Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.  He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Whoa! I know what you just did.  You read as far as “The Lord is my shepherd”.  You thought to yourself, “Oh, the 23rd Psalm.”  And then you skipped right past the rest of it and started reading again.  How do I know that?  Because I do the same thing.  But today I want you to go back up there and take a couple minutes and really read…not just let your eyes slide over the words…really READ and meditate on what that Psalm is really saying.  Go ahead; I’ll wait…………………………

It’s hard isn’t it?  We know the words so well that we almost can’t get to the meaning.  We’ve even given it a certain rhythm when we say it so it’s almost like the pledge of allegiance.  We could all say it together as a congregation and we’d pause at the same times and emphasize the same words, and we still wouldn’t have thought one bit about what the words themselves really mean to us and our everyday lives.

One author made a novel suggestion:  
Read the first phrase, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” through nine times.  Each time stress a different word in the sentence.  By the time I had emphasized each of the nine words, I was amazed at how each reading altered my understanding of the entire phrase.  Try it.  It was really educational!
Another part of the problem is that most of us have absolutely no idea what a shepherd’s life is like other than what we’ve heard about in relation to religion.  When was the last time you had a chat with a shepherd?  Hm.  Same here.

So, what I did was go on the internet to see what I could find.  And I found some really interesting stuff.  First of all, I found out that absolutely every group has its own “Psalm 23”.  There’s the American Indian version, a Japanese translation, one for Firefighters, for Alcoholics Anonymous, a reggae version (Jah-mon), a sailor’s paraphrase, a student’s version, a politically correct version, a psychiatrist version and one specifically for the workplace. Now, I’m not saying I agree with or even understand all of them, but they all have some very important factors in common.

Each version, even though the words may be quite different, talks about a God who takes care of us, worries about us, protects us, loves us, wants to spend eternity with us and walks with us through the toughest parts of our lives.

Can you imagine that?  It’s hard for me to imagine sometimes that God is right there with me in the valley as completely as He is with me in the green pastures.  Rabbi Harold Kushner is an author.  He wrote a book named when Bad Things Happen To Good People.  He’s also written about the 23rd Psalm.  He says, 
“…the 23rd Psalm answers the question, how do you live in a dangerous and unpredictable world?”  
Rabbi Kushner continues, 
“God’s promise was never that life would be fair.  God’s promise was, when it’s your turn to confront the unfairness of life, no matter how hard it is, you’ll be able to handle it, because He’ll be on your side.  He will give you the strength you need to find your way through.”
Another thing I learned is that the 23rd Psalm is part of a trilogy.  Did you know that?  We all love trilogies, right?  The Hobbit, Star Wars, you know.  Anyway, Psalm 22 and 24 make the trilogy.  Psalm 22 is about Christ’s crucifixion.  Psalm 24 tells about the Kingdom of God.  Psalm 23 tells us about what we can expect in between.  I had never put that together before, but I like it.  Jesus was here and he redeemed us.  He’s coming back to take us home.  While we wait, we’re not alone, we have a relationship with Someone who loves us.
“The more you trust your Redeemer, the more you will love Him. He is your Friend in life or death. He is the Crown of your rejoicing. He is worthy of your fullest faith. All the sorrows and afflictions that we suffer here only constitute our discipline for the higher life. God designs that thus we shall be fitted for heaven. Wait upon God. Lean upon Him in entire dependence; for His everlasting arms will sustain you. He who says that not a sparrow falls to the ground without the notice of the heavenly Father will care for those who love and trust Him. Jesus knows every throb of pain, every throe of anguish and distress, and He will give His children grace to endure the afflictions that He permits to come upon them. His heart beats in sympathy with suffering humanity and those who suffer most have most of His pity and sympathy. "Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable." "Thou hast a mighty arm; strong is Thy hand: and high is Thy right hand." "Trust ye in the Lord forever; for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength." If He is for you, who can be against you. "The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" "Yea, tho I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me." Let us trust Him who sees the end from the beginning, and who will make all things work together for good to those that love the Lord.” E.G. White, The Signs of the Times, “Trusting Christ”, February 28, 1906.
Okay, I have a challenge for you.  Sometime this week, paraphrase the 23rd Psalm so that it becomes yours.  We don’t know much about shepherds anymore.  It’s not really an image that we can totally identify with.  Find an image that tells what your relationship with Jesus is like.  You never have to show it to anyone else, ever.  Nobody is going to grade you.  What you will learn, though, is what David was saying about God when He wrote that Psalm.

Here’s mine:
Jesus is my best friend; He meets all of my needs
He has given me the Sabbath so I can rest in Him and drink in the living water of His word.
He gives me the strength and courage I need for each new trial.
He promises to help me make the best decisions every day.
But even when I've made really bad choices and my life falls apart,
I don’t need to worry because You’re still right beside me.
Your Holy Spirit and Your angels teach and protect me.
You shower me with your blessings everyday, even when I have alienated everyone or when I am surrounded by people who tell lies about me.
You wrap Your arms around me and welcome me home.  You fill my heart with your love.
I can be sure that for the rest of my life, You will clothe me in Your robe of grace and forgiveness,
And I will live with You in the home you built for me until the end of time.

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