From Deborah Kirk
Thought for 3rd May 2020
Surely these six short verses are among the most well-known and best loved texts from the Bible. We may have learned them as children. We may pray them as the day begins, beside hospital beds, at funerals, as we lie down to sleep at the end of the day.
This psalm has been a catalyst for Christians to write their own ‘psalm of life’, using updated metaphors such as ‘The Lord is my SatNav’ which try to express its continuing relevance in a society for which shepherds are a bit ‘passe’. But for older people (and I count myself among them!) it is the beautiful poetry of the Authorised King James Version of the Bible which resonates in its familiarity.
In just a few lines, the psalm shows us how to recognise the presence of God at times and in places where we might think God was absent; when we are exhausted, or surrounded by fear, or walking through the valley of the shadow of death itself. It teaches us to see the world we live in clearly, but at the same time to understand that we can live in this world courageously and trustingly. Although the world may be frightening, it is less frightening when God is leading us. Sometimes God calms the storm – but sometimes the storm rages, and God calms the frightened child.
The psalm does not offer us the lie that, if we are good people, life will be easy. The author of this psalm has enemies. But he has grown through the challenges, as he has learned to draw from the source of his comfort and peace. The psalm does not ask us to deny the shattering reality of death and loss, nor does it minimise their pain. It acknowledges the emotional darkness that sometimes surrounds us, and the deathly valley that we might even have to journey through ourselves. But instead of cursing a God who ‘permits’ death and loss, it introduces us to a God who is with us in our pain, and who leads us, supports us, and summons us to live bravely, reassuring us that we are not alone.
If we are anxious, the psalm gives us courage. If we are grieving, it offers comfort. If our lives are embittered by unpleasant people, it reminds us that we are nourished and strengthened. If the world threatens to wear us down, it guides us and replenishes our souls. If we are obsessed with what we lack, it teaches us gratitude for what we have. And most of all, if we feel alone and adrift in a friendless world, it offers us the reassurance ‘Thou art with me’.
It is personal – written in the first person – and speaks straight into the life that you and I are living. Pray it often. In its ancient living word is a fresh new word for us from God today.
Jesus said ‘Iam the Good Shepherd’. All the rich Old Testament images of the shepherd as royal leader and protector, provider and compassionate companion, find fulfilment in Jesus. ‘My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me. I lay down my life for them. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can snatch them out of my hand’.
Thanks be to God for his wonderful promise.