God is My Shepard: Insights From the 23rd Psalm

 God, my shepherd!
    I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
    you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
    you let me catch my breath
    and send me in the right direction.

Even when the way goes through
    Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
    when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
    makes me feel secure.

You serve me a six-course dinner
    right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
    my cup brims with blessing.

Your beauty and love chase after me
    every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
    for the rest of my life.

(The Message)

I always think of Psalm 23 as “The Death Chapter.”  I mean, it seems that it is rather often spoken at grave sites and funerals.  Whenever there is a traumatic scene where a funeral and a church are involved, they are reading the 23rd Psalm.

I am a fan of Jason Upton.  I listen to him a lot, and he has a song called Psalm 23.  He has a way of singing scripture that leaves it raw and yet whole.  I realized recently that when I listen to this song which, as you may have guessed, is about Psalm 23, I do not listen to it in the context one might think. Oblige me as I pontificate…

I have recently come to think of this scripture differently than as “The Death Chapter”.  I realized one day that I was using it was warfare.  It is not some lazy little portion of scripture that sits by idly until we need comfort.  Now, don’t get me wrong, it is comforting, and comfort is good!  But, it is also a club we can pick up and fight with.

Most people, no matter the spiritual background, are familiar with the 23rd Psalm.  “The Lord is my Shepard…”  reverberates through the memory banks and transcends many other texts we have heard.  And yet, how much do we actually use the scripture?

The version of the scripture I have posted above is lesser known from the Message, but no less poignant.  I think it paints a very vivid image, and for those who are unfamiliar with the Message, don’t discount it because of its construction.  It was written with much knowledge of both Greek and Hebrew and is exceedingly eloquent, textual, and vivid.

“…you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.”

Wow.  I love the wording of that.  There are so many days I just need to STOP.

Stop the push and pull.  Stop the obligations and expectations.  Stop the performance and the accomplishments.  Stop resisting.  Stop fighting. Stop the fatigue.

Stop.  And catch my breath.

What do you stop?  What do you do to catch your breath?

And not only do I, we, have permission to stop, but then He will send us in the right direction.  And I think it is not coincidence in the set up of that scripture there.  Is it possible we miss the right direction because we do not allow ourselves to catch our breath?  Maybe we don’t hear what God is saying and how he is directing because we won’t slow down and take a breath.

“Your beauty and love chase after me.”

Again.  Wow.  That brings me to tears just to read.  It seems fantastical that not just God, but specifically, his Beauty and his Love chase after me, us.  Wow.  Just wow.  You know why I say that?

Because I know what a vile little shrew I so often am.  I know that that there are times the fallible people around me can hardly stand me, so how can the perfect God of the universe not only look at me but have his love and beauty chase me around.

Seriously?

Hard to wrap my head around.  But here is the lesson therein.  We are so busy looking to others and seeking approval that we are lovable and beautiful and worthy, when Psalm 23 says that God’s beauty and love is chasing us around.

What does that even mean?

I will tell you what it means to me.  It means that each day I live, I am renewed with the beauty of Almighty Yahweh.  It means that no matter how I am treated or even how I treat myself, his love endures through every moment of my human life.  It is like a heat seeking missile, and as long as I draw breath, it will find me.

Verse 4 says, “I’m not afraid when you walk at my side.”

If you are a person who deals with the darkness of life on a regular basis, no matter how fearless you are by nature, there comes a point when the human factor simply isn’t enough to combat some of the monsters crouching in the dark.  This chapter is about stepping into those dark places knowing that the kind of fear that is elicited from what lurks in those depths can only be negated by God alone. Knowing that even though you walk into darkness, with God you will walk back out into the light again at some point.

It is God walking with me that helps me step fearlessly into what would consume human strength.  That is how this scripture moved from a poem to a living breathing torch full of permission, comfort, protection, and hope for me.  It now breaths into the icy chill that life sometimes is, bringing a flicker of light to the dark night.

It is not difficult to understand why this Psalm is popular at funerals, for it is often at funerals where we find ourselves in the darkest night of loss we can image. That is why the scripture is iconic for the lost and mourning, and why it endures not only as solace but as a weapon.

 

 

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