by Julie Land
I’ve always liked the poetry and the sound of Psalm 23, but I didn’t understand why so many people claimed it as their favorite scripture or their life verse. Frequently and appropriately used at funerals to comfort the grieving, its reassuring message offers hope that their loved one is in heaven. It wasn’t until I had to face my own mortality that I began to see how deeply personal the message from God is in this twenty-third chapter of Psalms (NKJV).
1 The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
In this first stanza, all the verbs are in present tense: is, makes, leads, restores, leads. The Lord is; He makes; He leads; He restores; He leads.
I don’t know about you, but when I visit a new place, I enjoy having a tour guide to point out places of interest, places to rest or to find refreshment, and the best way to get around. The tour guide is completely familiar with my destination because he or she has been there many times before my arrival.
God is more than a tour guide in my life. God is present, and God is with me. Right here. Right now. When I need to rest, he causes me to lie down. When turmoil threatens to overtake me, He calms me and soothes my troubled and broken heart. When I stumble, He leads me to get back on track so that I might help others see His goodness and righteousness. He guides me because He has gone before me and prepared the places He will lead me.
4 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.
The second stanza has always frightened me because of the ominous “valley of the shadow of death” part. What does that even mean? I could never quite understand it until I was diagnosed with stage-4 metastatic cancer. The shadow of death was cancer, and the valley was the shock, depression, and treatment that followed the diagnosis. I experienced a great deal of grief because I would die sooner than I expected, but I never felt fear about the treatment plan because I saw God’s hand in every doctor’s appointment, every scan, every surgery. He was with me, so I had nothing to fear.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
In the middle of the second stanza, King David starts speaking directly to God acknowledging all the acts of undeserved grace, mercy, and abundant blessings He gives. Would you believe that I now consider cancer a gift? My life is so much better than it was before. My walk with Christ is closer, my relationships are stronger, my purpose is clear, and I am living as my authentic self. My cup truly “runneth over.”
No matter how many days I have on Earth, goodness and mercy are part of each day; after I die, I will live with God forever. God’s preparing a place for me after my mortal life ends shows me that I can look forward with hope, not dread, and He has been working on my behalf in the past, the present, and the future all along.
He is doing the same for you.
Prayer: Father, when I look back over my life, I am humbled to see how you have gone before me and worked everything for my good.When I plan my days, I am grateful for Your constant guidance and companionship. When I imagine my future, I am happy to know that every mortal day is one day closer to you in eternity.Thank you for my past, present, and future and most of all, Your abiding love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.