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Life’s Journey in Psalm 23

December 17, 2008 2 comments

Living our lives involves peace, nourishment, growth, struggle, suffering, surprise, joy and love. In the midst of this shifting world, we must learn to rest confidently in the absolute faithfulness of God…to the very end.

Born into a family we grow and learn and change over time and in space. We move from infant to child to youth to teen to adult. Then our adult life is a separate journey that may repeat aspects of our childhood in differing order. Recently, I was thinking about this passage through time in light of Psalm 23.

I think this Psalm might provide a helpful lens to consider the path upon which we walk and the places we pass through along the way. At the same time, the Psalm may reveal some sense of the journey of Israel, God’s people chosen to bless the world. These thoughts are still forming, but I thought I’d jot them down.

Psalm 23 begins in the place of infancy:

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.

The baby is completely dependent upon the gentle care of the parent. The babe has no wants and trust the parent to provide food, comfort, shelter and care. In the story of Ancient Israel, we see God rescuing the people from Egypt. They are completely helpless and can only survive by trusting in His complete provision. From crossing the Red Sea to drinking water from the rock, Israel must rest in God’s direct provision for their sustenance.

Like Israel, we begin in a place of complete dependence. We cannot safe ourselves. We are helpless, sinful, blind, and enslaved. In His grace, He draws us to Himself and feeds our soul. His love covers a multitude of sins. He showers us with grace. He heals us. Feeds us. And guides us.

But then the babe must begin to grow. They learn obedience, they learn discipline, they prepare to become adults who will carry on the name of their family. The giving of the Law at Mt Sinai is the gift of God to transform the children of Israel into a kingdom of priests who will bring blessing to the world. The parent trains their child in righteousness, and in the same way, the Father prepares us to bear His name. We must grow up into Him, into the life He has called us.

3 He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

There are seasons when He brings us back to the lessons of childhood. For the Father disciplines His true children. If we are to bear His name, if we are to reveal His blessing and glory, we must be trained in His righteousness by His Holy Spirit.

Adolescence can be painful. The shifting from child to man is wrought with emotional and physical development that turns the youth’s world upside down. For some this season may shift from extreme joy to extreme anger to extreme sadness. I would suggest it might be like passing through the “valley of the shadow of death.”

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.

As the Father calls us to grow up into love, we also must pass through the “valley of the shadow of death.” In this place, we face our own desperate need for God’s grace. It is here that we will learn the love of Christ. It is here that we will discover the great depth of God’s grace.

And it is here that we will face our greatest trials. For in the “valley of the shadow of death,” we face the wounds that sin has inflicted on our lives and through our lives. There are caves of bitterness and rejection and loneliness and anger. It is here that the seducer of our souls calls out to us. He seeks to lead into the tailspin of self-reliance, into the path of the dead.

In the “valley of the shadow of death” many people forget the green pastures they once knew. In fact, they begin doubt there ever was a shepherd caring for their souls. If you live in a cave too longer, you may quit believing in the sun. And eventually, you’ll become blind in the darkness. The valley of the shadow of death is dangerous and may cost us our life.

This is where advent begins. We join Israel in the valley of the shadow of death. We discover that their exile, their story of being cast into outer darkness is actually our story. For in this dark valley, we realize that we were not as shiny and pretty and wonderful as we had imagined. The wounds of sin have penetrated our memories, our hearts, our minds, and our souls.

Why would the Father so cruelly lead us into to such a place of death? It is here that we realize our deep need for healing and grace. It is hear that we discover a love that touches our deepest pains. Without passing through this valley, we will never know the depths of love, we will never be healed by the depths of love. In the place of death, of darkness, of exile, we must learn to cry out, “Lord have mercy!”

There’s only one way out of this valley of the shadow of death. It is by entering into the shadow. Death is the only way out. So we must enter the one who consumed and the grave. In the cross of Christ, we discover life.

Here we discover Jesus has already gone on ahead of us. He’s passed through this valley and His cross has made a way to another land. There is a feast awaiting us.

Psalm 23:5-6
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.

Weeping may endure for the night but joy comes in the morning. The night of sin and death may seem to last and last and last. But it is but a blink of the eye compared to the joy that is to come in the full light of day. By His grace, we awake in the morning of His love (with the promise of day to come).

We return to the place of rest and trust in the Shepherd of our souls. But now we are adults. Jesus offers His body and blood as a feast of life in the midst of our enemies. The battles are not over. In fact, we may still face great suffering and struggle. But His Spirit has taught and is teaching of the wonder and secret of deep joy.

The joy of children is the joy of innocence. It is beautiful. Playful. Lyrical. The joy of adulthood is the joy that has the power to face the darkness, to drink the cup of suffering, and to continue singing and rejoicing. This is the joy of Paul and Silas imprisoned and beaten unjustly.

No they are not treated fair or right, but they can still rejoice in the Good King, the Savior of the World. In the midst of their enemies, they feast. They eat at the table of the Lord. They enjoy the anointing of God’s Spirit and are filling to overflowing with life that pours out upon the wicked prisoners and jailer around them.

By the great grace of God, we are called to grow up into priests, kings and prophets in the midst of world scarred by sin and corruption and death. We don’t escape this world of pain but we bring goodness and mercy into the midst of it.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the LORD
Forever.

As we grow, we learn to draw from the hope that is held securely for us behind the veil. This hope of complete redemption, of eternal glory, of faithful love sustains us. This hope is not in the shaking sand of emotional or mental assurance but in the absolute fidelity of Jesus Christ who cannot be moved but has already been faithful to the end of all things. His complete faithfulness to the Father in and through death continues shining as He raises from the dead, a light of hope bursting back from the end of all things to this moment in time.

So I rest in His faithfulness and know that the Shepherd of my soul will bring me to dwell in His house forevermore.

Categories: Advent, meditation Tags: , , ,

Lent – The Call

February 14, 2008 1 comment

When I first heard it, I turned to see who was addressing me, but all eyes were on the singer at the front. The voice seemed too articulate to be a thought passing though my mind. And the words…the words seemed so mundane. God’s call to me didn’t come with trumpets and prophecies of glory and fire. But rather, I heard a still small voice say, “The time is not yet.”

For the past year, I had been considering exchanging my dreams of filmmaking for a life of ministry. Leading a drama team and speaking at various local churches stirred a vision in me to cry out and call a slumbering church to renewal. Our pastor consulted me on seminary plans where I could pursue a life in ministry.

Now those plans began to fade as an understated voice let me know that “the time is not yet.” Somehow I realized that this was a call of renunciation. I was being called to let go of my ideas of ministry, to let go of my passion to a build God’s kingdom, to let go of my plan for the days ahead. The voice was calling me to pilgrimage.

The psalmist writes, “Blessed is the man whose heart is set on pilgrimage” (Psalm 84). As we begin the 40 days of lent, we remember this call to pilgrimage. A pilgrimage is different than an adventure. J.R.R. Tolkien distinguished an adventure from a journey as a “there and back again tale.” We head out on an adventure, we have an exciting time and we might even risk our lives, but at the end of the adventure we return home. But leaving on a journey means never coming home.

While a pilgrimage may seem like a “here and back again tale,” it is really a journey of renunciation with no hope of looking back. Jesus invited his disciples to pilgrimage and suggested “looking back” was not a luxury afforded to disciples.

During lent, we are reminded that the call of faith is a call of renunciation. In one sense, all of us really are “poor wayfaring pilgrims.” The Lord of glory calls us from the future, inviting us to let go and keep letting go and keep letting go. Abraham was called forth to leave behind the world he knew.

The ancient Celts set forth on pilgrimage as peregrini, searching for their “place of resurrection.” The peregrini were not driven by “wanderlust” but rather of sense of obedience. Leaving the homes they loved, they traveled across the British Isles and the European continent, setting up little communities of faith along the way.

In some sense, we still hear that same call of renunciation. We are called to search for our place of resurrection and establish communities of faith as we go. 22 years ago, I heard a quiet, non-dramatic call, “the time is not yet,” and today I still feel the echoes of that call shaking my body and mind.

As we growing older, the act of renunciation often becomes more difficult. We grow comfortable accumulating stuff. From books and clothes and trinkets to ideas and habits and attitudes. Every so often, the voice comes booming forth, “the time is not yet.”

It’s not time to settle yet. It’s not time to sleep yet. It’s not time to die yet. I wrote that last line because at the end of my kidney illness, I assumed the journey was closing and soon I would leave. But the Father gently said, “the time is not yet.”

Our little Spring of Light community started lent with this reminder. The fire in our beloved “Living Room” gave us the opportunity to step forth as pilgrims once again. We won’t return to that building but will step forward into the next world our Father is preparing.

Whether you observe lent or not, I encourage you to listen and follow the gentle prodding of our Father. No matter how young or old, He continues to gently call us forward into the fullness of His kingdom. As we stop to look at all we’ve accomplished or accumulated, he reminds us, “the time is not yet.”

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