Psalm 23 has been read, written, memorized, recited… on and on… sometimes until it seems almost like it is being said in rote. (rote: a fixed, habitual, or mechanical course of procedure) Growing up many years in church- I have heard many analogies and illustrations. One that always stuck with me is a story of 3 people reciting the 23rd Psalm. One was a great orator, who spoke so magnificently and perfectly accented every line. One was an influential preacher, who had no doubt spoke to crowds all over this world to share God’s Word. And the third was an older gentleman, poor, humble… he didn’t understand why he was asked to join them on the stage, yet was honored to accept. As he spoke Psalm 23 he needed no paper to remind him of the words, for he spoke them from the heart. Slowly, tears began to fill the eyes of the room- and for the first time that night the people understood the words of that precious Psalm.
Personally, my favorite phrase is right at the beginning. “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Can I truly say that in my daily living? I shall not want. Is His grace sufficient for me? Can I be content in whatsoever state I am? If the Lord is my shepherd- do I really have lack or need of anything this world has to offer? Or is my day filled with so much “I want...” and “I wish…” that I fail to see the hand of my Shepherd leading, restoring, comforting, preparing, and strengthening me day by day.
I was 18 when I used all of my graduation money to buy an airplane ticket to the mission field. I was blessed to spend 6 months with Teddy & Ligaya Fulfer at Subic Bay Children’s Home in Olongapo City. I left at home a little brother and sister, so naturally as there was a boy and girl about the same age as my siblings back in Iowa I became very close with them. The boy was born with a severe cataract covering one eye. We made several trips to the eye specialist until the day of surgery finally came. I spent a night I will never forget in a Filipino hospital with an unconscious boy tossing and turning from surgery after having the eye removed. After that, he would come to my little room every night at bedtime to get his eyepiece cleaned. He would lay his head on my lap and though he spoke Tagalog, and I English, together we would softly quote Psalm 23 until his nerves were calm and I could gently remove the plastic to be cleaned and put back in place. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.”
Many years later I was living in Pennsylvania and our pastor’s health had been failing. Several months had passed without him being able to get into the pulpit. Some services he would be home in bed, some services he would make it in, though his body was weak. My husband had been helping out during those hard times. Then there was a Wednesday night when Paul got home from work and was sick as a dog! He went straight to bed and couldn’t get back up. I wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen… but I went out the door that night with the children and left Paul home in bed. We had phoned Pastor Grove and told him Paul was sick. When it was time for the service to start… there was Pastor Grove sitting on his yellow stool with his Bible propped up on the metal podium. One of the most stirring and strengthening messages I’ve heard in my life was given that night as he taught verse by verse through the 23rd Psalm. “He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” There was no weakness seen, no sign of the feeble body. Yet that was the last message us believers at Heritage Baptist Church heard from our dearly beloved preacher before he went on to be with his Lord.
And just this past month I received one of those calls that we know will come- yet never want to hear. My mom had wondered why I hadn’t responded yet. I knew I must have missed the message. Taking a break for just a day- I hadn’t even turned on my computer since yesterday. We were in the van on a family outing… and the call came that my grandma would soon be passing on- and I had just one day left to see her before it was eternally too late. My husband swiftly got me home and in a rental car and I took the trip alone (for sake of time.) I arrived just in time to spend two and a half hours alone with Grandma before the rest of the family came in. I would not trade those two and a half hours for anything. Following that was a long and labouring couple of days. Yet the time came at 4:58 am on Monday morning; though by then all hours and days were blending into one long span. I was gathered at her bedside with my mom, grandfather, and 3 of my aunts. The Psalm that has been quoted hundreds or even thousands of times, just barely stuttered out of my mouth. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”
I know God has so much more for me- so much more for each one of us. We don’t have to walk this road alone. He has left us with His Word- each and every one. Not just to recite, to remember, to add to our list of common verses… but to speak to our heart in time of need. He is always faithful. Yet- we need to faithfully seek Him. As His children- we can gain comfort through HIs Word- for He is our Shepherd. He cares for us. “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” Amen.