The Twenty-Third Psalm
Darkness, separation, isolation, despair, and hopelessness abound in this day and age. With pandemics, viruses, social distancing, selfishness, hoarding, and panic describing how much of the world is reacting to crisis, the church should be different, and offer a counter-narrative to the world. Hope, peace, charity, love, selflessness, joy, and faith need to be our hallmarks right now. Even if we are not pleased with the condition of the world, and we shouldn’t be, we must respond to the darkness with hope.
David, a man after God’s own heart, saw darkness, experienced tremendous loss, and had his life threatened on many occasions. In the midst of these dire situations, he teaches us about this hope, through the way he addresses God. He never loses sight that God is in control, so we too should never lose sight that God is in control. This is apparent as we look at one of the best known Psalms, the 23rd Psalm.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads 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 You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
The Psalm reminds us that we have a God that loves us, cares for us, and instructs us in all times. There is nothing that separates us, pulls us away from the provision that is found in God’s grace. Even when the world becomes dark and it looks like evil is winning each and every day, God is beside us, gently leading us into places of peace and restoration. The Lord Almighty, creator of the universe, comes alongside us and shepherds us in our time of need away from fear and into hope.
During uncertain times, we find that we are desperate to be led. Unfortunately, the default for many is a descent into panic and fear. We see no exception today, with images of people rushing into the stores to buy up all the supplies, hand sanitizer, soap, toilet paper, and non-perishable food. The world economic markets are crashing because they do not like uncertainty, but none of us can tell what the future holds. The source of the uncertainty is our belief that we had control. Furthermore, it is our lack of faith that God is in control of our circumstance and our lives. While the adage states, that “nothing is certain, except death and taxes,” our faith must instruct us that nothing is certain except that God is in control.
When we begin to submit our lives to God, we then will seek God in the midst of everything. The Psalm opens up with a clear statement about God, and our relationship with God, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” This is a two-fold recognition about the character of God, as a shepherd God cares for His creation and desires for His people to remain safe, and fulfilled, and it recognizes that we have no need that God is not able to provide.
Therefore, it is imperceptible to have God’s people, those that are part of His flock, go out to the stores and stockpile supplies at this time. If we truly believe that God is in control then we should be gathering what we need for a week, and not being the cause of shortages. If anything, we should be looking out for one another, and be aware that there are many people that simply cannot afford to go out and stockpile. We need to be looking out for one another, and if anything we need to help those of us that need assistance at this time.
The Lord, as our shepherd, instructs us where to go and what to do. This is not because God is ruthless or self-serving, but because it restores us and keeps us safe and whole. Lay down in the pasture, find restoration along the still water, receive the healing that we need in our bodies, these are all the desires of a shepherd that loves His flock. There is a calm confidence and knowledge that God leads His people with, a calm confidence that desires for us to live lives fully in line with God’s law, because He knows what is life giving, and what is destructive.
The calm and stillness we are all called to do in this Psalm is life giving. God calls on us to bring this peace to the world around us, and not react to the world by ramping up anxiety, fear, and panic, but rather we must be calm, rational, and healing.
As churches throughout our community have made the decision to not hold regular services, there has been some criticism that we are being fearful of the virus, and contributing to the fear and panic. However, this is far from truthful, the church instead is responding to this out of love and care for our congregations, as we want to help keep people safe, and as such seek to allow God to shepherd us at this time, and follow God’s example to be sacrificial and caring to the congregation. That is why we have implemented the necessary physical distancing as suggested by the government. This does not mean that we cut off communication or connection, but rather because we serve a God that is not confined by physical space, you joining us here is worship, and the Holy Spirit is present. Our obedience to the orders of the governmental agencies is keeping the flock safe, and as such is done not to inhibit the work of God, but rather to show how powerful God really is at this time, that even though we are physically distant, God’s Name will still be praised.
It shouldn’t take a global pandemic to remind us that darkness is all around us. The temptation to fear the future and worst case scenarios are always present. The enemy is out there trying to destroy the church, out there trying to destroy our bodies, out there working against our best interests. Our vulnerability to deceptions and lies is heightened at this time, as we are tempted to think we need to gain control over our circumstance.
This darkness seeks to turn us against one another, it seeks to take advantage of our distancing and makes us feel as if we are alone. This seeks to isolate us and tear us apart, and when this happens fear and panic are easier to access than faith. Both of these feelings acknowledge our lack of control, but one grasps at anything to attempt to gain control, while the other yields control to God. When we yield to God, our mindset is transformed into one that focuses upon hope rather than fear.
The promises in this Psalm are safety, protection, comfort, restoration, and abundance. Like a good shepherd, God protects us even in the face of death and darkness, even in the face of a global pandemic. Though we are in the place of ultimate risk, where the darkness protects those who do evil and death casts its shadow, our fear is eclipsed by the presence of God. Where God uses His power to fend off the attacks on us, and God protects us by pulling us back from the areas where we wander into harm’s way.
In life, God doesn’t prevent evil from happening, but rather God offers us a response to the evil around us. Instead of fleeing from evil, God allows us to safely navigate our way in our enemies’ presence. Even going as far as preparing us a table, providing for us in the most turbulent times. When there appears to be little reason to hope, God gives us an abundance of hope, and casts out all fear.
At this time God is here to provide us with all that we need, and more. Out of the abundance God provides to us, we must in turn share that hope with one another. While you may not be able to physically be present with one another, there are an abundance of ways you can provide this hope. Call each other, pray with one another, be socially present for one another while you are physically distant.
So What Now
Now is the time to be directed by our faith. Respond to the panic and fear that is abundant in our world with God’s love, peace, and hope. While we physically cannot be close, we can socially connect with one another through phone calls, prayers for one another, connection through social media outlets, and sharing our excess. Some of us may not be connected through all of these outlets, but we must continue to pray for the needy, the sick, and the brokenhearted.
We must continue to strengthen our relationship with God, seek his grace and mercy, and continue reading the Word, keep praying, and be present for God’s mission in the world. This requires listening to the Holy Spirit. Many of us have so many voices and noise rolling through our ears, especially now that we are going out less. We should take the time now to turn off the noise, and listen better to one another, and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit
Our enemy seeks to hurt us, distract us, and lead us to believe that we are self-reliant. We are tricked into seeking our own self-interest first and foremost. However, we look at the world, and need to recognize that we cannot rely upon anyone other than God. We need to recognize that God is present with us at all times, and that at this time we need to allow our own self reliance to fall, and our dependence on God to rise.
This is a healthy dependence. Such dependence upon God makes us independent in this world. When we find our identity and our security in Him, we are free to deal with life and not cave in. Our heavenly Father longs to meet our dependency needs, so that we can be mature and healthy in this world—a sign of the new humanity redeemed by our Lord and invested here for His glory.