of the gap between God’s promise and our experience? Perhaps our Shepherd isn’t good or powerful enough to help us overcome these valleys and enemies? Or perhaps we as His sheep simply aren’t deserving of the tranquil life we once hoped for. Or perhaps there is another explanation for all of the valleys and enemies we encounter in this sojourn.
It may sound odd at first, but throughout the Bible we learn that our wise Shepherd regularly leads us through valleys and before enemies. He does this not to punish us, but to purify us. While we may be busy looking for ways of escape, He is busy teaching us the way to Himself. Chad explained it this way in his sermon, “Your anxieties, your fears, and your burdens are not obstacles that you have to overcome in order to connect with God. It’s just the opposite. They are opportunities in your life to grow in intimacy, love, and connection with God Himself.” Or as the psalmist puts it, “I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).”
The day will come when we experience the lush comfort, rest, goodness, and mercy in all of its fullness in the new heaven and earth. Until that day, we rest in the promise that our Shepherd is good, powerful, and wise with us and for us in Christ Jesus our Lord.