Tuesday, August 16, 2016

For You Are with ME

Thus says the Lord GOD: I swear I am coming against these shepherds. I will claim my sheep from them and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep so that they may no longer pasture themselves. I will save my sheep, that they may no longer be food for their mouths. For thus says the Lord GOD:  I myself will look after and tend my sheep. Ezekiel 34:10-11

So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more, but each of them also got the usual wage. And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’ He said to one of them in reply, ‘My friend, I am not cheating you. Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what is yours and go. What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?’  Matthew 20:10-16

A psalm of David.
The LORD is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
In green pastures he makes me lie down;
to still waters he leads me;
he restores my soul.
He guides me along right paths
for the sake of his name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff comfort me.
You set a table before me in front of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Indeed, goodness and mercy will pursue me all the days of my life;
I will dwell in the house of the LORD for endless days.

Psalm 23 outlines things that the generosity that Lord shows to the believer:[i]
  1. A sheep fed. “I shall not want” (verse 1).
  2. A child led. “He leads me beside the still waters” (verse 2).
  3. A backslider restored. “He restores my soul” (verse 3).
  4. A friend comforted. “your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (verse 4).
  5. A warrior feasted. “You prepare a table before me” (verse 5).
  6. A priest anointed. “you anoint my head” (verse 5).
  7. A pilgrim housed. “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (verse 6).
However, despite the fact that we want to believe the pastoral roots of sunshine, warm grass and happiness, there is something more serious that takes place inside this Psalm.  Check out the very different setting for verse four:
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

It is easy to imagine that the Lord laying down beside us when we relax in the summer grass at the side of the river or on the beach.  Yet, the real test of the disciple is when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  If we realize that the Lord stays with us there, then we shall truly be His apostles.

Yet too often we miss its core message. There is an abrupt transition in verse four that takes us from a nice Hallmark field to the valley of the shadow of death. It’s easy to skip this part as gloom and despair don’t necessarily fit alongside a beautiful green meadow.  But it’s this valley that provides the key message of Psalm 23.

God does lead us to good places, but the road often winds through dark valleys. Pain and hardship are a part of life and it is in these moments when God reveals Himself most powerfully.  Notice what else changes in verse four.  For the first part of the Psalm David speaks of God only in the third person; “He leads me.”  But after the valley there is a powerful change.  The psalmist no longer speaks about God; now He directly speaks to Him, saying, “You are with me.” Pain is difficult, yet it is often the trigger that leads us to spiritual intimacy.[ii]

Whether we turn to Isaiah or Micah or John, the image of God that shines through is a God who is with us through thick and thin.  He wants to walk with us.

Where is your road leading today?  Who is with you?

Last week, legendary New Orleans clarinetist Pierre Dewey “Pete” Fountain, Jr., (1930-2016) died.  Although there are many Dixieland, jazz and honky-tonk tunes he performed that will remain in my mind, at the top of that list is this one (“Just A Closer Walk with Thee”):

  1. I am weak, but Thou art strong;
    Jesus, keep me from all wrong;
    I’ll be satisfied as long
    As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.
    • Refrain:
      Just a closer walk with Thee,
      Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
      Daily walking close to Thee,
      Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.
  2. Through this world of toil and snares,
    If I falter, Lord, who cares?
    Who with me my burden shares?
    None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee.
  3. When my feeble life is o’er,
    Time for me will be no more;
    Guide me gently, safely o’er
    To Thy kingdom shore, to Thy shore.
Songs like this unite the image of God from the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament – a God who wants to be so close to us he sends his only son to live with us, walk with us, talk with us, and love us.  All he wants is for us – no matter what path we are on now – is to get on the same path to live with Him, walk with Him, talk with Him and love Him.

Through the valley of the shadow of death, through this world of toil and snares, Jesus shares our burdens with us. Daily. Amazing. Grace.

No comments: