To be honest I was going to skip today's blog as I begin a two week break from all responsibility except for my children. However, I need this blog this morning more than it needs me as I work out some thoughts and emotions from the last two days. It will take a lot longer than a couple of days to work some of these things out but today I want to remind myself of something and I want to do it through the Word of God.
Life is full of complications, surprises, the unexpected, detours and emotional pitfalls. Some people choose to build buffers for themselves, a bit of protection in the emotional department, so they can avoid this kind of pain. Some people do it by never dealing with anything, using avoidance as their first policy in all such matters. As attractive as this may sound in the midst of heartache, it is not how our Creator has designed us nor is it consistent with his promises to us. Life is not always easy and often it is about learning to handle the pain because in the pain there is purpose and growth. Our Father has promised to be there with us even if the pain dulls us to his presence. His Word reminds us to look for him in these times. Psalm 23 is often used at funerals or as people are facing death, however I think that is shortchanging this psalm that speaks to us about our Father's pastoral care for us:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. (Psalm 23:1)
The very first line is a great declaration, some would say it is an affirmation. We are affirming here that our Father watches over us, provides for us, protects us, guides us, comforts us, tends to us and all the other things that a shepherd does for his flock. He bandages my wounds, even wounds of the heart, that I present to him. I don't even have to present them because he knows and he tends to them right away, as long as I allow him, open up to him, trust him to do so. Because he is our Shepherd we will never lack anything we need. I will not be in want, or I will not have want because my Father knows everything I need and provides for me, simply because he loves me:
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he restores my soul.
He knows what I need more than I do. He provides me with the rest that I need, taking me to pleasant places, places of joy and peace. Jesus told us not to worry about what we need because our Father will provide it but it also means we need to receive it when it is provided. Sometimes we can be very stupid in these things. We hold on to the pain, the worry and the fear when our Father is offering relief and healing. For some reason we sometimes believe we deserve this great punishment so we wallow in it when our Dad is standing right there, holding out to us what he knows we need. "He restores my soul" means that he shows me grace when I should be punished. He brings me back from my wanderings, even the emotional kind. He goes out and finds me, bringing me back to the place I belong, restoring me in my relationship with him and with others. Even when it is my fault and I am facing the consequences of my actions, by his grace he restores me. Oh, how I love him for that.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.
I know he intends only the best for me because I am his child. We bear the name of Jesus, so what we do reflects on that name. This is how I know that his guidance to me is good and I can trust it. This is how I know that the righteousness he teaches me is good, because it reflects on him, on his reputation, on how people see him. I can understand this because I know that my children are a reflection on me. My reputation rises and falls according to my childrens actions. I want to make sure that they understand the difference between right and wrong and that they choose right. I want to make sure they understand what it is to live a good life, how to love and care for others, how to respect other people. All these things reflect on me as their father, even if they choose to ignore it all in walking their own path. This reminds me that I can fully trust where my Father, my Shepherd, is leading me.
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.
Yesterday felt like death to me but it was only a place of shadows. Shadows cannot harm us but they can scare us. Emotions are often a place of shadows, of what might have been, of what could have been or what should have been. Any child waking in the middle of the night will tell you that shadows seem very real and they provoke real fear in the moment. But it is only in the moment. There are also good things in those valleys and how we face them will reveal to us how much we trust our Shepherd, even with the affairs of the heart. If we trust him then we will not fear that anything evil can come out of those shadows to harm us. We trust that his presence alone is enough for us. We recognize his rod of protection and his staff of lent strength. In fact, we find great comfort in his protection and in his strength when everything else seems to fail us, and it seems we are too paralyzed to go on. We look upon his protection and strength and it is enough to drive away the fear and allow us to move forward in the face of those shadows.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
This bit is for those Eternity thinkers; when we put this valley in the perspective of eternity it seems like nothing. It is as Paul said:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
When we enter into Glory all these hardships, trials, pains, sufferings, heartaches will fall away as we see what Jesus has spent all this time preparing for us. Our cups will be overflowing and that is where we fix our eyes. We realize that our time here is just a blink and it is a waste to stay in the valley filled with shadows of fear. There is nothing to fear when we are with the Shepherd, even if there are many valleys we have to pass through. So we can sum it up in the same manner that David did with this psalm, with a declaration or affirmation of our present and future condition:
Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Why fear the shadows, why even avoid them when we have been promised goodness and love every day of our life? We can choose to stay in the valley, paralyzed by the fear of the shadows or we can trust our Shepherd to lead us to new green pastures and quiet waters. He will lead us out of the valley and if we have stumbled into it on our own, he will seek us out and restore us to where we belong. He is leading us through these places to get us to the place of his Glory, when we will enter his house and remain there forever. So, in light of these truths, today I am choosing to trust my Shepherd, to follow him and to allow myself to be restored.
Tomorrow we will consider what to do when our spirit refuses to respond and we can't see the Shepherd because of the shadows.