Part 2 of Psalm 23--my personal reclamation.
For Thou art with me.
Years ago, my brothers, middle sister (the Dump) and her two sons hiked the Chilkoot trail in Alaska, which was an historic path used by gold seekers in the 1898-99 season. The most arduous part of the hike is called the Golden Stairs, and is essentially a boulder field straight up a mountain. On this day, as on every day, my youngest brother hiked at the back. My youngest brother's name I'll divulge for the first and only time on this blog, because it's fitting for this Psalm, written by the man who knelt by the stream and prayed it before he went and slayed a giant with a stone from a slingshot. My brother's name is David, and he is--ABSOLUTELY--as beloved by God as that king himself. As beloved by God as we all are. But I digress. Anyway, D hiked at the back. He learned this from watching our day when Dad was a Scoutmaster leading many long hikes, always hiked at the rear, to encourage the slowest. To lead from behind, so to speak. And usually, on this arduous, historic hike, my sister hiked with her twelve-year-old son, helping him along. But she had watched D on those first few days on the hike; she'd seen him flip his pack straight over his head in an amazing display of strength, she'd seen his care for the rest of them, his quiet kindness. She knew she could trust him. So on the day they had to climb the Golden Stairs, my sister to struggle as she made her way up those boulders. She knew she had to march at a certain clip or she wouldn't make it. If she tried to slow down to her son's pace, they'd both fall. So she told him, "I'm going on, but Uncle D will help you." And she left him. She didn't tell D, she simply went on. At the top, my sister looked down that boulder field, and there was our brother, not only helping his nephew up every large rock, but actually carrying his pack as well. He'd been there every step of the way, and lifted the burden that made the journey more difficult. My sister trusted him with what was most important to her because she knew his character, and her son experienced it.
This has always been the perfect picture of "For Thou art with me." Because we know His character we can trust Him. And KNOW that He doesn't leave us. No matter how it might feel, we can KNOW that He is with us.
How much do we trust the Shepherd?
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
These two things represent works of the Holy Spirit within us. The rod is a weapon, used to fend off enemies. It's dug from a tree, cut from the ground where the root is enlarged so there's a knot in it. Then it's used as a club against dangers. It's a weapon of defense--so there's power and authority in the rod. We are given power and authority by the Holy Spirit to help us ward off the enemies that come against us, to preach the good news, to speak in His Name. We hold His rod, when we have the Holy Spirit in us. But the rod is also about discipline. Hebrews 12: 5-6 says, "My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when He disciplines you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves." If we recognize that we are disciplined as a parent disciplines a child--to help us grow into maturity, perhaps we will be less resistant to it, less apt to question, "Why did this have to happen to me?" when it comes.
The staff is about comfort. The staff a shepherd uses is to gently guide the sheep along the path they should go. It's like my brother carrying my nephew's pack, helping him along a difficult path. We have that comfort. When we're likely to tumble off, there is the staff to lean on, to comfort us. Jesus told us He would send a Comforter. John 16: 13 says, "When the Spirit comes, He will guide you..." The Comforter deals in love with us--He knows exactly what each of us needs--sometimes a gentle pat with one end of the staff, sometimes a tug with the crook--to pull us back in line. Both are a part of discipleship.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
Now a feast. We have won the battle, now we have the feast. But not just a feast behind closed doors with only the other victors. No, this feast is in front of our slain Goliaths and all the other giants we've put to death. Jesus tells us a banquet is waiting. And we are invited. But so are all others. "Invite them to come in," He tells us. We have to look at it from this angle first: to talk about our enemies in light of Jesus' call to love and welcome them.
So, who is my enemy?
First, recognizing there are real enemies of the faith wanting to snatch us from Him--principalities and powers. The serpent in the garden. The enemy Jesus warns against. "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil," we are told to pray.
A couple of 'tricks'--via scripture--for facing our enemies.
1. Stand and Stand and Stand firm.
Ephesians 6: 10 f.
That's it. Read it. I'm not kidding. That section of scripture tells us to stand and put on our armor. It doesn't tell us to fight. Just to stand. We aren't usually very good at inactivity, but that's it, folks. The implication is that the Holy Spirit--which is the sum-total of the weaponry and armor we put on--does the fighting for us. We stand and pray. The end.
2. Eat. That's what we're told here in Psalm 23. We are not only safe within our armor, but victorious enough to eat in the presence of our enemies. Of course we must have enough sense to stay near our Shepherd while we eat this feast, but we can do that. And what is this feast, on a practical level? "John 4: 34 says, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent me." Being part of HIS will. That's our feast. Partaking daily in the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the fellowship of those who will nourish us.
You anoint my head with oil...
Now we, like David, are the anointed ones. We are His people. We are a royal people, a holy priesthood. That's what it means to be anointed. But anointing has some specific properties:
1. healing--There's something supernatural about the presence of anointing oil in prayer. And we are called, as anointed ones, to also do this as we pray for others.
2. Restoration--Our skin is made supple when oiled. Dry becomes soft, baby-like. So spiritually we are restored through oil. And our 'oil', in the sense of restoration, is the cross. We are restored to our true selves. Reborn through that oil, so to speak.
3. Set apart/filled with the Holy Spirit. David was anointed when he received his calling to be king. So we are set apart as His when we receive the holy Spirit. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we are given all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of royalty.
My cup overflows.
Because of the nourishment of His food and His Oil, we not have more than the "I shall not want" from the beginning. Now we have abundance. We are moved to overflowing. Discipleship moves us from just what we need to an overflowing cup. Every time Jesus feeds people, there's more than enough. Have you ever noticed that? They're always picking up extra. Cups overflow. We live abundant lives. So what does He want us to do with all this extravagance? It's for us and, through us, for others. We have this great privilege and great responsibility--this adventure, this extravagant life with Jesus. So share it.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life
The Shepherd is surrounding us--He leads and follows. Nothing less. He led us beside still waters, now His goodness and mercies come after us. It doesn't always look this way in the middle of it--I admit that. I admit to the struggle of recognizing goodness and mercy every moment of every day. But I believe it will follow. IS following after. This is HIS promise. No matter what happens, no matter where we are in the middle, we can be sure of two things from Romans 8, NOTHING can separate us from the LOVE of Christ Jesus our Lord (see 38-39); and in every circumstance HE is working for our good. Romans 8: 28 doesn't say (no matter what you think) that every situation IS good, but that IN every situation GOD is working for our good. That significant difference is the promise that rings of Psalm 23.
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
He knows us and we are His. We know His voice. He lay down His life for us. So from the moment we gave our lives to Him we began to dwell with Him. But someday, some great and glorious day, we will also be together in that place where
"...God has exalted Him to the highest place
and gave Him the Name that is above every name,
that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father."