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Psalm 23 is one of the most well-known passages of Scripture there is, and like other overly familiar passages (e.g. the Lord’s Prayer), our familiar recitation of it often makes it lose the power and impact that made it so popular to start with. For today’s devotional, I’m giving you my paraphrase of Psalm 23 in hopes of reviving its meaning as the beautiful companion psalm for us that it’s meant to be. I will be paraphrasing the psalm through the lens of Jesus and the new covenant we are now under. You’ll see that we can’t take the pleasant verses out of their context, or treat them as if God takes us out of our bad situation and puts us into these pleasant situations. The psalm is clear that these two experiences are happening simultaneously. A paradox that we see over and over again in the Psalms.
Jesus, you are my shepherd. Because I have you, I lack nothing. If I lost everything, I’d still have you. I don’t need to chase fantasies and idols that I think will satisfy me, because you satisfy me. In the bleakest of circumstances, I am still whole and filled because I have you. I am your beloved child, and nothing…nothing…can change that, add to that, or subtract from that.
Even when I am walking through the darkest valley…through despair…through depression…through death itself…even in these times…you make me lie down in green pastures. You lead me beside quiet waters. The dark valley of death and the green pastures and quiet water exist simultaneously.
You refresh my soul. In the midst of this darkness, you refresh my soul! I don’t have to fear the evil that is all around me, because you are with me in the thick of it all. Whatever evil can throw at me, you are right there with me with your rod and staff, comforting me. You bring indescribable joy, peace, refreshment, and comfort when all hell is breaking loose in the world and in my life. When nothing makes sense. When my enemies encircle me, with weapons held high, ready to strike…you prepare a feast. You invite me to eat of your bounty. Your presence and blessing overflow from within me, even in this dark valley! Even with my enemies breathing down my neck!
In spite of all this, your goodness and love continue to follow me all the days of my life. Your goodness and love are always accessible to me. When I’m on the highest mountain, they are there. When I’m in the lowest valley, they are there. When it’s my day to die, they are there. I’m in this dark valley, and who knows if I’ll ever get out, but I can experience your green pastures and quiet waters right now. I don’t dwell in this dark valley, I dwell in the house of the Lord forever!
I firmly believe that God wants to give us his presence. I firmly believe that the blessing of God is his presence. Many of our Christian traditions have neglected the mystical reality of God’s real presence and in so doing, deprived ourselves of the ability to commune with God on our darkest days. To experience his love flowing over us, to experience his face shining upon us. To experience his love beyond the cognitive left-brained belief in it.
Other Christian traditions have only highlighted the Bible verses that talk about victory. We love the green pastures and quiet waters part of Psalm 23 so much that we don’t see the dark and gruesome stage these realities are set in. This tragically unbiblical theology sets people up for shame and eventual abandonment of their faith because it teaches if you are a good enough Christian, these bad things won’t happen to you. Psalm 23 is yet another reminder that these bad things will indeed happen to you! But there is a peace and joy and blessing in God’s presence and his ultimate reality that holds authority and victory over these difficult and sometimes brutal circumstances. That is a faith for real life. It’s a faith I need because “real life” is the planet I live on. I’m so thankful Jesus does too.
Prayer for the day: Jesus, thank you for your green pastures and still waters. Help me to experience them now. Remind me I am your beloved son/daughter. Remind me that when you said “it is finished” on the cross, that everything needed to make me whole, valuable, loved, and accepted was finished. Help me to rest in this truth of your love. Help me to stop running on the treadmills I’m on. The treadmills of trying to earn approval and acceptance from this world in all the small and big ways I do this. Help me to rest in your loving approval of me, help me to experience your face shining upon me. Help me to experience your love and mercy, knowing I don’t deserve it, but knowing you pour it onto me because you’ve made me worthy. You’ve covered all my sins and when you see me now, you see holiness, without blemish or accusation (Colossians 1:22). When I’m in the darkest valley, when the shadow of death hangs heavy over me, let me eat from your feast. Let your shepherd’s arms envelop me. Thank you that I will dwell in your house forever.
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