In Eat this Book, Eugene Peterson teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it and put it to use in practical ways. Our Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. In this well-loved passage we are face-to-face with God’s loving pro- tection and guidance.
Psalm 23: 4 (CEB)
“Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
they protect me.“
In a recent radio interview Eugene Peterson shared that he has chosen seven long psalms, one for each day of the week, and then memorized each of them. During the first hour of each day, he studies the appropriate Psalm and then, he says, “I just breathe deeply and for another 15, 20, 25 minutes, just try to empty myself of everything. But there’s enough going on through that first [exercise] that it seeps into your imagination. And so you’re not really just emptying yourself, you’re emptying yourself of a certain amount of clutter so that the words you really need to know kind of fit in.” (to listen to the interview or read the transcript, click here.)
While I’m not as ambitious (or gifted) as Dr. Peterson, I have learned through daily recitation that Psalm 23 is the gift that keeps on giving!
Psalm 23: 4 arose from David’s observations of the sheep he cared for. He learned that his herd of sheep was helpless and defenseless, that they foolishly strayed from the flock, and that they needed constant provision and guidance. As David Roper reminds us in Every Day is a New Shade of Blue, David knew that “he must think for his sheep, fight for them, guard them, and find them pasture and quiet ponds.” He cared for their bruises and rescued them from harm. This knowledge helped him see how much he himself was like a sheep and how he needed God to be his shepherd.
Some points to notice in verse 4:
- In verses 1-3 David uses the “third person”: The Lord is, he leads me, he provides. In verse 4 David switches to the more intimate second person: you are with me, your rod and staff protect me. This more personal expression reflects the trust he has in his Shepherd.
- The rod and the staff serve as instruments of protection and assistance. They were used both to ward off enemies and to rescue straying sheep. Roper notes that “[David’s] shepherd was by his side, armed to the teeth, warding off his enemies and keeping him from wandering off the trail. God was with him in the midst of his fears.” I noticed that the staff has a great hook on it – perfect for pulling me back from a bad decision or rescuing me from an action I will regret.
- Several popular translations of the Bible say that the rod and staff are used to “comfort me.” While God may not always use his power to keep us out of trials, his comforting presence will sustain us as we go through them.
♥ Richard Foster says, “God becomes a reality when he becomes a necessity.” Dark valleys make God more real to us. As the new year dawns, spend some time discovering what “dark valleys” real or imagined, past or present shadow you. It may be physical suffering, financial issues, loss of a job, a father who abandoned you literally or emotionally, a spouse who betrayed you, feelings of worthlessness, an addictive habit or a loved one with an addictive habit. It may be anxiety or depression over the state of national or international affairs. Whatever it is, instead of trying to “fix it,” choose to trust God in the darkness and wait. David Roper says, “These are the times that wean us from sensuality – that tendency to live by feelings rather than by faith in God’s unseen presence. We become independent of places and moods and content with God alone.”
♥ Psalm 23 reminds us that God is always with us. Read these verses to solidify that truth: Genesis 28:15, Exodus 33:14, Deuteronomy, 31:6, Joshua 1:5, Isaiah 41: 10 and 43:2, and Matthew 28:20. Write down the verse that speaks to you most and put it on your refrigerator or mirror.
MORE FOOD FOR THOUGHT
“‘God is with us, walking every incognito,’ as C.S. Lewis said. “And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labor is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.” The main thing to remember is to make ourselves think about His presence; to acknowledge that He is with us, as real as He was in the days of His flesh when He walked with His disciples amid the sorrows and haunts of this world.
Friends fail us, spouses walk out on us, parents disappoint us, therapists refuse to return our calls, but God is with us every moment of every day. When we walk through deep waters, when we pass through the fire, when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, He is there. Difficulty and drudgery make us think of ourselves as being alone, but He has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ Of Him alone it can be said, He will never say good-bye” (David Roper in Every Day is a New Shade of Blue, p. 103).
For more in this blog on Psalm 23, click on the links below