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Monday, May 16, 2011

Finding New Meaning in an Old Favorite (Psalm 23)

Yesterday was Good Shepherd Sunday.  For family devotions my dad read Psalm 23.  I haven't read it in a while, although I do know it by heart.  But last night I realized that it has more meaning for me than ever.

The Lord is my shepherd.
My God is my caretaker, my leader, my provider.  He always knows what's best for me, he always keeps me safe, he can see danger where I can't, he reprimands me when I stray but lovingly brings me back to him.

I shall not be in want.
I have everything I need.  Because I have God, I lack nothing.  He provides for all my needs-- not necessarily all my wants.  But I can be confident that God will always provide for me.  "Give us this day our daily bread"-- what we need for today.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.
This goes along with remembering the Sabbath day: resting as God rested on the final day of Creation.  He provides places to rest, times of rest, seasons of rest.  He refreshes us, physically, spiritually, mentally.  He fills us with peace through his Spirit.  He blesses us with sleep.  He gives us restful homes to live in.  He gives us times of quietness so that we may hear his voice.

He restores my soul.
We are sinful people; we fill our lives and souls with the filth of our sins.  But God cleanses us, washes that sin away, and restores our broken souls so that they are whole and wholly his.  He gives us his forgiveness, and enables us to forgive others, so that our souls are not destroyed by guilt, shame, or resentment.

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
In our lives, God can see where we're going.  He knows where we need to go; he knows where he wants us to go.  He plans our lives so that by living them we glorify him.  He guides our life's paths so that we may live righteous lives, and by doing so, give honor and glory to his name.  My desire is for my life to give praise to God: he makes it possible for me to do so by directing my life.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
In dark times God is still there.  Those times when we are sick, are scared, are fearful of the present or the future; when we can't see where to go or turn because the path is dark to us; when a loved one is dying or has died; when Satan seems to have the upper hand in our lives and in the world.  In all those times, God is there. And it's only the shadow of death.  Where there is a shadow, there must always be light.  God is that light, he is there always, and we need not fear the power of Satan.

Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Rods were tools of authority; staffs were tools of comfort.  God is in control, all the time, and he is bigger than any evil thing.  He has our lives in his hands.  In his word we read of God's sovereignty and his love: authority and comfort.  He reassures us in other means: through the Sacrament, through hymns and songs, and through people who he places in our lives at just the right time.  Parents, siblings, spouses, friends, pastors, and teachers--sometimes even strangers--are all used by God to direct and comfort us.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
My Study Bible notes say, "The heavenly Shepherd-King receives David at his table as his vassal king and takes him under his protection.  In the ancient Near East, covenants were often concluded with a meal expressive of the bond of friendship."  God blesses us and protects us, and he has given us authority over creation as he gave to Adam at the beginning.

You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Anointing a guest was a way of honoring them.  God does not treat us like slaves or dishonored guests; in his eyes we are precious, specially chosen by him to be his own (1 Peter 2:9), his blessed children who will receive his inheritance of eternal life.  He gives us more blessings than we need, more than we can count (have you ever tried counting everything that God has blessed you with?  I haven't, but I think it would take a very long time!). God is ever generous with his children, blessing us far more than we deserve, and being kind and gracious with us.

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
We are believers in the one true God.  We may face trouble and suffering in this life, especially because we follow Jesus.  But we follow Jesus, the one true God.  Jesus said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:10).  We will be blessed because we follow Jesus, because he has saved us: not because of anything we have done, but because of his mercy.  And those blessings have eternal benefits: we will live with Jesus in heaven for eternity.  God's love will never leave us, his blessings will always be upon us, and his Spirit dwells within us for all eternity.

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