Psalm 23

1The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 3He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. 4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. 6Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. – Psalm 23 NASB

Insecurity is an interwoven thread in almost every aspect of our lives today. From the marketing of health products, fashion, and even surgery to eliminate or enhance bits of ourselves we don’t like about ourself. From personal to external; body cameras, nanny cameras, dash cams, military defense, we are people longing for security and protection. The psalmist knows the shadow of death that lingers over humanity, both personally and universally.

Fear, worry, anxiety are real. As men, we get this sense of weakness if we acknowledge we have any of them.  Let us be confident that God has given us these emotions for our good. Unfortunately, the emotions meant for good can be skewed and used against us. Here in in community we can admit our weakness and seek encouragement, support and insights.

What is your perspective, stance or situation when it comes to security or anxiety? Maybe it is easier to ask what insecurities effect you regularly? Finances? Health? Age? Relationships? Family? Physical harm? Mental challenges?

What drives these thoughts and emotions? 

In the arms of the Shepherd, though, we do not find insecurity and anxiety. Quite the opposite actually. In the arms of the Shepherd we find protection. We are sheltered from externally-launched threats and terror and internally-driven fears and fumbles. The Lord uses His rod to beat away the pervasive darkness of the valley we inhabit and His staff to pull us back from the edge of our self-inflicted stumbling. Rather than feeling berated, we feel comforted. We experience true refuge  in the arms of the Good Shepherd. With nothing left to fear, we can walk with confidence in the shadow of the Savior who willingly sacrificed His life for our security.

 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. – Psalm 23:4 NASB

Though I Walk

There is a certain amount of saddened surprise we feel when we encounter suffering in our lives, as though we might have otherwise escaped it in this life. The psalmist does not say “if” we walk through the valley of the shadow of death but “though” we walk there. There is an implication of expectation that this valley is something all sheep must pass through from time to time. In the fallen, broken world we live in, pervasive darkness is to be expected. Still we need not live with wincing fear of the valley, as we are not there alone. Jesus walked through the Kidron Valley on His way to the crucifixion, making HIs way through the shadow of death and, in His resurrection, conquered  death for all who abide in Him.

When you are faced with a valley on the horizon, what have you learned to do to better equip yourself mentally, physically, emotionally and spriitually

From time to time, we get caught off-guard and find ourselves in the middle of the valley ill-equipped; what is your best response? What has worked well for you? What are things that you would NOT recommend to a friend when caught in the valley by surprise?

Without Fear

It is a remarkable thing that the psalmist can walk through a place as foreboding as the valley of the shadow of death without fear. In the presence of the Good Shepherd, however, fear evaporates. The power and might of the Lord far outweighs any scheme of the enemy that lurks in the shadows. How often do we walk through difficult seasons without recognizing that the protection of the Creator God goes before us? To hold onto the idea of the Shepherd who doesn’t leave us is to hold onto the strength and courage in even our most trying seasons.

Can you recall a time, when you look back and you are amazed you walked right through it?

Did you have any individuals in your life, role-models, that exhibited security in the times trouble? Or did you have examples of what not to do?

Present Sufferings, Eternal Perspective

Even though we face no shortage of trial and tribulation, we can stand in confidence of eternity that has already seen the darkness overcome by God’s glorious light. It is the light of that eternal reality that we can hold our present sufferings in perspective. They are a momentary blip on the cosmic radar. We have a Savior who knows suffering personally, who can empathize with us in our most despondent state. Far from abandoned, we have been joined by a loving God, a gracious Shepherd, and can face the day with the confidence of a future gloriously sealed.

God Who Defends

The active Shepherd of Psalm 23 doesn’t expect us to withstand the darkness of the valley on our own or with aid of mere platitudes. Again, the Lord is at our defense, using the rod to beat back the enemies. A shepherd would use his rod as a way to defend his sheep from external threats and ravenous predators. The Lord, our Shepherd, doesn’t merely clear the way for us, but aggressively protects us as we follow the path.

God Who Protects

As fallen creatures, we cannot be worried excessively about threats from outside of ourselves. We have a sin nature that means many of the greatest threats come from within, from our own broken hearts. The Good Shepherd recognizes that his sheep do stray and that they often need protection from themselves. He uses the crook of His staff to pull His sheep back into the fold, to bring them from the precipice of danger, and to draw them back to Himself when they wander away.

We can trust a good God who loves us enough to protect us from all threats – even our own bad decisions and mistakes.

True Comfort

We live in the most affluent society in history. Western Christians have more material abundance and greater material comfort than any culture in human existence. Still, there is always a longing for more. No matter how much we have and how comfortable we are, we have a yearning for something greater, some transcendence not found in the world.

Can you share of a time, or even now, when you have attempted to fill the void in your life with something? Work? Family? Ministry? Material things? Sports? Sex? Chemicals?

The God-shaped hole can only be filled by the Savior. Only His protection in the rod and staff bring us true comfort. Only His sacrifice  on the cross allows us to truly exhale, our future secured and our deepest needs met. In a world flush with consumer trappings, we can never forget that our true comfort is found in Christ alone. Our cornerstone.

Closing Prayer

Lord, help us to take deep joy in the moments of serenity and peace in this life and prepare us to suffer well when our time in the valley does come. Remind us that Jesus, the spotless lamb, has gone before us and has come out victorious. May we find the valley to be a place of worship for what you’ve already borne on our behalf rather than a place of worry for what we might endure.

Father, if we are honest we must confess that we too often live as if you are distant. We know that you are near – we believe that. Help us to hold onto that belief even in the face of the darkest season, in the lowest points of the valleys of this life. Lord, you have saved us already. Help us to live in that salvation and security no matter our circumstances. Overwhelm our fears with your perfect promises.

Heavenly Father, help us to see our current trials in light of our eternity with you. Our perspective is so narrow that we not only unaware of greater suffering in those around us, but we are forgetful of the suffering of your Son on our behalf. Lord, keep the truth of Jesus’ sacrifice close to our heart, that we might live with eyes that see a bigger picture and that we may love and encourage others from that place of promise

Lord, keep us from straying from your path, from wandering away from the fold of your presence. You defend us from our enemies and protect us from harm more than we will ever realize. Like a child,  we take for granted all that you do for us. We cannot truly fathom the lengths to which you have gone to save us. Grow our understanding of who you are, that we might better see your protection in our lives. Grow our gratitude, Father, that we might worship you in all of your glory.

God, you know our hearts. You know that it has the capacity for waywardness and wickedness. Forgive us for our sinfulness and, with your staff, draw us close, bind our wandering hearts to Thee. You sought us in our sin and sent your Son to die in our place. You rescued us from our own certain demise – draw our heart into a place of even greater desire for closeness with you

Father, we confess that we surround ourself with worthless trinkets and trivialities to try to bring ourselves more control and comfort. And we confess that they only leave us wanting more. God, we need more of you, more of your presence, and more of your true hope. Bring us back in line with your Word and find me at rest in you alone. May we place our faith in nothing less than the resurrected Jesus.

In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

adapted from Psalm 23 Devotional by Kyle Burkholder