Joy is our promise, not misery. We will experience misery but it cannot rob us of our joy unless we give it permission to take it. Miserable people, cranky people, grumpy people have made the choice to be that way. We have been promised victory over everything in our life. If we feel defeated it is because that is what we have chosen for ourself. I am not talking "mind over matter" stuff here or some psychology mumble jumble; I am talking to you about faith and the promises of Jesus.
Psalm 23 is a great psalm for explaining faith. It is not a miserable psalm or a funeral psalm, it is a psalm of great joy and faith. It starts off with a declaration:
"The Lord is my shepherd".
Now because this is true the psalmist states quite plainly what this means for him:
"I shall not be in want".
I shall not be in want of anything! I know this to be true because of my experience with Jesus. The psalmist had the same experience. Look at what the Great Shepherd does for those who proclaim him as their God:
- he makes me lie down in green pastures
- he leads be beside quiet waters
- he restores my soul
- he guides me in paths of righteous
All of us receive this with great joy. We shout our hallelujahs and amens. We all love it when he does these things and we should expect it because it is what he has promised us. But this does not mean these promises are cocooned in trouble free days. This is what he does for us all the time, in the sunny days and stormy days. But we have the habit of losing him in the storm. Things become hard so we let go of faith and we try it on our own. Yet look to what the psalmist declares:
"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil."
People read this as "the valley of death" but the shadow means that it is something without substance. It is the threat of death without death. It is the threat of disaster without disaster. It is the threat of ruin without ruin. He uses an "even though" to indicate that he will trust in what the Lord is doing no matter what he is facing:
Even though I am walking through hard times I will not allow fear to paralyze me because ... Even though I am facing cancer I will not allow fear to paralyze me because ... Even though I am being threatened by financial ruin I will not allow fear to paralyze me because ...
Let's take note here the source of the psalmist's great courage and determination to live in the promises of the Lord, to trust him, to abide in him. He says:
"for you are with me;
your rod and you staff,
they comfort me."
The presence of the Lord and the comfort of his Word is all that is needed to keep us in that ideal place of a rich and vibrant relationship with Jesus, despite the circumstances of our life. Again I say to you, it is a choice. It is from this place that the psalmist was able to see what the Lord was doing in the storm:
- you prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies
- you anoint my head with oil
- my cup overflows
This is not after the victory and the miracles have been done. This is in that valley of darkness, where our flesh tells us to run, avoid, hide but our spirit tells us to stand and trust. The apostle Paul put it this way:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. (2 Corinthians 4:16)
We don't have time for pity parties because we have an inner sunshine that keeps us dancing all day long. It means that as the shadows begin to threaten we push them back by declaring the truths and promises of our Lord. We are mighty warriors so how can we allow shadows to defeat us when we have so much on our side. The psalmist was absolutely convinced of God's goodness and that what he promised was of greater worth than anything this world had to offer:
"Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
As followers of Jesus Christ we realize that there is nothing greater we could possess. If you haven't done so already, it is time to throw off the fear those shadows produce in us and begin to walk in the truth of God's promises. These promises are true on the mountain tops and in the dark valleys. Even though ... I will fear no evil ... because you are with me and the promises of your Word comfort me.